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Sochi Olympics: Politics and the LGBTQ community

Imagine your government telling you that the way you are is not only immoral but illegal. Imagine holding the hand of the one you love and putting yourself at risk of being fined, imprisoned or even harmed at the hands of your fellow citizens. These are just some of the perils faced by the LGBTQ community in Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin caused an international stir when he signed new federal legislation banning the “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships” to minors.

According to the law, people guilty of the “distribution of information that is aimed at the formation among minors of non-traditional sexual attitudes, attractiveness of non-traditional sexual relations, misconceptions of the social equivalence of traditional and non-traditional sexual relations, or enforcing information about non-traditional sexual relations that evokes interest in such relations…” are subjected to fines or imprisonment as a foreign agent. If you are a foreigner in Russia and convicted of this crime, you could face fines, 15 days in prison, and deportation.

While it may be shocking to some that the country could pass such a law denying their citizens basic rights because of their sexual orientation, it is not anything new for Russia’s LGBTQ community. The federal law is reflective of several regional laws that aim to punish those who use propaganda to promote homosexuality.

Even the home of the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sochi, has such a law on the books, which should have automatically disqualified it from the running for the honor. It is a little mindboggling how the Olympic Committee could choose a place where anti-LGBTQ laws only exacerbate the homophobic tensions currently plaguing the country.

The Olympics is a time for the world to showcase their best athletes. For many countries, a representative’s sexual orientation is not considered when deciding if they are Olympic material. Instead, focus is placed on whether the athlete will increase the country’s chances of medaling.

There are several delegations this year with openly gay or lesbian athletes. For the Olympics to be held in a country that not only condones discrimination against homosexuals, but also legalized, it must weigh heavily on those athletes’ minds.

It is a very real possibility that their personal safety has been put at risk by the Olympic Committee’s decision. One can only imagine how that thought may affect a person’s mental wellbeing during a time when these athletes are under tremendous pressure already. The Olympic Committee’s choice automatically gave straight athletes the upper hand by causing such possible mental distress. Yet, the LGBTQ community is strong and continues to make advances despite the lack of an ideal environment.

Dutch speed skater, Ireen Wust, didn’t let the negative atmosphere affect her in competition. She won her event, making her the first openly gay gold medalist. She even told reporters that she “got a cuddle” from President Putin.

Although there are several Russian citizens who aren’t particularly fond of homosexuals, several other countries have shown their support for their gay Olympic competitors. The United States did not shy away from adding openly gay athletes to their team and Germany chose to use rainbow-themed uniforms.

While Germany claims there is no political message in their uniform choice, the link between gay rights and the image of a rainbow cannot be denied. Even if the imagery was accidental, imagine the boost of confidence the LGBTQ Olympians must have felt to see an entire country showing support.

There have been many other issues plaguing the Sochi Olympics adding to its surrounding controversy, however, the most telling is the fact that one of the rings did not light up during the opening ceremonies. Was this an unintentional sign of Sochi’s opinions of gay athletes? Was this the universe saying that although they’ve been allowed to participate, homosexual athletes aren’t really a part of it all? Was this the powers that be expressing their disdain that the LGBTQ community still must fight for basic human rights and disgust at the Olympic Committee turning a blind eye to the issue when choosing Sochi as the host of the 2014 Winter Olympics?

Whatever you choose to read into, choosing Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics will be a low point in the history of the Olympics, but the achievements of the gay athletes involved will be better remembered because of it.

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