UBC law prof Margot Young on gay rights in Russia
As protests over gay rights in Russia spill over into media coverage of the Winter Games, UBC law professor Margot Young, a specialist in equality law, discusses gay rights and the Games.
Will the Sochi Games be a watershed moment in the gay rights movement?
The Olympics are simply one moment—with enhanced international publicity—in the struggle for equality by Russia’s LGBTQ community. The Games may not lead to immediate progress on this issue in Russia, but the improved visibility has advanced the conversation in Russia and the in the Olympics movement itself. The Vancouver Olympics saw the first Pride House, an institution the London Summer Olympics adopted, and the Sochi Olympics notably discontinued. Other sporting events have adopted this tradition and one might expect to see one in Rio de Janeiro’s Summer Olympics. So, the enhanced visibility of the issue and an improvement in the notorious homophobia of the world of sports are two positive outcomes of publicity around the very bleak situation in Russia.
Russia has said that all orientations will be respected at the Games, if they obey Russian laws. Are LGBT travellers in Russia – protesters or not – in a dangerous position?
Undoubtedly, there will be some form of protest during the Games against Russia’s laws and attitudes towards gay and lesbian sexuality. Although, I suspect gestures of solidarity will be more subtle and constrained than we might expect in other countries where the state is less oppressive of free speech. Given increasing security fears about terrorist action and fears of the Russia state itself, athletes and spectators may confine these gestures to the Olympic sites where Putin and other Russian officials have indicated there will be tolerance of differences in sexual orientation. But these guarantees don’t help those Russians experiencing repression before, during, and after the Games. Toleration during the Olympics, on Olympic sites, for visitors, is a far cry from repealing or even moderating the legal and social oppression gays and lesbians experience as residents in Russia.
Hockey star Sidney Crosby has supported gay rights in the past, but says he was going to Sochi “just to play hockey.” What are the responsibilities of athletes?
Unless, we are prepared to say the Olympic Games are human rights-free sites, all involved bear responsibility for support they lend—either implicitly or otherwise—to repressive regimes that host the Olympics. The responsibility lies most heavily on the International Olympics Committee, of course. And, the IOC is long at fault for not taking a stronger and more meaningful stand against human rights abuses carried out by host countries. But there is individual moral and political responsibility too. The world is a complicated place and those who have the privilege of playing sport at elite levels cannot claim to be separate from the struggles around them. Particularly those who enter the Olympics from places of real economic and political privilege like an NHL hockey player.