Focus on Russian Human Rights Should Continue

With the closing ceremonies on February 23 extracting Olympics-covering journalists from Sochi, international attention has since turned away from the hot-button issue of inhumane anti-gay legislation in Russia. Leading up to and during the Olympic games, many gay rights activists like Sir Ian McKellen publicly decried the nature of the anti-gay laws in Russia. The “Lord of the Rings” star worked with 27 laureates to write an open letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin sharing their opposition to a new law that prohibits “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations to minors.”

We should care about human rights outside of the context of the Olympics as well. Even though the games are over, we should not turn away from the LGBT community of Russia and turn a blind eye to the blatant violation of their human rights, sheerly because the impetus for protests and petitions, the Sochi Olympics, has come and gone.

Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter claims that discrimination is “incompatible with the Olympic movement.”

During the Games, Principle 6 was upheld only in word; it was backed only by a soft hand and diverted eyes. Russian President Vladimir Putin vaguely claimed that while Russia’s anti-LGBT laws would still be enforced, gay people visiting for the games would remain safe. And thus, when on the first day of the Sochi Winter Olympics opening ceremony, six activists were arrested simply for peacefully protesting the anti-gay laws by unfurling a banner with Principle 6 on it in St. Petersburg, the Olympic Committee and most of the world chose to turn a blind eye.

Many people called for an end to the debates: the Olympics are about sports, these people argued, not political animosity. But this statement reduces the issue of LGBT people to a political issue, while it is indeed a human rights issue. And, if human rights cannot be guaranteed during the Olympics, we certainly cannot expect them to be guaranteed after.

But now the games are done, and we have a ready-made excuse to turn our minds away and divert our attention from Russia. We must not do this.

Of course, it would be wrong to say that the U.S. is a shining beacon of LGBT rights. With 31 states having anti-gay laws written into their constitutions, we are far from equality. Furthermore, it is not the U.S.’s place to decide how another country should define marriage. However, the situation in Russia is more severe and far more dangerous than marriage discrimination laws, as the anti-gay laws in the country legitimize systematic violence against people in the LGBT community. The somewhat vague and broad law also means that parents and teachers who attempt to help LGBT students can be fined and imprisoned for their actions.

Occupy Pedophilia is an example of the terrible consequences of the law. Occupy Pedophilia is a neo-Nazi terrorist group that is gaining traction in Russia. The group associates pedophilia, a sexual assault on a minor by an adult, with homosexuality. Occupy stages men and women within their ranks to contact people whom they believe to be gay, inviting them to a private location. If the victim shows up to the meeting, Occupy films gruesome segments in which they torture the suspect and publicize his or her identity on social media.

Because of homophobic legislation within Russia and a general homophobic attitude within the Russian populace (85 percent of polled citizens of the Russian Federation opposed a bill that would allow same-sex marriage), Occupy members are very rarely detained for their acts of violence. More often, victims of Occupy’s abuse are imprisoned, pursuant to the anti-propaganda legislation.

This issue goes beyond politics and religion. Even people who do not believe same-sex relationships deserve the same marital rights as opposite-sex couples can agree that violence and murder are terrible and should be stopped. If we can participate in an international sporting event like the Olympics with Putin, surely we can open a dialogue about LGBT rights.