Human Rights Watch blasts Olympics over worsening plight of Russian gays

This is getting interesting.   Human Rights Watch, one of the lead international human rights groups, has written a rather direct letter to the International Olympic Committee, scolding the IOC for its inaction in the face of growing anti-gay hate in Russia, something which violates the Olympic charter.

And the point isn’t simply academic.  Russia will be hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, and there’s growing concern about the safety of foreign athletes and tourists, especially gay ones.

Russia is on the verge of passing legislation that will make it basically illegal to be pro-gay in the country.  Any pro-gay speech, sentiment, or action will be against the law, and the legislation specifically provides for arresting pro-gay foreigners for up to two weeks’ detention in a Russian prison before being deported.

Certainly some Olympic athletes attending the Sotchi games will be gay, as will be many of the visitors to the games.  The Russians have made no assurances that their anti-gay pogrom won’t touch the Olympics, and in fact it already has.  Russia has banned the Olympics from having a Gay Pride house for LGBT athletes.  When that happened last year, the IOC issued a weak-tea statement that did absolutely nothing, even though such discrimination is a clear violation of the Olympic charter.

If you think Olympic athletes and tourists aren’t at risk, then you need to get up to speed on the latest news, because it isn’t good.  Gay activists are routinely, violently attacked by far-right thugs, who many believe are in cahoots with the Russian police.  And the courts are now joining President Putin in his anti-gay putsch.  A Russian woman was just fined 20,000 rubles, or around $600, by a Russian court for holding a rainbow flag at a protest.  Keep in mind that middle class Russians make between $4000 to $10,000 a year, so this is easily one-month’s wages.

Russian anti-gay thugs kick an LGBT rights activist. (Photo by Ilya Varlamov, with permission)

Young Russian anti-gay thugs kick an LGBT rights activist. (Photo by Ilya Varlamov, with permission)

And today we find out that the US State Department is getting involved as well.  Michael Lavers of the Washington Blade sat down with Uzra Zeya, acting assistant secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the State Department, recently and talked about Russia:

“We are absolutely against any legislation that prohibits same-sex consensual relations and we speak out against it and so it’s a consistent position,” Zeya said. “We’re very concerned by the overall direction in Russia. It is something that we have communicated directly to the Russian government.”

In diplomatic speak, having an official that senior say they’re “very concerned” is considered significant, and probably won’t make the Russians happy.

But you know who else isn’t happy?  Gay Russians who are now being subjected to violence because of the climate of hate that Putin has fomented:

Authorities continue to investigate the death of a gay Russian man whose body was found near the city of Volgograd on May 10.

The Moscow Times reported investigators said they found Vladislav Tornovoi’s body in the courtyard of an apartment building outside the southern Russian city. The newspaper cited local media that said Tornovoi’s assailants sodomized him with empty beer bottles and set his body on fire after he came out to them after they celebrated Victory Day that commemorates Germany’s surrender to the then-Soviet Union at the end of World War II.

Doesn’t that sound Olympically fun?

Russian gays living in the US, but originally from Russia, are calling for a boycott of the Sochi games:

“LGBT people in Russia are scared, they live in fear, and we want people to be aware of the issue. If they feel strongly about human rights they should boycott the Olympics in Sochi,” said Nina Long, co-president of RUSA LGBT, a Russian-speaking LGBT organization based in New York.

“We really want the LGBT community to know it’s unsafe to travel there,” she said in an interview with RIA Novosti.

So enjoy the Olympics in Sochi. If you survive them.

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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35 Responses to “Human Rights Watch blasts Olympics over worsening plight of Russian gays”

  1. melliemom says:

    Move the Olympics to Vancouver… why are we giving Russia this honor..

  2. pb3231 says:

    How come the HRW remained silent when the UK violated the Olympic Charter in 2012 – the Israeli judo team suffered discrimination when a screen was erected because the Lebanese did not want to see them. Discrimination in any form is not allowed according to the Charter but it was simply ignored.

  3. concerned says:

    I think that is a woman on the ground, I’ve seen this same photo taken from the other angle.

  4. Sweetie says:

    I know Tchaikovsky was gay. Koch Schwann’s booklet, though… which is hardly that old, wants people to believe otherwise.

  5. mikeyDe says:

    There are good reasons to boycott the Olympics. A waste of public money that promotes professional athletes, under the guise of amateur athletics, and nationalism. I’m all for professional athletics, just don’t ask me to pay for their games and their stadiums.

  6. ComradeRutherford says:

    The Olympic Committee is in complete collusion against gay rights. Just as the Olympic Cmte supported Chinese totalitarianism and slavery. There is no despotism that the Olympic Cmte won’t enthusiastically support, like Nazism, for example.

  7. JayRandal says:

    Russian bigots are the same as far-right American bigots. All of them are stupid and freaks too.

  8. Ninong says:

    During Soviet rule, he was officially “not-gay.” Sort of like Larry Craig. Since the Soviet government was overthrown, all of Tchaikovsky’s personal letters to his brother Modest and others have been released uncensored. He openly admitted his homosexuality on several occasions. His brother, Modest, writes about it in his autobiography. Modest quotes one passage from his brother in which he explains why his two-month marriage was doomed from the start (I don’t think they they ever successfully consummated sexual intercourse on their honeymoon) by quoting his brother’s explanation of his wife’s accusations against him. She accused him of fraud, saying he “married her only to hide his true nature.” They remained married but didn’t live together, never had sex and never had any children.

    Both his brothers, Modest and Anatoly, and his sister, Sasha, knew he was gay. In fact, his brother Modest was gay, too. They all warned him against getting married.
    In any case, now that all of the letters are available uncensored, there is no way anyone can deny that Peter Tchaikovsky was gay.

    They certainly can’t deny that Diaghilev and Nijinsky were gay — they were openly lovers.

  9. Sweetie says:

    “Mussorgsky was a homosexual composer born in Russia. His father was a wealthy man, and his mother was an English woman who had relocated to Russia. His land-owning family, the noble Mussorgskys, was descended from the sovereign princes of Smolensk.

    During his life Mussorgsky formed many homosexual attachments, unfortunately some of them to heterosexual men. One of the most popular pieces in the classical repertoire, Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition (1874 – written for solo piano, later orchestrated by Maurice Ravel) was based on an exhibit of watercolors by the handsome, young, and straight architect and painter Viktor Hartmann*, with whom Mussorgsky was hopelessly and painfully smitten. Hartmann was a Jew of Polish/Ukranian descent, so this serious infatuation is astonishing, given that the influential Mussorgsky family was both blatantly anti-Semitic and anti-Polish.”

    played by the great gay pianist Richter:

  10. Sweetie says:

    I have a Koch Schwann Tchaikovsky concerto box set that goes to great lengths to rewrite him as heterosexual. There is even a “Tchaikovsky’s Women” section of the booklet.,+etc+%2F+hoteev,+fedoseyev.htm

  11. Ninong says:

    Will they still play Tchaikovsky’s music? Would Sergei Diaghilev and Vaslav Nijinsky be arrested and thrown into prison if they were alive today? Rudy Nureyev might have been arrested before he even had a chance to defect.

    A policy like this probably wouldn’t have applied to Tsar Alexander III’s younger brother, Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich Romanov, whose gay affairs were well known in Moscow. I wonder if that’s why his brother sent him to Moscow to be the governor there from 1891-1905? To get him away from St. Petersburg or to give him more freedom in Moscow? No doubt he would have been exempt from laws like this. Even the Russian Orthodox Church didn’t dare criticize him.

  12. karmanot says:

    Go Larry!

  13. karmanot says:

    They say boycotting doesn’t work or market shaming doesn’t work. It does, I remember when the GLBTQ community took on the Coors brewing company— It worked. I remember when farm workers took on Gallo—it worked. It’s time to create an atmosphere of negativity around Russia on all social media sites and keep it trending until it becomes a big deal. Satirize them, humiliate them, point out famous and talented gay Russians, and the gay holocaust perpetuated by their now 3rd world regressive attitudes.

  14. Gualdim says:

    Excellent move by Russia. Sick of hearing constant barrages of gay propaganda. You’re gay I heard you shut up about it now

  15. Fred says:


    Highly debatable. I’d say not. Esp. considering stuff like this.

  16. Chowdersf says:

    Boycotting all things Russian is one way to do a small part…if you go to bars or clubs, suggest they stop selling Stoli and other Russian liquor….make sure no Russian company sponsors any Pride event in the future …..etc.

  17. Boleslav Boleslavovich Stoll says:

    #boycottolympics – help spread the word

  18. Larry Poltavtsev says:

    As a Russian-born American, I’m asking all our fellow US citizens and athletes to boycott this Olympic Games! Also, please sign the petition to add Russian homophobic lawmakers to the No-Entry-to-US list They hide their ill-gotten assets abroad and relocate their relatives. Also, please join us at the protests in front of the Russian Embassy in DC if you happend to be there: (Organized by Spectrum Human Rights).

  19. nicho says:

    Remember that the IOC banned us from using the name “Gay Olympics.” They don’t care about us.

  20. SpectrumHumanRights says:

    Boycott the Russian Olympics and help us to deny entry to the US for Russian homophobic lawmakers. Sign this petition now: Let’s freeze their illegal assets too!
    Spectrum Human Rights is based in Washington, DC and fights for LGBT Rights in ex-USSR (

  21. Badgerite says:

    I don’t think it has ever been done, but I think they should pull the Olympics from Russia. I don’t see this as any different than if they would have had South Africa host the Olympic Games during the era of Apartheid. This is unacceptable.

  22. FunMe says:

    Well said, and worth repeating:

    “Russia has become the Uganda among western nations.

  23. Thom Allen says:

    As far back as I can remember, the IOC has always been the prototypical bully. Happily expelling athletes, revoking medals, enforcing ridiculous rules against individuals and small groups. Glorying in its power. But when one of the big guns threatens the IOC it promptly craps its pants and submits. The Chinese could have machine gunned 60,000 students during the Opening Ceremonies and the IOC wouldn’t have done a thing except, possibly, criticize the students for getting in the way of the bullets.

  24. nicho says:

    I have renamed Russian Dressing as Freedom Dressing.

  25. Hue-Man says:

    Don’t forget all the Olympic team support personnel, coaches, trainers, judges, as well as personal trainers, coaches, and support staff of the super-elite athletes. The 2012 Canadian official team had almost as many officials as athletes (and this from wiki: “Former backstroke swimmer and 1992 Summer Olympics gold medalist Mark Tewksbury [who is gay] was the nation’s chef de mission…”) . With Winter Games particularly, there’s a large gay contingent of coaches, trainers, choreographers for the figure skating competitions…

    I have the same problem with Sotchi (French) and Sochi (English)

  26. Hatfield says:

    I’ve always loathed the Olympics as just another big money waste of money. Don’t count on the IOC doing anything at all but calling for some vague assurances.

  27. karmanot says:

    This is huge and deserves a major GLTBQ campaign. Russia has become the Uganda among western nations.

  28. Indigo says:

    That’s an important point.

  29. BeccaM says:

    What bothers me almost as much as seeing those thugs kicking a gay man prone on the ground are all the clustered photographers interested only in getting a good shot, and doing nothing to stop the brutal assault.

  30. Sweetie says:

    Bigots usually always attack in packs.

  31. quax says:

    Putin was apparently an astute observer of how well culture war wedge issues worked in the US.

    Time to remind him that Russia doesn’t exist in an international vacuum. It’s high time for a boycot of anything Russian.

  32. Sweetie says:

    Maria Sharapova has been living in the US since she was 9 years old (1989). She has made millions and millions as a result of her training in Florida and all the other perks that brought her to this country.

    Sharapova, though, has chosen, time and time again, to represent Russia for the Fed Cup and other tournaments. No doubt she will claim she’s Russian for the Olympics, too. She’ll put a pretty blonde extremely highly paid face on Russian bigotry — all the while being a product of the USA’s tennis camp environment and speaking with what is clearly an American accent.

    It’s bad enough to reap all the advantages of America while playing for Russia. It’s even worse to be silent on this issue. She has a ton of gay fans and so does tennis in general. And, I hardly think she got to where she is without the support of gay people, particularly given all the fashion industry bucks she has.

  33. cole3244 says:

    again it takes a bunch of straights to batter a supposed sissy gay man, those gay men must be tougher than the haters let on or the haters are pure cowards.

  34. Steven says:

    I’ve always wanted to visit Moscow and St. Petersburg, but that’ll never happen now. If the IOC refuses to address this, I think we can conclude that, between the 2008 Chinese Olympics and the 2014 Russian games, any IOC talk of human rights is just lip service.

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