Anastasia Smirnova is a Russian LGBT voice that needs to be heard

Anastasia Smirnova, the coordinator for a host of LGBT advocacy organizations in Russia, and one of the four activists arrested in Russia, has posted a statement on her Facebook page. She provides additional detail about her arrest and detainment, as well as some thoughts for the LGBT community going forward.

The protestors still have not received mainstream media attention, despite being available to speak to the media. Media are encouraged to use this statement, and contact GLAAD to get in touch with Anastasia, as well as other LGBT Russians. While the games are going on in Sochi, a crackdown continues elsewhere in the country.

This has excerpted with permission. To read the full statement, click here.

The major plan for the day was our ‘guerilla’ action – hanging the 7-meter banner on one of St Petersburg's bridges to remind people in the city about the anti-discrimination language of the Olympic Charter on the day of the Opening Ceremony. Since this action had to be a very fast one, and we felt bad about not having a possibility to enjoy our nice banner all together and hold it proudly in a group, we decided to make a stop on the way to the site and take a couple pictures for private use to remind us of the moment.

The ridiculous – and sad – thing is, we were not even carrying the opened banner across the bridge, we were not marching with it, we simply and casually carried it to the photo-spot and unfurled only there. Hardly had we taken four pictures and started packing the banner back (I imagine it took us altogether 3-5 minutes maximum), a police bus arrived, followed right away by three more police cars that surrounded us – one of them packed with fully armed riot police officers.

We were detained in a matter of minutes for taking pictures with a banner – and as it turned out had no chance to make our ‘guerilla’ action happen and to even arrive to the bridge where we intended to place our Olympic non-discrimination reminder. When I returned home after all subsequent adventures, I had a lot to catch up with. Browsing the news, I found out that around 70 people were detained across the country on that day at various peaceful public actions – from one-person protests to unauthorized awareness-raising demonstrations.

It was a police state at its best, when information about actions planned seemed to be known to the authorities in advance.

The Olympic Games have already brought extreme, almost unprecedented mobilization of the police and other security forces even in regions far away from Sochi. What is more, they seem to shut down even the previously existing loopholes to peacefully assemble and to take civic action. While the Russian law on ‘public assembly’ is extremely harsh and presents high barriers for organizing public actions, there have always been small windows of opportunity to peacefully express opinions in public. For example, so-called one-person pickets or non-violent and harmless ‘guerilla’ actions, e.g. placing a sign or a banner with a simple and positive message somewhere in town (as long as you do it fast). The first day of the Games has shown that at least during the Olympics even these opportunities are blocked – and this is not at all LGBT-specific.

Law enforcement and security forces seem to be on a mission that is apparently framed by some highest authority not as ‘ensuring safety and security’, but as ‘preventing and stamping out provocations’.

… 

The banner that we had read ‘Discrimination is incompatible with the Olympic Movement. – Principle 6. The Olympic Charter’ (in Russian). It was a simple sign with black text over plain white with a shadow of the Olympic rings on the background and a colorful Olympic torch on the left. We did not have any LGBT-themed accessories (not on purpose, but because none of us wears them). However, throughout the whole incident police officers and those ‘incognito’ individuals would ask us both when we were being questioned and when we were socializing (yes, we were) with officers around, what kind of discrimination we meant and what organizations and movements we belong to, revealing in their comments that they had no doubts about us being LGBT activists and simply wanted to hear this from us. The media also labeled us right away as ‘LGBT activists’, though at the time there were no grounds for them to draw such conclusions.

So, the takeaway is that we as a movement have to try and expand our narrative, taking on the responsibility to at least voice other experiences of discrimination -- since now, as it seems, ours is the voice that is most heard.

For her work in speaking out on the arrest and detention of LGBT advocates across Russia, Anastasia earns GLAAD's Gold Medal. We will continue to promote her voice to news outlets who are covering Sochi, and actively advocating for the inclusion of Anastasia and other LGBT Russians.

Throughout the 2014 Winter Olympics, GLAAD will continue working with international LGBT organizations, athletes and LGBT Russians to secure media coverage for the stories of LGBT Russians, their families and the harms facing them in Russia. GLAAD has also released GLAAD Global Voices: 2014 Sochi Olympics Playbook, a resource guide for journalists covering the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. For more information, visit www.glaad.org/russia.

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