Yesterday channel 4 showed a shocking documentary titled ‘hunted’, which demonstrated the dire situation of LGBT rights in Russia today. The programme highlighted the way in which being gay was often equated with paedophilia and showed the pervasive homophobia in Russian society that makes coming out not only dangerous but, all too often, life-threatening. At one stage in the documentary a group of young Russians demonstrated how they entice gay men online with the hope of ‘meets’ for sex before subjecting them to humiliation and violence – the victim shown was threatened, beaten and left crying with fear. He was literally hunted because of his sexuality.
A recent survey showed that 1/3 Russians think that homosexuality is a disease that can be treated and this seems to be reflected in Putin’s recently enforced ‘gay propaganda’ law, which makes it illegal to openly talk about homosexuality in anything other than a negative light with minors.
It’s not a surprise, then, that there have been calls to boycott the Winter Olympics in Sochi, but is this the right thing to do and why are people like David Cameron against such action?
Many articles have been referring to Mandela’s much referred to quote that ‘sport has the power to change the world’ and comments that events like the Olympics should be bastions of unity. This has been echoed by protests in cities around the world calling for a boycott, which clearly see merit in using the international platform that is the Olympics to springboard the movement for gay rights in Russia and draw attention to the prejudice that exists. Some countries are not boycotting the event but are taking clear pro-LGBT rights stances. For example, the US is taking part in the Olympics but the delegation they are sending to the opening ceremony involves two openly gay athletes but will be, noticeably, lacking Barack Obama and vice president Joe Biden.
Protesters calling for Olympic Boycott
For those against boycotting the Olympics the main argument is that it would do little to change the situation of those living in Russia. Any boycott would, most likely, be dismissed by Putin and could even cause even further negative reactionary legislation and discriminatory attitudes towards the LGBT community in Russia. David Cameron has commented that we have better, more effective ways of influencing Russia through challenging prejudice. He made a statement arguing that lobbying, bi-lateral meetings and involvement in the LGBT movement in Russia are more productive and more likely to result in concrete changes to legislation and attitudes. There is another question about the role of the Olympics when thinking about whether a boycott is necessary, i.e. does the Olympics have a political role to play beyond the key aim of creating a sports competition and does this include human rights? If we say yes, then there is an argument, for example, that we should not let countries like North Korea take part in the Olympics. Although as 2012 fever gripped the nation the summer before last the human rights aspect of the Olympics seemed like the last thing on our minds, and to suddenly argue this case could seem somewhat hypocritical. Whatever you think, it is clearly a divisive topic and one that has supporters and opponents from within the LGBT community.
So where do you stand on this polemic issue? What should the UK do to combat discrimination and influence LGBT rights in Russia?
The GMI Partnership provides free services to gay and bisexual men in London. We offer free, rapid HIV testing and sexual health information across London. This Saturday we will be testing at Ku-Bar, Chinatown, London. For more information on the partnership and our work please see here.