Sochi: Olympic-Sized Hypocrisy

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By Mark Zustovich

OK, so Sochi wasn’t the best choice to host the 2014 Winter Olympics. Then again, neither was Germany as the Nazis ascended to power in 1936, nor Mexico, where ongoing government oppression led to the deaths of protestors and civilians in the Tlatelolco Massacre just ten days before the opening ceremony for the 1968 Summer Games. And you can’t discuss Olympic controversies without mentioning the 1980 Moscow Games, boycotted by more than 60 nations led by the United States, in protest of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. Even the inaugural 1896 Olympics weren’t without problems: female athletes were not allowed to participate in Greece.

As the XXII Olympiad gets underway in Sochi, Russia’s anti-gay propaganda laws have been well publicized, although individual incidents of horrific violence stemming from the government-sanctioned hate haven’t received significant mainstream press attention until recently. According to Human Rights Watch, vigilante gangs are carrying out attacks on gay men and women with impunity, often videotaping and publicizing the assaults under the guise of protecting children from homosexuals. Victims are kidnapped, humiliated and even forced to sodomize themselves with glass bottles. Key leaders of the gangs have been publicly identified, but bringing these hatemongers to justice has not been a priority of President Putin and local authorities.

As noted in a recent Washington Post op-ed, Russia’s law making it illegal to promote homosexuality to minors is not much different than statutes in places like Arizona, Texas and Arizona, which ban the classroom advocacy of being gay as a “positive alternative lifestyle.” Critics of the comparison argue that while American laws pertain to instruction in government-supported public schools, Russia’s legislation goes a step further by prohibiting all public speech that could be construed as pro-gay propaganda among minors. The devil is definitely in the details, but suffice it to say that neither Russia nor the United States should serve as ideal models of how to treat the LGBTQ community. Let’s not forget that Salt Lake City, Utah hosted the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, and no one had a problem with sending athletes to a state with a notorious anti-gay legacy.