Campaigners led by veteran gay rights activist Peter Tatchell protested in London today (9 August) over Russia’s ban on a gay event at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.
Protesters picketed the Sochi House exhibition in Kensington Gardens holding signs demanding that the International Olympic Committee step in to force the Russian authorities to reverse their decision not to allow a Pride House at the games.
Russian lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender campaigners had planned the venue to be a meeting place for gay athletes and their supporters with events including a sports competition and photo exhibition.
‘This symbolic protest at Sochi Park is really important,’ Peter Tatchell told Gay Star News.
‘We need to send a message to Russian authorities and the International Olympic Committee that the ban on Pride House at Sochi is homophobic and a violation of the Olympic charter. It’s also an attack on the freedom of expresion which breaches the Russian constitution.’
Megan Worthing-Davies from the European Gay and Lesbian Sport Federation told GSN that Pride House is important because it provides a ‘safe’ space for LGBT people to meet and enjoy sport during the games.
She said: ‘That safe space is particularly important in Sochi given everything that’s happened in terms of the environment for LGBT people in Russia and the anti-gay legislation which has been passed there.
‘It’s also important for there to be something visible in terms of LGBT people during the Olympics as they have often been marginalised in sport.
‘The link between the two has often been played down and there’s an assumption that LGBT people aren’t really interested.’
Russian courts upheld the decision to ban Pride House, with a judge claiming it was ‘extremist’ and could provoke ‘social-religious hatred’.
The IOC responded to Gay Star News, but stopped short of criticizing the Russian authorities directly.
In March, an IOC spokesperson told us: ‘The Olympic Charter does not allow for discrimination against those taking part in the games.
‘The IOC is an open organisation and athletes of all orientations will be welcome at the games.’