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LGBT activist: Sochi Olympics offer platform for gay community

Camosun College Student Society's women's director says Russia's anti-gay laws should remain in spotlight during Games

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) human rights will likely be in the spotlight as Russia, a country with strict anti-gay laws, officially launches the 2014 Winter Olympics today.

“I fully anticipate that some athletes will make a display of solidarity with gay people in the community of Russia,” said Tom Hawthorn, a guest lecturer with the University of Victoria's Department of Writing. “It is hard to predict. It’s quite possible that even activists or athletes concerned about this matter may bring it to a head.”

The veteran journalist's lectures at UVic explore the history of the Olympics, and protests including those focused on Russia's legislation banning gay “propaganda.”

“The International Olympic Committee is clear that sport is a human right and should be available to all regardless of race, sex or sexual orientation. The Games themselves should be open to all, free of discrimination, and that applies to spectators, officials, media and of course athletes. We would oppose in the strongest terms any move that would jeopardize this principle,” the IOC said in a July 2013 statement after Russia implemented the law. “The IOC has received assurances from the highest level of government in Russia that the legislation will not affect those attending or taking part in the Games.”

A number of human rights organizations worldwide are calling for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics because of the laws precluding open acknowledgement of gay identities, the display of rainbow flags and public displays of affection between same-sex couples.

“There’s so much dialogue going on around criminalizing of homosexuality in Russia. Mostly what I’ve been doing is trying to boost the criticisms coming from people within Russia itself,” said Daphne Shaed, Camosun College Student Society's women’s director and community activist for LGBT rights. “I don’t think boycotting is the right way to go … we’ll take away the platform the gay and LGBT community has.”

While some athletes are taking a stand for the human rights traditionally upheld in Canada, Shaed feels government and corporations should still be held accountable.

“What can happen now is the people in Russia can be given the spotlight to talk about what’s going on on the ground out there,” Shaed said. “What we should be doing is heavily criticizing the countries that are not standing up to the governing bodies. … Those countries should have stood up and challenged the IOC.”

Social media, despite the time difference and geographical divide, will provide opportunities to have those discussions, she said.

“We can talk about it in our own social networks. We can take the people on the ground in Russia, generating social media, and make sure that we share those. … Continue to put the media attention that this stuff is going on,” Shaed said. “If I had the money I would go over there and be dropping rainbow banners.”

While Hawthorn anticipates there could be leniency for visitors, he says foreigners should be aware of the governing laws.

“It’s not inconceivable that Canadians on the streets of Sochi may do something as simple as carry a rainbow flag,” he said. “People coming from elsewhere (to Russia) should be aware they are subject to these laws no matter how odious.”