NEW YORK — Despite seven months of international outcry, Russia’s law restricting gay-rights activity remains in place. Yet the eclectic protest campaign has heartened activists in Russia and caught the attention of its targets — including organizers and sponsors of the Sochi Olympics that open Friday.
Over the past two weeks, two major sponsors, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, have seen some of their Sochi-related social media campaigns commandeered by gay-rights supporters who want the companies to condemn the law. Several activists plan to travel to Sochi, hoping to team up with sympathetic athletes to protest the law while in the Olympic spotlight.
And last week, a coalition of 40 human-rights and gay-rights groups from the U.S., Western Europe and Russia — including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Human Rights Campaign — released an open letter to the 10 biggest Olympic sponsors, urging them to denounce the law and run ads promoting equality for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people.
“LGBT people must not be targeted with violence or deprived of their ability to advocate for their own equality,” the letter said. “As all eyes turn toward Sochi, we ask you to stand with us.”
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The law, signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in July, bans pro-gay “propaganda” that could be accessible to minors — a measure viewed by activists as forbidding almost any public expression of gay-rights sentiment. The law cleared parliament virtually unopposed and has extensive public support in Russia.
Since July, when they launched a boycott of Russian vodka, activists have pressed the International Olympic Committee and Olympic sponsors to call for the law’s repeal. Instead, the IOC and top sponsors have expressed general opposition to discrimination and pledged to ensure that athletes, spectators and others gathering for the Games would not be affected by the law. Putin has given similar assurances in regard to Sochi, but remains committed to the law’s broader purposes.
IOC president Thomas Bach has warned Olympic athletes that they are barred from political gestures while on medal podiums or in other official venues, but said they are free to make political statements at news conferences.
One Olympian likely to speak out is gay Australian snowboarder Belle Brockhoff, who told Australia’s Courier-Mail newspaper that she plans to lambaste Putin.
“After I compete, I’m willing to rip on his ass,” she told the newspaper. “I’m not happy and there’s a bunch of other Olympians who are not happy either.”
Brockhoff is one of several Olympians promising to display the logo P6 — a reference to Principle Six of the Olympic Charter that says any form of discrimination “is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.”