US athlete: Russian anti-gay law has sparked the ‘defining civil rights movement of our time’

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A US track and field athlete has spoken out against Russian anti-gay laws, saying they have started the “defining civil rights movement of our time”.

Nick Symmonds, a US track and field star, won silver in the men’s 800m at the Moscow World Athletic Championships earlier this week, and dedicated the medal to his gay and lesbian friends.

He has now gone further to also speak out against the law, which bans the “promotion” of homosexuality to minors.

Speaking to CNN, Symmonds said: “As an American who believes in freedom of speech and freedom of assembly I take huge offence that the Russian government is limiting their people in that way.

“This is the defining civil rights movement of our time,” he continued. “I just want to say in 100 years when people look back on this moment, the people who are against equality and against love are going to be remembered on the wrong side of history.

“And I’m honoured to be standing alongside our gay and lesbian friends on the right side of history.”

Also at the games, the Swedish high jumper who painted her fingernails in the colours of the rainbow to campaign against anti-gay laws, Emma Green-Tregaro, has been told she could be in violation of the code of conduct at the world championships.

As well as speaking out, Symmonds tweeted a picture of himself, saying he had been working with the Russian LGBT Sports Federation.

Ms Tregaro’s painted nails also prompted Russia’s pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva to brand her “disrespectful to our country”.

Ms Isinbayeva, an ambassador for next year’s Winter Olympics to be staged in Sochi, recently came under controversy for saying she supported the Russian anti-gay laws.

Symmonds also said that he wanted to be respectful, and did not want the issue to overtake the athletics, however he felt he had to speak out.

“I’m a guest in this nation,” he said. “And if I really wanted to press this issue I could go a lot further and be assembling in the streets but I want to be respectful. Respect the fact that there are a lot of competitors around here that still have to compete and I’m trying to not create a huge distraction for them.”

President Vladimir Putin signed the law in June banning the promotion of “non-traditional relationships” toward minors, a move that has been criticised as part of a broader crackdown on Russia’s gay community.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has said they are currently seeking “clarification” from Russia on how the law will be applied.

On Monday, the Russian Interior Ministry confirmed that recently introduced anti-gay legislation will remain in force during the Sochi games.

A petition which has gathered over 150,000 signatures, calls for the 2014 games to be relocated to Vancouver, following the passage of anti-gay laws in Russia.

In an interview last week, a senior International Olympics Committee member said: “Russia must respect the Olympic Charter, or we will say goodbye to them”, broaching the question of relocating the games with the IOC for the first time.