Langevin Supports LGBT Olympic Athletes and Spectators

Aug 2, 2013 Issues: International Human Rights, LGBT Rights

As the 2014 Winter Olympic Games near, Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI) signed a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry urging him to undertake all necessary diplomatic efforts to ensure the safety and security of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender athletes, volunteers, journalists and spectators visiting Sochi, Russia, for the Olympics. The Russian government recently enacted a law that criminalizes supporting or engaging in homosexual activity, including any public acknowledgement of one’s orientation or any statement of support for LGBT rights.

“Making it to the Olympics is a dream come true for so many deserving athletes, and we cannot let the prejudice of a host country threaten that dream,” said Langevin, a founder and Co-Chairman of the Congressional Olympic and Paralympic Caucus. “Our LGBT athletes and spectators, and their supporters, deserve to be there, and deserve the same expectation of safety as any other athlete or observer.”

Concerns are rising over the persecution of LGBT individuals in Russia, with a ban on pride parades that, despite being deemed illegal by a European Court of Human Rights, continues to be enforced by Russian police. The persecution of LGBT individuals does not apply solely to the Russian people. Foreign nationals that break these so-called laws could be arrested and detained for up to 15 days.

“The Olympic Games represent the power of international cooperation. The five major regions of the world – the five Olympic rings – are meant to put their differences aside in order to compete fairly and celebrate the accomplishments of thousands of inspiring, dedicated athletes,” Langevin continued. “We must work with Russian officials to ensure the safety of all Americans visiting the country. The Olympic spirit can only be preserved if all participants are treated equally.”

Full text of letter to Secretary Kerry:

The Honorable John Kerry
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20520-0099

Dear Secretary Kerry:

We are writing to you regarding the troubling implications of a recently-enacted Russian law criminalizing actions or statements deemed to be in support of the homosexuality or the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.  In light of the fact that the 2014 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games are being held in Sochi, Russia, we would like to know what diplomatic measures the State Department is planning to take to ensure that LGBT athletes, staff and spectators, and their supporters, are not arrested, detained or otherwise penalized during the Sochi Games.

The law, signed by President Vladimir Putin on June 30th, will penalize any individuals or groups found to be promoting or engaging in homosexual activity. Press reports have indicated that punishable offenses would include public acknowledgment of one’s orientation, displays of affection between same-sex partners, statements in support of LGBT rights, and the use of symbols such as rainbows that are attributed to the LGBT community. Foreign nationals found to be in violation of the law could be arrested and detained for up to 14 or 15 days, according to differing press reports.

According to the Organizing Committee of XXII Olympic Games and Paralympic Games in Sochi, Sochi will be host to over 40,000 athletes, volunteers, and members of the press for the duration of the Games. An additional 75,000 spectators are expected to visit Sochi daily during that time. With the Olympics only seven months away, we are deeply concerned about the impact of the new anti-gay law on the Olympic community and supporters.

We are particularly troubled because while the newly signed anti-gay law is the most recent and most extreme codification of Russia’s maltreatment of its LGBT citizens, it is also part of larger trend of anti-gay actions in Russia. In the last month, the Russian government also enacted a law banning foreign same-sex couples and single people from nations that have marriage equality from adopting Russian children. Hate crimes and violent attacks against the LGBT community have escalated, resulting in the murders of two gay men earlier this year. In 2012, Moscow instituted a hundred-year ban on LGBT pride parades, a ban that was deemed illegal by the European Court of Human Rights, but which nevertheless resulted in the arrest and detention of seventeen LGBT activists for displaying rainbow flags. Russia’s record of anti-gay legislation and persecution pose serious concerns for the safety of LGBT Sochi Olympic participants and spectators.

On July 17th, the International Olympic Committee issued a statement, obtained by the Windy City Times, acknowledging that the newly-enacted law is contradictory to its policy of non-discrimination and pledging to “work to ensure that the Games can take place without discrimination against athletes, officials, spectators and the media.” However, the IOC recognized that it is not equipped to address the issue fully, stating “[w]ider political issues in the country are best dealt with by other international organizations more suited to this endeavor.”

We applaud the State Department’s commitment to ensuring that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons abroad, and the actions your agency has already taken to communicate concerns about the overall direction on LGBT rights in Russia directly to the Russian government. In light of the importance of U.S. leadership on LGBT issues, and the quickly-approaching Sochi Games, we urge the State Department to determine the appropriate course of action to assure the safety and well being of LGBT individuals involved in or attending the 2014 Sochi Olympics and Paralympics. We look forward to hearing from you regarding what efforts have been undertaken and are committed to working together with you on this issue.