Russia’s intolerance in public eye ahead of Winter Olympics

The Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia are a time for nations from across the globe to join together in athletic games. It is a time in which thousands of athletes from various backgrounds and cultures can unite in the name of sports. Finally, it is a monumental occasion for … homophobia?Sochi has been heavily scrutinized in the months leading up to the Olympics. Although there are numerous issues with hosting the games in post-Soviet Russia – including environmental factors, destruction of citizens’ homes and public safety issues – the most publicized issue is Russia’s codified discrimination of the LGBTQ-plus community. Russian President Vladimir Putin passed what is being called the “anti-gay propaganda law,” which forbids the expression of homosexuality, transgenderism and bisexuality in front of any child under the age of 18 in order to “protect” the children. Putin has expressed, “We don’t have a ban on nontraditional sexual relations. We have a ban on promoting homosexuality and pedophilia among minors.” He later went on to request to “leave children in peace.” This legislation has proven to be quite vague about what exactly “expression” entails and has been criticized by the LGBTQ-plus community for infringing on people’s right to freely express their sexual orientation. Human rights advocate Boris Dittrich stated that Russian politicians use homosexuality as a scapegoat instead of addressing more pressing issues. “LGBT people are a scapegoat because people don't know much about LGBT – they mix it up with pedophilia, bestiality or even think it has something to do with the devil,” Dittrich said. Unfortunately, it seems that Russia, along with a multitude of people even here in our own United States, have misconceived and outdated notions of homosexuals as flamboyant, sexual deviants rather than simply being biologically disposed to be attracted to members of their own sex. This association of homosexuality with things like pedophilia and bestiality by the Russian government is disheartening to say the least. Russia has a remarkably poor track record for LGBTQ-plus civil liberties. Homosexuality was officially decriminalized in Russia in 1993, only 21 years ago. Still, homophobia seems deeply rooted in Russian society as is illustrated by a Pew Research Center survey, which states that nearly 75 percent of Russian citizens believe that homosexuality should not be publicly allowed in society. President Barack Obama, although stating that the U.S. will still participate in the 2014 Winter Olympics, said he was offended by Russia’s stance on homosexuality and hoped that the gay and lesbian athletes would shine in the events. "One of the things I'm really looking forward to is maybe some gay and lesbian athletes bringing home the gold or silver or bronze, which would, I think, go a long way in rejecting the kind of attitudes that we're seeing there,” he said. Putin seemed adamant in most of his televised interviews that hosting the Olympics in Sochi is a giant step forward for Russia, especially since the fall of the Soviet Union. With Russia’s systemic homophobia, however, it seems that the Russian government, in the progression of LGBTQ-plus rights and the freedom of expression, is not going anywhere.