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The 12 ways Sochi 2014 changed gay rights, and the world, forever

The 12 ways Sochi 2014 changed gay rights, and the world, forever

The Sochi Winter Olympics 2014 will go down in history as the event that made gay rights not just an issue to discuss, but the center of a civil rights firestorm.

Even though it happened in February, the reverberations of the protests are still being felt as we reach the end of the year.

As we were heading into the Games at the end of 2013, it felt hopeless. Russian lawmakers were proudly stating gay athletes and tourists would be arrested and the International Olympics Committee was sending out weak response after weak response in the face of terrifying homophobia.

But something happened. People realised the Olympics, which should represent some of the best of what humanity has to offer, was being held in a place where some humans were being treated as second class citizens.

Whether it was pouring Russian vodka down the drain or people cut up their Visa cards, there were many ways that people stood up against anti-gay laws.

And here are just a few of them:

1. Some of the messages were simple

Around six months before the Olympics, Putin signed two anti-gay bills into law: the law banning ‘gay propaganda’ and the law banning couples from countries with same-sex marriage to adopt Russian children.

While reported on, certainly, there were no huge leaders making big pronouncements against the laws.

But in response, actress Tilda Swinton held a rainbow flag in front of the Kremlin with a simple message: ‘In solidarity. From Russia with love.’

2. And some of the messages were loud and proud

Wentworth Miller

Hollywood heartthrob Wentworth Miller came out publicly as a gay man in 2013, choosing to do so in a rejection letter to the St Petersburg International Film Festival.

‘As a gay man, I must decline,’ he wrote in protest of the Olympics.

‘I am deeply troubled by the current attitude toward and treatment of gay men and women by the Russian government’.

The Prison Break star said he previously enjoyed visiting Russia and also claims a degree of Russian ancestry.

3. Some protests were high class

Swan Lake Protest

One of the most famous Russian exports is gay composer Tchaikovsky, and the world famous ballet Swan Lake.

In London opposite the Russian embassy’s headquarters, two male and two female dancers plièd in protest to Swan Lake’s most famous theme.

The result was perhaps the classiest gay rights protest ever.

4. And some were not so high class

And now to the slightly lower class, and that is meant in the most hilarious, tongue-in-cheek way.

Both Canada and UK’s Channel 4 decided to release adverts to protest against Russia’s gay propaganda law.

Canada showed how the Winter Olympics has always been a little bit gay by showing how homerotic the double luge can be.

The latter went cabaret with a gay bear singing the ‘Gay Mountain’ song.

5. Sponsors were given the cut

Olympic sponsors like Coca-Cola and McDonald’s came under fire for not doing more against Russia’s anti-gay laws.

Openly gay British politician Michael Cashman sent a stinging reprisal to Visa when he cut up his plastic credit card on the floor of the chamber.

‘I will never allow the tyranny of a majority to oppress a minority,’ he said in a televised speech.

‘The defence of civil liberties and human rights is paramount and is finally the test of a civilized democracy.’

6. And some profits went down the drain

Russian Vodka Down The Drain

Across the world, many chose to symbolically protest against Russia’s anti-gay laws by throwing their vodka down the drain.

Many gay bars in San Francisco, London, Paris etc refused to sell Russian spirits.

While the action was criticized by gay activists in Russia, it was undoubtedly a protest that raised awareness.

7. The biggest names refused to perform

Blondie Sochi Refusal

Many people were asked to perform during the Sochi Olympics, but the majority of them all refused. That list included Blondie’s Debbie Harry and Cher.

On Twitter, Harry posted a photo of the offer by the Red Rocks Festival. On it, she had written, ‘Pass – human rights.’

And Cher said: ‘I can’t name names but my friend called who is a big oligarch over there, and asked me if I’d like to be an ambassador for the Olympics and open the show.

‘I immediately said no.’

8. Activists refused to be deterred

Russia Arrests Sochi

Prior to the Olympic Games, possibly afraid of all the negative attention on Russia, Putin quickly signed a motion that all protests would be banned.

Not afraid of censorship, many activists gathered their signs and banners and still took action. They were quickly arrested and fined, but their determination was an inspiration.

9. And we all met a new hero

Vladimir Luxuria

Some knew who Vladimir Luxuria was before, after all to be Europe’s first openly trans elected member of parliament it takes some bravery.

But not only did she go to Sochi, Russia and a hold a gay rights protest, she got arrested. And then the next day, she turned up to a hockey match in a rainbow dress and got arrested again.

After so many politicians talked the talk, it was her who became a hero by taking a stand.

10. Putin was sent a gay Valentine’s kiss

Putin Valentine Day

On Valentine’s Day, several cities hosted same-sex kiss protests in order to show how love can conquer fear and hate.

In just one protest in Beijing, activist Xiao Tie told the AFP: ‘We feel more positive today as it is Valentine’s Day and we have the opportunity to relay the message that everybody has the right to love and the right to campaign.’

11. It proved LGBTI athletes do better when they are out

Ireen Wust

Even though Sochi just had seven openly LGBT athletes, if they were a team they would have done better than countries like Finland, Great Britain and Australia.

Dutch speed-skater Ireen Wüst was the biggest medal-winner of the seven athletes, winning one gold and three silvers so far.

‘It proves countries that exclude LGBT people from any activity, including sport, are shooting themselves in the foot,’ Marc Naimark, vice president of the Federation of Gay Games, told GSN.

‘They say in the workplace a woman who reaches the same level as a man is often much more competent because of the challenges they face. I think that is perhaps true of gay athletes. To reach the highest level needs something special.’

12. And the Olympics were changed forever

IOC Ruling Principle 6

Just this month, the International Olympic Committee approved a new rule that could mean any country that actively discriminates against LGBTI people could be banned from hosting.

Undoubtedly because of the worldwide protests, the Principle 6 campaign was successful in making it clear that something like Sochi can never happen again.