Corporate Sponsors, the Olympics and Human Rights

Today is Tuesday, January 21, 2014.

We are only about two weeks from the Sochi Winter Olympics and I’m wondering about the silence of the corporate sponsors and NBC, who has the contract to televise the Games in the States, in regards to the pernicious law against ‘gay propaganda’ in Russia. State run television in Russia has recently launched a disgusting campaign against gay people, especially on their popular program, ‘Special Correspondent’, which has contributed to the climate of fear and hate. The program’s moderator, Arkady Mamontov, referred to gay people as ‘perverts’ and ‘sodomites’, and claimed Europe and America are trying to ‘infiltrate’ Russia to get Russia’s perverts to protest against the State and the Russian people. Europe, especially, is allegedly part of a ‘Western expansion of sin in Russia.’  The show used excerpts from a meeting between international human rights activists and Russian LGBT leaders in St. Petersburg. Apparently, that meeting was under government surveillance and they took language out of context and constructed a conspiracy against the Russian culture, then aired that conspiracy on State television.

This last week, Putin gave a press conference, in which he said gays and lesbians coming to the Games will have no problems. He claimed there is no persecution of homosexuals, for example, gay clubs and bars are completely legal. Same-gender sex is not illegal. But then he ended his comments with the disgusting remark, ‘Just leave our kids alone.’ It is just so hard to comprehend how at this point in time an otherwise intelligent man could make such an offensive, stupid statement. But in Russia, in part because of the growing power of the Orthodox Church and the apparently still quite ignorant public, a despot like Putin, who has created a cult-like following for himself, can manipulate and cajole as much as he wants. His homophobic statement regarding ‘kids’ makes for a pretty empty promise that ‘all is well’ for gay people at the Olympic Games.

In order for Russia to have been awarded the Games, they had to sign off on respect for international norms when it comes to human rights. That is a key component of the Olympic Charter. Russia also signed the European Commission on Human Rights Agreement, which lays out quite clearly the standards for dealing with sexual minorities. Russia currently is in violation of both. Yet, the Russian Foreign Ministry recently put out a propaganda ‘report’ criticizing the UN and the EU for their position on homosexuality and their efforts to force countries like Russia, that have a ‘traditional culture and moral standard regarding homosexuality’, to change and adopt the decadence of the ‘West.’  This is how primitive the Russian government really is under Putin.

The current laws in Russia make freedom of speech, freedom of association, and freedom of assembly a mockery of their constitution. Gay people have none of these constitutionally guaranteed freedoms anymore, and are subject to arrest and fines for even talking about their lives or their relationships in public. Under these circumstances, does anyone really think Gays and Lesbians will have no problems in Sochi?

Coca-Cola, Visa, Panasonic, General Electric, Procter & Gamble, and NBC should all stand up and condemn the anti-gay law, the current homophobic climate on State television, and Putin’s outrageous statement about gay people. They should publicly condemn the human rights violations against gay people in Russia. And they should demand guarantees that there will be no violations of international standards in the treatment of sexual minorities. But they are all silent. In this situation, silence = approval, and I, for one, will be watching carefully how these corporations conduct themselves between now and the end of the Games.  You all should, too.

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