Sochi, the Olympics and LGBT rights

February 5, 2014

Whether it was Jesse Owens at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, John Carlos and Tommy Smith raising a hand in the black power salute at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, or any number of other examples, protest has played a huge part in the history of the international games. And this year is shaping up to have quite an impact, as LGBT rights dominate the conversation.

Predicting to SiriusXM Progress host Ari Rabin-Havt that protests should be expected by athletes in Sochi, sports reporter at Think Progress Travis Waldron, says he thinks Russia and the IAC will probably turn a blind eye. But what he’s most interested to see is how Russia responds to protests that will inevitably occur outside of Olympics zones.

On the day of the opening ceremony, Rabin-Havt spoke with LGBT advocate, openly gay American and recently a congressional candidate (not to mention American Idol contestant) Clay Aiken about many things, including the situation for the LGBT community in Russia at the moment, asking if Aiken would be afraid to perform there right now.

“I don’t live in fear for anything, I don’t make decisions in my life based on what I’m afraid of… so no, I don’t think I’d be fearful,” Aiken said before weighing the situation and those who are standing up against the Russian law.

Leading up to the Olympics, reports have been coming out of Russia about the quality of life and both physical and mental abuse of the LGBT community. Author Jeff Sharlet spoke with Michelangelo Signorile on OutQ about his piece for GQ’s February issue, in which he looks at life for gays in Russia, making comparisons to other anti-gay nations like Uganda.

“What I found in Russia, if anything, was even more horrifying, it was more perverse and it had state power behind it,” Sharlet says before describing the conditions in detail.

But what is so striking is that things have gotten so much worse recently, that many LGBT Russians who were living happy gay lives have been forced to go back into the closet.

“Things have gotten worse over there. This is something inidious and new… that is part of a global homophobic crusade. Taking away rights that had already been won,” Sharlet said.

But it’s not all bad. Because of Russia’s politics on LGBT rights, New Zealand Olympic speed skater Blake Skjellerup says the issues has been highlighted in a way and on a level that it otherwise would not have been had the games been someplace else.

Rosie O’Donnell weighs the the pros and cons of different reactions to the Sochi Olympics in light of the LGBT debate, wondering on the one hand if we should boycott, but on the other if that fair to the athletes – both gay and straight- for whom this is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

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