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LGBT Russians ask us to join the Sochi Olympics, not boycott it

From boycotting vodka to snubbing the Winter Olympics, westerners have advanced many strategies to tackle growing hate in Russia. But what do LGBT activists actually want us to do?
The ski resort of Krasnaya Polyana near Sochi, where the Winter Olympics will be held.

In the last few months we have seen growing violence against LGBT people and allies in Russia and the enactment of the Russian law on ‘propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors’ that renders illegal statements and actions that acknowledge LGBT equality.

As a result, the upcoming Winter Olympics and Paralympics in Sochi have already become a subject of an international debate both over the impact of this context on the athletes, spectators, staff, and volunteers of the games and over compliance of the Sochi Games with the Olympic values of diversity and non-discrimination.

The Russian LGBT Network applauds the actions of individuals and organizations who address the escalating official and societal homophobia in Russia, and we are with them in the commitment to the protection of the rights and freedoms of LGBT people and allies.

Numerous initiatives in regards the 2014 Winter Olympics are successfully garnering support worldwide, with the centerpiece of the debate being the pro- / counter-boycott considerations. We would like to join the momentum and share our vision.

While we value diversity in approaches and welcome all efforts that forward justice and equality, we will contribute the work of the LGBT Network to the promotion of proactive participation in the games instead of a boycott.

We believe calls for the spectators to boycott Sochi, for the Olympians to retreat from competition, and for governments, companies, and national Olympic committees to withdraw from the event risk to transform the powerful potential of the Games in a less powerful gesture that would prevent the rest of the world from joining LGBT people, their families and allies in Russia in solidarity and taking a firm stance against the disgraceful human rights record in this country.

In retrospect, the record of the Olympic boycotts is not utterly promising in regards the potential to bring a change. Look at the 1980 boycott of the Moscow Olympics, the 1984 ‘retaliation’ boycott of the LA games, or at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. What is remembered from 1968 is neither the number nor the names of those who boycotted the games, but the ‘human rights salute’ by Tommie Smith and John Carlos who rose black-gloved fists and bowed their heads on the victory stand as a sign of resistance to racial injustice and solidarity with everyone who fought for equality and human rights.

The Olympic Games are a unique and powerful occasion for individuals, organizations, diplomatic missions, and governments to come together and voice, in tune with the Olympic ideals, the ideas of human rights, freedoms, equality and justice – regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Participation and attendance of the games in Sochi will not indicate endorsement of injustice and discrimination; they will only if they are silent.

We hope to join forces and succeed in raising everyone’s voices for LGBT equality in Russia and elsewhere. We hope together with those who share this vision, we will succeed in sending the strongest message possible by involving athletes, diplomats, sponsors, and spectators to show up and speak up –proclaiming equality in most compelling ways.

We call for organizations and individuals who are attending the games to exercise freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and to not fall accomplices to the homophobic policies by censoring own beliefs, statements, and identities.

We will work for greater visibility of LGBT pride before, during, and after the games in all domains possible, and we hope for the support of national organizations in making sure that the athletes publicly take a stance against violence toward LGBT people and stand strong for LGBT equality.

We want the national houses to fill the gap of the banned Pride House and support LGBT athletes, staff, spectators and their allies on their grounds. We ask sponsors to follow through with their policies and visualize their commitment to justice and observance of human rights in regards LGBT people at the games; and that the broadcasters display all this in a positive and supportive way.

The Olympics in Sochi should embody the ideals and values of the games and should demonstrate to everyone who is watching that the greatest athletes stand strong with their LGBT competitors and partners, out or closeted, and that together they stand strong with LGBT people and allies everywhere.

Do not boycott the Olympics – boycott homophobia! Stand in solidarity with people in Russia and bring LGBT pride and values of human rights and freedoms to the games in Sochi!

Anastasia Smirnova is general project manager of the Interregional Social Movement 'Russian LGBT Network'. You can find out more about their work on their site or Facebook page.

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