Olympic Rings Without the Rainbow: #BoycottSochi2014

Rings Without Rainbow

This Olympics boycott is gaining steam, no thanks to Lindsey Graham. Activists worldwide are taking up the cause of human rights in Russia. It’s not simply Russians being mistreated for claiming their human rights anymore, although that continues apace even in the face of Russian court action decrying it.

The Dzerzhinsk regional court has thrown out the arrests made by St Petersburg, Russia’s police during the recent gay pride parade3. The judge called the arrests illegal and that the people marching in the parade had been exercising their right to assembly.

The organizers of the Pride event had informed the police that they were planning the event, but the Russian police claimed that the assembly was unauthorized and arrested everyone attending the parade. The arrests were accompanied by the usual run of police brutality.

Now Russian authorities are arresting tourists from other countries:

The Russian LGBT Network reports on Facebook:
URGENT NEWS! In Murmansk city (North Russia) 3 Dutch citizens detained by the police on charges of gay-propaganda. At the moment they were released from the police station. Police compiled reports on the violation of rules of stay in the territory of Russia and the violation of the law of the “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors.” Court hearing will be at 9 a.m. (Moscow time) 22 July 2013. The Russian LGBT Network provides legal assistance. We will keep you updated.
I’ll have more on this after the hearing.

UPDATE: “URGENT NEWS from Murmansk city: we have just been informed that the case with the Dutch activists will NOT be held today. We’ll keep you informed about the situation.”

They have been arrested, it appears, for the crime of appearing at a seminar as well as attempting to make a film:

The Russian online newspaper Lenta reported that police detained the activists at a summer camp in the city of Murmansk in the northwestern part of the country during a human rights seminar in which a local LGBT advocacy group was participating. The publication said Kris van der Veen, president of LGBT Groningen, a Dutch LGBT advocacy organization, gave a lecture on gay rights.

Rolf Jurjens of LGBT Groningen confirmed to the Washington Blade from the Netherlands that authorities had arrested van der Veen in Murmansk on Sunday.

Jurjens said van der Veen and the three other Dutch LGBT rights advocates had traveled to the city to film a documentary about gay life in Russia. Local media reports indicate van der Veen interviewed a 17-year-old teenager before authorities took him and the three other activists into custody.

Meanwhile, in America, Harvey Fierstein’s NYTimes opinion piece continues to resonate with fair-minded people. He outlined the draconian nature of Vlad Putin’s new anti-gay laws while challenging the International Olympic Committee’s interpretation of them:

RUSSIA’S president, Vladimir V. Putin, has declared war on homosexuals. So far, the world has mostly been silent.

On July 3, Mr. Putin signed a law banning the adoption of Russian-born children not only to gay couples but also to any couple or single parent living in any country where marriage equality exists in any form.

A few days earlier, just six months before Russia hosts the 2014 Winter Games, Mr. Putin signed a law allowing police officers to arrest tourists and foreign nationals they suspect of being homosexual, lesbian or “pro-gay” and detain them for up to 14 days. Contrary to what the International Olympic Committee says, the law could mean that any Olympic athlete, trainer, reporter, family member or fan who is gay — or suspected of being gay, or just accused of being gay — can go to jail.
Finally, it is rumored that Mr. Putin is about to sign an edict that would remove children from their own families if the parents are either gay or lesbian or suspected of being gay or lesbian. The police would have the authority to remove children from adoptive homes as well as from their own biological parents.

Not surprisingly, some gay and lesbian families are already beginning to plan their escapes from Russia.

Fierstein provides historical context and takes a stab at Putin’s motive, too:

Historically this kind of scapegoating is used by politicians to solidify their bases and draw attention away from their failing policies, and no doubt this is what’s happening in Russia. Counting on the natural backlash against the success of marriage equality around the world and recruiting support from conservative religious organizations, Mr. Putin has sallied forth into this battle, figuring that the only opposition he will face will come from the left, his favorite boogeyman.

Mr. Putin’s campaign against lesbian, gay and bisexual people is one of distraction, a strategy of demonizing a minority for political gain taken straight from the Nazi playbook. Can we allow this war against human rights to go unanswered? Although Mr. Putin may think he can control his creation, history proves he cannot: his condemnations are permission to commit violence against gays and lesbians. In May a young gay man was murdered in the city of Volgograd. He was beaten, his body violated with beer bottles, his clothing set on fire, his head crushed with a rock. This is most likely just the beginning.

If any other historically oppressed minority — blacks, Jews, women — were being treated this way in the Olympics host country, would there be silence? I think not. It’s time for Gay Inc to step up, and put the pressure on American political leaders, who must show Putin he’ll pay a steep price for these laws. That action needs to go beyond the call by a Human Rights Campaign digital media intern to write letters to the President of the International Olympic Committee:

It’s time for the International Olympic Committee to send a clear message to President Putin that this bill MUST NOT become law. Send an urgent letter now to IOC President Jacques Rogge demanding that he take action against discrimination now.

HRC leadership has stopped short of endorsing an Olympics boycott:

“The events unfolding in Russia should rightly cause concern for all fair-minded citizens of the world. They’re a complete travesty meant to divert the attention of the Russian people from President Putin’s failure as their leader,” Human Rights Campaign vice president for communications Fred Sainz told BuzzFeed.

HRC stopped short, however, of taking a position at this time on whether it would add its support to the calls for a boycott of the games.

“Most nations on the cusp of hosting Olympic Games would want to make their country seem more hospitable, not less. The very clear implications of these laws pose real concerns for LGBT Russian citizens and visitors alike,” Sainz said. “As such, we’re consulting with our partners so that we’re acting in a unified manner that is impactful. Stay tuned.”

This is a major test of the post-SCOTUS Human Rights Campaign (Human Rights are its first two names, after all….) especially as grassroots efforts are underway in sister cities worldwide to end their relationships with Russian human rights violators:

The mayor of Reykjavík, Iceland has modeled one way to lodge a meaningful protest that is available to people from almost 100 U.S. cities and many hundreds more cities in other countries; Reykjavík is proposing to end cultural and political links with its sister city, Moscow:

In light of the developments that have taken place in recent years in matters of gay, bisexual, and transgender people in Russia, the Human Rights Office and the Mayor’s Office [of Reykjavík] have entrusted the deputy mayor to propose amendments to the existing agreement between the two cities or terminate it all together following consultation with the Foreign Ministry.

St Petersburg, as the site of last month’s arrests, has earned a special focus. Back in February, John Becker organized a Change.org petition calling on Sister Cities worldwide to end their relationships with St Petersburg, where local anti-LGBT laws preceded Putin’s sweeping national crackdown:

And the Italian cities of Venice and Milan have both suspended their Sister City status with St. Petersburg over the draconian anti-gay measures.

Perhaps even more notable than the actions taken by Venice and Milan is the fact that so many of St. Petersburg’s other Sister Cities have so far declined to take similar steps. The list of Sister Cities to St. Petersburg includes many of the most cosmopolitan and forward-thinking places on the planet: Paris. Los Angeles. Stockholm. Helsinki. Rio. Barcelona. Rotterdam. Göteborg. Québec City. Melbourne. Hamburg. The state of Maryland, which just legalized same-sex marriage, even has a Sister City relationship with St. Petersburg.

Becker’s petition is here.

Lansing, Michigan, appears to be the first city to formally take up terminating its sister city relationship, although city leaders seem to want it both ways: credit for calling on St Petersburg to end its draconian laws without actually ending the relationship, which those who maintain it call ‘dormant.’

[Council member A'Lynne Boles] Robinson asked Chad Gamble, public service director for the city of Lansing, whether [Mayor Virg] Bernero’s administration had begun investigating all of the city’s sister-city relationships regarding such issues. Gamble said he couldn’t say.

Gamble read a statement on behalf of Bernero, who did not attend the Monday meeting:

“As mayor, I certainly condemn (Russia’s anti-LGBT policy, which) flies in the face of everything I believe in about human equality and everything Lansing stands for.”

In the statement, Bernero called on the City Council to denounce the “draconian” policies of Russia and St. Petersburg, but “instead of running away from the problem” the city should not sever ties “because we have the potential for progressive dialogue between citizens.”

“President Obama has not severed our nation’s ties (with Russia) because he recognizes that is not the path to moral victory,” Bernero’s statement read.

Washington said she met with Bernero earlier Monday, and the two frequent political adversaries are on the same page about working together on the situation.

“He was absolutely willing,” Washington said. “I believe we are in a unique situation here in Lansing. We are the first city in the nation to address this atrocity.

“Sometimes you do have to sever ties. Sometimes you do have to turn your back on bad behavior and just walk away. I’m telling you, the world is watching us.”

The Windy City Times has called on Chicago to suspend or cancel its sister city relationship with Moscow, and discovered some bold-face names atop its own local Sister Cities organization as well:

The Chicago Sister Cities International program includes Moscow among its 28 partner cities. It is time for the City of Chicago and the Chicago Sister Cities International group to condemn the Russian law, and either suspend or cancel its Sister Cities relationship with Moscow.

Chicago Sister Cities International is now part of World Business Chicago, a non-profit with deep government connections. The honorary chairman of Sister Cities International is President Barack Obama. The honorary chairman of Chicago Sister Cities is Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Emanuel is also the chairman of World Business Chicago.

The entire Sister Cities International organization should be involved in putting pressure on sister cities in Russia to work against this anti-gay law.

The US State Department issued a sternly worded statement, as is their wont:

“The United States places great importance on the protection of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all people, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender persons around the world,” State Department spokesperson Noel Clay told the Blade in a statement on Monday. “We call on Russia to uphold its international commitments regarding freedom of assembly and freedom of expression.”

Blogger Mombian asks if same-sex parents will even be able to attend the Sochi Olympics next year to see their children compete:

On Friday, I mentioned Britney Simpson, one half of the 2013 U.S. Junior Pairs Champion figure skating team, who has two moms. I said it would be great to see both her and her skating partner’s parents in the audience if the pair makes the 2014 Winter Olympics—but forgot that the Games will be held in Russia. Russia’s increasingly harsh anti-gay laws cast Simpson’s moms’ attendance in a very different light.
Simpson and her moms are clearly not the only—or even primary—ones at stake here, even if she does make it to the Olympics (which is far from certain). Other top athletes and possible Olympic contenders (such as basketball player Kenneth Faried) have same-sex parents. Many are gay or lesbian themselves. And crucially, Olympics aside, gay men and lesbians and their children living in Russia face daily fear of arrest and having their families torn apart.

Sponsors might need to take notice as well, since there’s a Change.org petition aimed at them as well:

With Sochi hosting the Winter Olympic Games next year, there are grave concerns for gay athletes and fans alike.

A change.org petition is targeting major sponsors including Coca-Cola, Panasonic, Samsung, VISA and Procter&Gamble to stand for human rights and pull sponsorship from The Games.

Getting involved is simple. Sign the petition here to let these companies know that discrimination is not ok.

I’m giving Harvey Fierstein the last word, as he boldly challenges the United States to look to its own history with the Olympic Games:

With Russia about to hold the Winter Games in Sochi, the country is open to pressure. American and world leaders must speak out against Mr. Putin’s attacks and the violence they foster. The Olympic Committee must demand the retraction of these laws under threat of boycott.

In 1936 the world attended the Olympics in Germany. Few participants said a word about Hitler’s campaign against the Jews. Supporters of that decision point proudly to the triumph of Jesse Owens, while I point with dread to the Holocaust and world war. There is a price for tolerating intolerance.

BoycottSochi2014 is on Facebook.