US: Russian gay people urge boycott of 2014 Russian Winter Olympics

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Gay people from Russia and the former Soviet republics who are living in the US have urged a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, because of growing fears that LGBT people are not safe in Russia.

The group is calling for a boycott of the games, saying that it is unsafe for LGBT people to travel to Russia, in the light of recent homophobic attacks, and the advancement of bills through the State Duma to ban “homosexual propaganda”.

Speaking to Ria Novosti, Nina Long, co-president of RUSA LGBT, a Russian-speaking organisation based in New York, said: “LGBT people in Russia are scared, they live in fear, and we want people to be aware of the issue. If they feel strongly about human rights they should boycott the Olympics in Sochi.

“We really want the LGBT community to know it’s unsafe to travel there,” she continued.

Long did say that a statement from the International Olympics Committee (IOC), which expressed its commitment to nondiscrimination against Olympic Athletes, did not ease her concerns.

It said that “athletes of all orientations will be welcome at the Games.”

Long commented on the statement, saying: “They have to put up the statement like that, otherwise it’s an international scandal, but it’s a lie… it’s just to make it hush-hush and nice on some international level.”

RUSA LGBT, which has several hundred members, plan a march, and to hand out flyers with information on the boycott. The march will take place on June 30 at the annual New York Gay Pride parade, which is to feature a Russian float for the first time.

Speaking to Ria Novosti, Ivan Savvine, an art curator from St Petersburg, sought asylum in the US because he is gay.

“It became really dangerous for me to live there. There was quite a bit of violence that I was faced with, and unfortunately there are no longer isolated instances of persecution. It’s definitely escalated,” he said.

In London last August, a protest took place at an exhibition in London promoting Russia’s Winter Olympics, after Pride House events celebrating gay inclusion in sport were banned.

A ‘homosexual propaganda’ bill, recently, which was given final approval in the Russian State Duma two weeks ago, could make the public display of homosexuality a criminal offence, punishable through imprisonment.

The Gay Football Supporters’ Network has also expressed anxieties that the bill’s passing could be used as a way to discriminate fans at the Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup. The organisation states that those attending could be persecuted or arrested simply for carrying a rainbow flag.