In June of last year, Russia passed a law classed as child protection that banned propaganda of any non-traditional sexual relationships among minors. The fact they are still using terminology such as “non traditional” shows how outdated the opinions are that this law stems from. It serves to remind ourselves that homosexual relationships were presumably only decriminalised in 1993 so that Russia could join the European Council. The Russian Orthodox Church and strong Conservative Government encourage views that non-hetero relationships are seen as a decadence; it is people acting purely for pleasure, and against their natural role as reproducers (there is still a strong belief in Russia that women are made to be mothers). On top of this, it’s been suggested that around three quarters of Russians see homosexuality as an illness.
Because of this, it is dangerous for members of the LGBT community to reside in Russia. Consequently, the Government’s attempts to make LGBT athletes feel welcome have failed, with this being highlighted by the numerous arrests and assaults which have occurred since the opening of the Games. A video released by Human Rights Watch showing attacks on the LGBT community is evidence of just how serious the situation is. It’s not just denying the right to love anymore: it’s denying the right to exist.
Putin’s recent legislation is, unarguably, utterly deplorable. The Olympic Committee and important sponsors of the Winter Olympics, such as Coca Cola, should have worked to prevent the Games being held within such an openly prejudiced nation. However, as that has not been the case, we can now only work with the media and welfare organisations across the world to highlight all that is wrong with Russia’s policy, and also to look inwards at our own Governments. Reactions to the Olympics have instigated reactions from public figures and sportsmen across the West, with Gold Medalist Brian Boitano having come out as gay very recently owing to a feeling of solidarity with already openly gay athletes he was travelling alongside. He has been one of many to do so. Ideally, the international community could request that Putin retract the new legislation, or leave the European Council. However, this would only leave Russia further isolated and unchecked.
On a University campus level, many students have made moves to show their support of the LGBT community in a variety of ways so far. Cambridge University organised a same-sex kiss-in flash mob on the 11th of February, with flag- waving and dancing in solidarity with those in Russia. Agnes Cameron, LGBT officer, said: “I thought it might get a little awkward, but it was just lots of happy people kissing each other.”
At Oxford University, students of Brasenose College flew the rainbow flag out of their windows, protesting against the college’s refusal to allow them to fly a rainbow flag for LGBTQ History Month. It seems that for many universities, the increasingly violent acts of homophobia in Russia are inspiring students to fight homophobia at home.
Students at Royal Holloway have also been protesting and showing their support . A group of RHUL students protested outside the Russian Embassy on February 1st, with hundreds of other London students and delegates from NUS LGBT. The students made colourful signs, chanted and sung in front of the Russian Embassy, and even played sports at the side of the road in solidarity with LGBT athletes in Sochi.
Thankfully, people have still kept fighting against this, and I’m sure we will continue to do so. This is not a reality anyone should have to live with, and we cannot let our lives be governed by outdated and uneducated beliefs. We must make a change. As we look forward, we can only hope that significant progress is made and similar prejudices are not rasied if Russia is permitted to host the 2018 Fifa World Cup, which they have placed a bid upon.
In the meantime let’s hope that the colourful German Olympic uniform isn’t a coincidence.
Article: Imogen Treyman