Russia’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Olympics

I was thinking about today’s statement by the Russian Interior Ministry, in which they said that the country’s draconian anti-gay and anti-trans law will apply to Olympic athletes and guests (and media) at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

And it suddenly hit me.  Russia just imposed a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”  (DADT) policy on the Sochi Olympics.

What the Russian Interior Ministry said today was that the country’s anti-gay law will be enforced against athletes, guests and media attending the Sochi Olympics.  But, they added, no one will be thrown in jail simply based on their sexual orientation.

The Russians were being too crafty by half, and at least one media outlet, the BBC fell for it.

The Russians are hoping that the world won’t realize that they never made it illegal to be gay.

The problem is, and always has been, that Russia made it illegal for anyone to find out that you’re gay. (And, if they do find out, you now run the risk of being kidnapped and tortured, thanks to, at best, the inaction, and possibly complicity, of the Russia government.)

There’s very little difference between being gay and “acting” gay.  But the Russians are hoping you’ll think there is.

Created by one of our readers, SD.

Created by one of our readers, SD.

What the Russian anti-“gay propaganda” law does is make it illegal for you to do (or say) anything that could end up convincing a child that being gay or trans is okay, normal, and acceptable.  The Russian Interior Ministry is now trying to claim that that means gay and trans people are off the hook, that they’ll be fine at the Sochi Olympics.  But it’s simply not true, as RIA Novosti, Russia’s own state-owned media, confirmed today.  The Russian Interior Ministry made clear that you’ll still be going to jail, whether you’re gay or straight, if you participate during the Olympics in “gay propaganda” that a child might risk seeing.

And the problem is that “gay propaganda” could be anything.

As we learned during our DADT experience in America, the simple fact of being gay is often telegraphed publicly in a myriad of ways that are often not even intentional.  For example, A gay Olympic athlete is invited to a public event during the Sochi Olympics.  His “family” is invited as well.  Maybe it’s a medal ceremony.  The gay athlete shows up with his husband, and media cameras, or print reporters, are present.  That athlete, and any reporter (or cameraman) reporting on the athlete being there with his husband, may every likely be in violation of Russia’s anti-“gay propaganda” law.  Same goes for any Olympic visitor who photographs, or simply writes about, the Olympian and their gay spouse, and posts the comment, photo or video on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or anywhere else on the Internet.  That Olympic guest will also be going to jail.

In order for gay Olympic athletes to avoid going to jail, they will need to not only not acknowledge their gay spouse (or boyfriend/ girlfriend) in public, they will need to leave their significant other back in their home country all together, lest someone photograph or film or report on the presence of the gay spouse at the Olympics, and thus violate Russia’s law for everyone involved.

But it’s even worse than that.

Gay athletes also risk violating Russia’s law if they do an at-home interview with any of the foreign networks covering the Olympics (in America, that would be NBC).  During the Olympics, in the US at least, the networks always do an “up close and personal” segment showing the Olympian back home in the states with their family, preparing for the Olympics.  Gay athletes will need to kick their spouses out of their homes – and make sure there’s nothing “rainbow” – when the news crew comes to film, and they will be forced to not mention that they even have a spouse during the interview.  And ditto for the news crew, which will be equally liable should the interview take place and be broadcast from Russia, or in Russia.

Or are foreign news crews going to bleep gay athletes who mention their husbands and wives on camera?

That last point is hugely important.  So long as the media broadcast might possibly be watched by any child in Russia – which will happen if any of the media coverage is broadcast over the Internet – the athlete, their spouse, and the media in question will be in violation of Russian law.  And so might be anyone who embeds the broadcast, shares it via Twitter, or “likes” it on Facebook.

I could go on – there are a never-ending number of ways that Olympic athletes, visitors and media can run afoul of Russia’s anti-gay law.

Ironically, under the law, the media won’t even be able to report on the law’s existence, or its application to the Olympics, unless they ensure that they do nothing in their coverage that might suggest the law is bad.  Anyone who suggests anything negative about the law could be seeing jail time, or worse.

And should the Russians jail any Olympic athletes, guests, or media under the law – or worse, should any athlete, guest, or media be kidnapped and tortured (something that’s been growing in popularity of late) – it’s not entirely clear if the media can even report on the arrest, or kidnapping, unless they present the assault it in a positive, or at best “neutral” way (yeah she was kidnapped and tortured, but maybe she deserved it).

Think I’m exaggerating? Note that Russian news stories that include gay content now include warning labels for younger children. Here’s RIA Novosti’s warning label is routinely uses for any story about the Olympics that includes a mention of anything “gay.”

ria-novosti-caveat russia gay stoli

Russian state-owned media, RIA-Novosti’s, child warning label that goes on its gay coverage.

Is NBC going to include a warning label when New Zealand speed skater Blake Skjellerup wears a rainbow pin during his competition, as promised?  When they report on Russia’s anti-gay law?  And what is NBC going to do when Skjellerup gets arrested?

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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51 Responses to “Russia’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Olympics”

  1. bimbo says:

    so this image of W and putin is okay but not a rodeo clown in a mask? hypocrisy is a fine art among liberals.

  2. bimbo says:

    i’m growing leery of the ‘draconian pro-homosexual propaganda’

  3. Auri Gade says:

    The so called “gay propaganda” in their law should be defined clearly.
    grill brush

  4. Jim Olson says:

    Oh, I have no hope that the laws will be repealed. And, even if they were, the nastiness would not go away anytime soon. It’s too bad, really…I’d love to visit several museums in Russia.

  5. Rica Mits says:

    I’ve been reading horrible stories on Russia’s violent treatment to gays.
    short of cash

  6. Jason C. Dixon says:

    I’m no christian, nor am i a hater i’m just a person that believes whats right… though saying that, gays and any other gender that cant give birth to humans, even while our planet is over populated, is still a bad idea, to have sexuality with the same gender, i’m not saying that you cant commit to a relationship you love most, but simply saving that if we as a species heads towards this route we can very well cause our extinction. if you haven’t heard about that males reproductive systems are becoming less functional, and while thats said that if men like gays continue to go like this we can very well loose the ability to sustain our civilization. My last words are that to any whom that read this regardless of their gender, and regardless of who they love, please at the end of the day remember the choices you make.

  7. Scott Wylie says:

    So, the Russian THUGS will arrest anyone displaying the Rainbow Flag? Well, that’s exactly what I’m asking participating nations to do. Place a small, yet visible Rainbow Flag on the uniforms of their athletes. Please sign and SHARE, TWEET and EMAIL the following petition. This human rights abuse MUST stop!

  8. Anonymous says:

    Yes. He only hates the minority because they’re against him politically. The others are too dumb to protest. They also don’t realize they’re his personal watchdogs in case someone protests his laws.

    He sweeps widespread embezzlement of gov’t money under the rug all the time. Something that doesn’t happen in America. Why don’t people think THAT’S a problem? If they want to fix the economy, shouldn’t they want their leaders to stop robbing them blind?

  9. Anonymous says:

    I’ve been to Egypt and I would not go to Russia.

  10. AnitaMann says:

    That’s the thing. Fascists need collaborators, or at least good people who do nothing. In this case the IOC is an active co-conspirator, because $$$$$. Pressuring Putin directly is… who knows how that will work. Americans and others around the world have to pressure the IOC. And the sponsors.

  11. Thom Allen says:

    Even if the anti-gay laws WERE repealed 1. Would you believe the lying, corrupt russian government that they wouldn’t arrest someone? 2. What would prevent the neonazis from still intimidating, beating, killing whomever they decide is gay?

  12. cole3244 says:

    how about this, the lgbt community won’t act their normal if the russians don’t act like nazi’s, this is a win win for all concerned.

    let the games begin if they haven’t already.

  13. BeccaM says:

    I’ve traveled a fair amount, and sometimes to places not exactly recommended by Fodors.

    If I had plans to travel to Russia, I’d be canceling them. Not for the sake of a political statement, but because it’s simply not safe for someone like me.

  14. MyrddinWilt says:

    I suspect rather a lot of would be tourists are canceling their trips already. Regardless of whether you are straight or gay, Russia is not a safe country. It is a lawless country where armed thugs attack with government immunity.

  15. MyrddinWilt says:

    Straight people who oppose Putin in any way are at risk. LBGT rights are just the canary in the coalmine. Putin is playing the hate card to cover up his other crimes. This is how fascism works.

    It is going to be hard to work out how to protest in ways that don’t play into Putin’s hands.

  16. BeccaM says:

    And again, I’ll reiterate: Straight people who support LGBT rights are also at risk.

    Sitting in a cafe and mention aloud that your brother just married his husband. You can be arrested, imprisoned, and deported.

    Have a photo in your wallet showing that brother with his husband at their wedding. If anybody sees it, including Russian Customs officials, you can be arrested, imprisoned, and deported.

    Say aloud that you think Russia’s anti-gay pogrom and its supporting laws are wrong. You can be arrested, imprisoned, and deported.

    Mention in public that the entire rationale behind Russia’s anti-gay pogrom is illogical, unscientific, and irrational scapegoating of the worst order, because gay people are in no way a danger to children, nor are gays pedophiles. You can be arrested, imprisoned, and deported.

    Publicly express sympathy for the young people and teens being kidnapped, beaten, humiliated and sometimes murdered or driven to suicide by Russian neo-Nazis. You can be arrested, imprisoned, and deported.

  17. BeccaM says:

    Or, more likely, Skjellerup and all the other participating athletes and their teams will be threatened with disqualification by the IOC if they engage in any activity that draws Russian anti-gay ire. Including wearing rainbow pins and drawing attention to them and their significance.

    It’s gonna be ugly, John. And I doubt justice will prevail in this. Russia’s pogrom will continue, and the ones suffering the most won’t be the Olympics visitors, but all those LGBT Russians who live there now.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Mod, feel free to delete this. I just couldn’t resist.

  19. SkippyFlipjack says:

    I mean, seriously now..

  20. SkippyFlipjack says:

    Putin apparently doesn’t “be” gay but he does act gay. So what happens to him?

  21. nicho says:

    WWI and WWII were actually the same war — with a 20-year intermission to grow new cannon fodder.

  22. emjayay says:

    A lot of spectators not going is also an obvious protest and hurts Russia where it matters. If I was a sports nut with the money maybe I’d decide to go and wave the rainbow flag or whatever. Of course the athletes should compete wherever.

  23. emjayay says:

    Yes (and what’s up with the down votes?) exactly. Of course the US should not, cannot and will not boycott the Olympics. Athletes should compete and get whatever medals they deserve. But tourists can decide to not go. Or maybe the moving the Olympics even if it means splitting them up might happen. Great.

    We’re Americans and of course see things from our perspective. I just want to remind everyone that people from similar countries all around the world are seeing the same stuff the same way. Note big demonstrations in England. So not just the US team but all kinds of teams can pull out the rainbow flags and kiss their spouses or whatever they come up with, and it would be awesome if they do.

  24. Jim Olson says:

    Magister, this is not just about the athletes. If my husband and I went to the Olympics together as spectators (something we considered doing), we would be in real danger of arrest and imprisonment or worse. Something as simple as forgetting ourselves and holding hands in public would be enough to prompt an arrest or a beating.

  25. Dave of the Jungle says:

    News Flash: George W Bush couldn’t see into Vladimir Putin’s heart. He’s actually a Totalitarian Stalinist Bastard and the Cold War isn’t over.

  26. Houndentenor says:

    From what I’m reading this is true.

  27. Houndentenor says:

    They don’t even have to be gay. They just have to “act” gay in a picture on facebook. And with younger people (as in the age of most Olympic athletes) it’s not a big deal to have gay friends. Certainly in sports where there are a lot of gay people anyway would a pic of someone embracing an openly gay person be viewed as “acting” gay in as anti-gay a place as Russia? This is what happens in a witch hunt environment like this. It’s bad enough that gay people are in danger but people perceived as being gay for whatever reason have the same risk. This is where bigotry and hatred get you. The games have to be moved. It’s not safe there.

  28. Stephen says:

    Everything about the US/Russian relations is looking more and more like we’re in Cold War II. Proxy fighting in Syria; the Soviet style crack down on human rights, including reporters assassinations, jailing and murdering of dissidents, and pogroms; the Soviet style bombastic rhetoric; the Western obsession with missile defense system; etc.

    I imagine a long time from now historians will say how Cold War II was a result of how Cold War I ended, just like WWII came about because of WWI.

  29. Houndentenor says:

    What does that even mean. Athletes common express their emotions in winning and losing physically with teammates of the same sex. That doesn’t mean they are gay but certainly a homophobe could read it that way. This isn’t just a danger to gay people but anyone who might be accused of “acting” gay whatever the fuck that means. This can’t go on. And I agree with the others. The Russians are going to double down on this and make it worse. Hopefully the IOC will realize the mess and just move the games. I’m not counting on it but I’m going to keep hoping they will show some common sense and not just be the corrupt greedy bastards they have been for decades.

  30. Houndentenor says:

    No. Just no. If this were the 1950s the USOC might be able to control what stories appeared in the press. but it’s 2013 and there’s no way to control what will wind up on the internet. The law is too ill-defined and that means that it’s up to local authorities whether or not you will be arrested. You wouldn’t even have to be gay. What if a pic shows up with you embracing a friend and someone decides that looks gay. This is absurd and anyone should be able to see that. This is too risky a situation for the athletes and other foreigners visiting Russia for the games. The IOC has to move the games.

  31. Monoceros Forth says:

    If I read the Russian mood correctly, the reactionary forces at work don’t care one whit for “international outrage”. Such outrage will just be more proof of the need for Russia to purge itself of corrupting foreign influences.

  32. Monoceros Forth says:

    I’ve been speculating along the same lines. There’s a tremendous explosion coming of reactionary nationalism and xenophobia. If it bursts early enough the Games won’t happen, no matter how corrupt and spineless the IOC is.

  33. Naja pallida says:

    The IOC is full of rich, entitled people who hire people to know mundane things like that… or they would, if they cared.

  34. DrDignity says:

    I say move the games to Whistler in Vancouver, British Columbia.

  35. Bill_Perdue says:

    1) That’s a very dangerous and ignorant assumption. The RF is the second or third military power on the planet and they are not afraid of doing what they want in their own borders. No one should be promoting ideas that could endanger athletes or others. I suspect that some will engage in civil disobedience but if they do I hope they plan for the worst. No one should be encouraged to act unless they understand and accept the dangers involved.

    2) It’s not just a few athletes who are in danger, our efforts have to go to support the efforts our millions of Russian sisters and brothers who are endangered by these laws, which are at least as dangerous for them as DOMA was for us.

    Our efforts in the US will be most effective in promoting boycotts and divestment campaigns of those who enable Putin’s attack on our communities in the RF, companies like NBC, Coke, McDonald’s, Panasonic etc.

  36. nicho says:

    You can be a spectator

  37. Bill_Perdue says:

    Our Russian sisters and brothers are going to have a major action at Sochi to defy the antigay laws and we have to do all we can to ramp up efforts to challenge these laws in international courts as well as aid them by raising money and by boycotting NBC and other financial supporters of the bigotry of the IOC and the Putinites.

    Russian Anti-Gay Law Violates the Constitution and European Human Rights Law
    The Russian parliament has unanimously passed a harsh new anti-gay law that criminalises LGBT freedom of expression, under the guise of suppressing the spread of ‘propaganda’ to minors in support of “non-traditional sexual relations. It is one of the most draconian laws against LGBT freedom of expression anywhere in the world and a further reversal of the liberalisation of the early 1990s, when homosexuality was decriminalised in Russia. Not since the days of Stalin have LGBT Russians experienced such repressive legal measures. ” Peter Tatchell was viciously beaten by Russian antigay thugs thugs in Moscow in 2207, suffering eye damage and a concussion.

  38. Bill_Perdue says:

    It won’t work – the Putinites have to repeal the anti-gay laws and begin arresting right wing anti-gay thugs, including those in the politsiya and the FSB. That’s not likely so it’s even more important that we ramp up our support for our extremely heroic brothers and sisters in Russia.

    In addition we should ramp up the efforts for effective boycotts like those against NBC, Coke, McDonalds and push the Obama regime to offer open asylum to Russians and to victims of American bigotry like the LGBT communities in Iraq and Uganda.

  39. grayzip says:

    This is total conjecture, but FWIW:

    I’m starting to think that Russia is going to screw itself out of the Olympics — still theirs to lose, despite our efforts — because they simply can’t help themselves.

    Every time the savvy thing to do would be shut up about or minimize their anti-gay policies and attitudes, they double down on intolerance instead. If anything, the more concern the West shows, the more bombastic and over-the-top their reactions grow. Their rhetoric followed a similar pattern back in the Cold War days and the impulse is apparently hard-wired into the Russian brain. And while it’s one thing for Obama and Cameron and the IOC to pooh pooh talk or relocating or boycotting the Olympics based on what Russia has said and done now, it will be potentially quite another to do so based on what they will have said one, two, and four months from now. I bet like Tea Partiers here they can’t help themselves and will make it impossible for level-headed souls to countenance them.

    I only hope that should it happen it turns on things Russians have said and not done, though with this kind of escalating rhetoric anything is sadly possible.

  40. Jim Olson says:

    This is really shaping up to be a disaster all around. I don’t see any way out of this at this point, unless the Russians completely repeal this law. It won’t stop the discrimination, of course. If the Olympics go ahead in Sochi as scheduled (and some high ranking IOC officials are hinting that could be in question…), and the law is still in place, arrests, beatings and deportments will happen. The IOC will be completely culpable, and it will damage the Olympics greatly. It is really getting close to too late to pull the Olympics from Sochi and move them somewhere else. If they do, the games will again be largely diminished and not nearly as smooth and organized as they usually are.

  41. Anonymous says:

    I wonder if the IOC even knows how the Internet works. They apparently didn’t consider this at all.

  42. magster says:

    If you can make me talented enough to be in the Olympics, deal.

    We all know the IOC doesn’t have the courage to remove the Olympics from Russia, so the choice is then boycott or protest. I would choose the latter, and while it’s easy for me to say I’d protest when I don’t have the talent to even sniff participating in the Olympics, if the goal is to shame the Russian government into changing its ways, a boycott would be less effective. If there’s a boycott, Russian media controls the narrative. If there’s protest the Russian people hopefully see what’s going on and the pressure on Putin is increased.

  43. REALrenovato says:

    They would move the Olympics if they were to ban people competing while obviously black, or obviously female but, obviously gay Oh! no, that is a natural innate characteristic that you may not express in any form what so ever! So when you win your medal do not enthusiastically hug or kiss your spouce full on the lips or hold hands around the olympic park or express affection all too obviously just as your straight compatriots are doing.
    Not allowed to just be human.
    Thats the problem.

  44. usagi says:

    Can you image a thug giving a rat’s ass? They’ll never be anywhere other than Russia, and Russia will never do anything (certainly nothing serious) to prosecute them, “international outrage” or not. Unless you think Obama is going to order a drone strike inside Russia, I don’t see any deterrent to thugs acting like thugs as they have been for the past several months.

  45. nicho says:

    Why don’t you try it? Buy a ticket, go to the Olympics, and stage your “kiss-in.” I’ll even chip in for your ticket.

  46. FLL says:

    I don’t think leaving a same-sex spouse back in your home country will solve all the problems. Let me explain why. Marriage records are part of the public record. It only takes one neo-fascist skinhead with a little extra time on his hands to do the research. Once the “concerned skinhead” compiles his list of athletes and foreign visitors with same-sex spouses, he can match them up with photos, using public records and various forms of social media like Facebook. Now we have names and photos to be distributed to all the neo-fascists who will be swarming into Sochi in order to target the “foreign queers” with whatever type of violent crime they have in mind. Have the geniuses in the IOC considered any of this? Do they really think Putin can have a policeman at every restaurant table, in every hotel lobby and at every street corner in Sochi? Could we at least hear from the one Norwegian guy in the IOC, Gerhard Heiberg, who seems to have some common sense? Impending disaster is a possibility.

  47. Anonymous says:

    Plenty of thugs there with nothing to lose. I would not be surprised if something happened. Police would not harm them, but they would not protect them either.

  48. bkmn says:

    Again, while not in favor of a boycott, I would love to see the IOC declare that the Russians cannot compete in the Olympics.

  49. magster says:

    They wouldn’t dare harm an American athlete. Can you imagine the international outrage?

  50. Indigo says:

    You want them murdered? I don’t agree with that and I’m outraged that you implied that.

  51. magster says:

    I don’t want a US boycott. I want same sex US athletes kissing each other as a protest in full view of crowds and cameras on the medal stand. I want the US team to do something provocative in the opening ceremonies. A boycott will keep the spotlight off this and make it someone else’s problem. A US protest during the games would be much more effective.

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