The Sochi Olympics has attracted many protests. One, the Fair Games Project, launched an awareness campaign to support Russia’s LGBT community with a high-profile ad asserting that being gay in Russia costs $3,000 in fines… Wait, really?
The Fair Games Project sent out their Public Service Announcement, titled “Russia Declares Discrimination Newest Olympic Sport,” on February 6, a day ahead of the Sochi opening ceremony.
In the clip, scenes of a happy gay couple celebrating a birthday and subsequent marriage proposal are followed by the same two men violently beaten on a football pitch by players to general applause, as a crowd of viewers wave Russian flags.
The two-minute video, which also features the song "Freedom" by King Avriel, concludes with an ominous caption reading: “In Russia, the punishment for being gay is a $3,000 fine.” A series of slides lists other countries such as Saudi Arabia, Uganda and Iran, where being gay is a crime. Various types of punishment, ranging from imprisonment to public stoning, are recounted.
To stir supporters into action, the Fair Games Project encourages donations to The Russia Freedom Fund – an organization described on its website as “a US tax deductible vehicle for making financial contributions in support of the LGBT movement in Russia and efforts to combat discrimination and violence there based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”
Given the Western media efforts to portray “evil Russia” as a hell for gays ahead of the Olympics, the video was apparently meant to add a little bit of extra fuel to the fire. Who cares that there is not such a thing in the Russian law as a fine for being gay, or that homosexuality was decriminalized in the country in 1993?
Saying that it is so, perhaps, adds to the drama – as well as to the chances of achieving the goal of raising $15,000 to pay filmmakers’ expenses and more for the Fund. According to the Huffington Post, the clip is part of an ambitious campaign to collect as much as $1 million by the time the Games close. However, neither Russia Freedom Fund’s website, nor the Fair Games Project’s webpage, mentions $1 million as a goal.
But the authors of the clip do mention a considerable sum of money one “has to pay” for being gay, which hardly corresponds with the fines cited in Russia’s controversial law on gay propaganda toward minors.
The law behind the fuss and the ongoing hysteria was adopted last summer. It bans “propaganda of non-traditional relationships to minors.” Non-traditional sexual relationships were informally defined by lawmakers as those that cannot lead to the production of offspring. The law levies a fine of up to 50,000 rubles (about $1,500) on individuals, and up to 1 million rubles (about $30,000) on organizations. If you add the use of the media or the Internet here, this will finally give you a sum of roughly $3,000 for those people judged to be propagating.
While the law appears to have gaping loopholes such as, for instance, what exactly constitutes gay propaganda, its fiercest critics have apparently decided to cut to the chase, and dub the document simply an “anti-gay law.”
The legislation dominated the world’s press in the run-up to Sochi. For many, the world’s biggest sporting event, which athletes and millions of fans had been waiting for over the last four years, became yet another occasion to cast a stone in Russia’s direction over the LGBT issue.
US internet giant Google added to the chorus of Western criticisms by updating its search page with a new doodle, depicting athletes set against a rainbow flag – the widely recognized symbol of the LGBT community.
The page also included a quote from the Olympic Charter, which declares: “Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.”
Very true. And that is the principle that Russia has followed. Or does Google know of any athletes or guests who have been discriminated against in Sochi, or denied a visa ahead of the Games, because of their sexual orientation?
The Lotus Formula 1 team also gave in to the mass hype, posting a tweet on the Games’ opening day wishing all athletes a successful Olympics and accompanying the message with a photo of two kissing men. Later in the day, Lotus apologized for the “unauthorized message,” removed it and promised they would “ensure this cannot happen again.”
We would like to sincerely apologise for an unauthorized message posted on our Twitter account today & will ensure this cannot happen again.
— Lotus F1 Team (@Lotus_F1Team) February 7, 2014
Sponsors of the Sochi Games – including global brands such as Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Proctor & Gamble and Visa – also came under fire from LGBT activists. Michael Cashman, an openly gay member of the European Parliament from the UK, condemned the sponsors and cut up his Visa credit card in protest.
But not all prominent LGBT athletes have taken a political stance over Sochi. Some, such as Austrian ski jumper and LGBT rights advocate Daniela Iraschko-Stolz, have said that public reaction to the gay propaganda law has been exaggerated and that she wants to focus on sport during the Games.
Asked whether she was worried about the law, Iraschko-Stolz said: "No, on the contrary, I think everything is being blown up bigger than it is. I had a very good welcome, like every other athlete. There were absolutely no problems."
“I only want to focus on sports, and I think if you're tolerant towards everyone else, they treat you the same way and it gives you a lot of joy. I think you can make a statement by jumping well,” added the 30-year-old athlete, who married her lesbian partner last year.
Russian officials have meanwhile called for a halt in the media hype. Seeking to allay fears that spectators visiting the Games would be discriminated against, the Russian government pledged that the law would not apply to visitors and participants during the Games.
In Sochi, members of the LGBT community even voiced concerns that western media coverage of the law may have a negative effect on gay people in Russia.
“I think it's really bad,” the owner of one of Sochi’s gay clubs, Andrey Tanychev, told RT. “It negatively affects gay Russian people, because society blames them for spoiling the Olympics.”
Tanychev said that he does not agree with the law, but added that the gay community in Russia has largely been unaffected by the new legislation. Both he and his partner believe that the handling and publicity of the law by the Western press has been “heavy-handed.”
Indeed, for various reasons – from cultural to historic – Russian society is not 100 percent tolerant, tensions exist and the propaganda law does not alleviate them. But neither do the piling on the agony and the launching of anti-Russia propaganda campaigns based on lies.
One of the fiercest critics of the Russian legislation, the US, has similar laws, or the so-called “no promo homo” bans, in eight of its states. An opinion article in The Washington Post earlier in the year called for the repeal of these laws, which, for instance, include Arizona’s ban on portrayals of homosexuality as a “positive alternative lifestyle” and Utah’s prohibition on “the advocacy of homosexuality.”
Meanwhile, the Fair Games Project video got over 550,000 views on YouTube. But the question arises of where the money will go if the campaign is based on a fabrication.
In fact, the real message of the video is not that discrimination is Russia’s “Newest Olympic Sport.” Rather, it demonstrates a completely different, not really new and totally un-Olympic sport: Mudslinging.
Natalia Makarova, RT
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.