U.S. gay rights activists, buoyed by their unprecedented political successes in 2013, are gearing up to make an international statement at the Winter Olympics in Russia – but know that speaking out against new antigay laws there may be more difficult than anything they faced in America, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
Few Western gay rights activists will be in Russia for the Games, which are slated for February in the resort city of Sochi. For Russians who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, speaking out about their fears – or abuse they’ve suffered since the laws passed earlier this year – can be deadly. There are only 11 paid gay rights activists in Russia, a country of 143 million people.
Boycotting Olympic corporate sponsors won’t happen; most of those U.S. companies are LGBT-friendly. And the U.S. State Department has told activists that if they are caught violating the vaguely defined Russian antigay propaganda law, their home government won’t be able to help them.
Nevertheless, activists like Dustin Lance Black, the Sacramento native and Oscar-winning screenwriter of “Milk” about slain San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, see opportunity. He said the campaign is “all about visibility. It’s about being present. I am telling people that you have to go.”
Faced bomb threats
“This law was constructed to silence gay and lesbian people and their allies. As we said during the 1980s: Silence equals death for this movement,” said Black, who faced bomb threats when he screened his film at an LGBT film festival in St. Petersburg in late November.
Visiting with Russian gay rights activists at that time, Black found them “to be incredibly brave. As a student of gay history, it reminded me of San Francisco in the early 1970s or Salt Lake City for the last five years. It speaks to me of a people who aren’t going to let the pendulum swing back in this manner.”
As Black and Oscar-winning producer Bruce Cohen corral Hollywood stars to highlight the issue, U.S.-based LGBT organizations are preparing to open a multipronged effort to pull off what they described as their own “Olympic moment” in Sochi.
Several antigay laws
They want to call international attention to several new Russian laws created earlier this year. One bans exposing minors to “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations.” Critics say that law is so vague that someone could be prosecuted for wearing a rainbow T-shirt or holding hands in public with a person of the same sex. Another new law forbids gay foreigners from adopting Russian children.
“It’s like we’re in the Middle Ages again over there where it isn’t safe for LGBT people to live their lives,” said Cohen, the producer of “American Beauty” and “Silver Linings Playbook.”
Cohen worries most about what will happen after the Games, when the international spotlight dims. That’s a focus of Uprising of Love, an organization he co-founded with Black and singer Melissa Etheridge. The growing group of a couple dozen gay and straight performers – like singer Madonna, actress Julianne Moore and actor Jim Parsons – will speak out on human rights abuses in Russia after the last gold medals are handed out.
“Our message is that the world will continue to be watching afterward,” Cohen said.