Today was meant to be the start of the Russian LGBT Sport Federation's Open Games in Moscow, but just hours before the launch, the event is being met with cancellations from four sporting venues and the Hilton Hotel.
The Open Games are intended to educate guests on advocacy and social issues through sporting competitions. More than 300 people from 11 countries and 22 Russian regions registered for the games, cultural events, and ceremonies. Alongside the Russian LGBT Sport Federation, the Russian LGBT Network, Coming Out, Side by Side LGBT film festival, Rakurs, and Out Loud make up a coalition of organizations supporting the Games.
Elvina Yuvakaeva, an organizer for the event, said, "After several refusals from venues, we made the decision to omit most details in our negotiations with potential lenders." Despite these attempts to keep the Games' mission under wraps, cancellations rolled in only a day in advance.
In a letter between Russian officials, St. Petersburg Vitaly Milonov wrote to Sergei Sobyanin, the mayor of Moscow, denouncing the Open Games and calling for their cancellation. Anastasia Smirnova, spokesperson for the coalition of organizations, said in a statement, the officials' stances "means that the Open Games are for now the number one target for homophobic leaders and their support groups." Furthermore, as the Open Games are not connected with the Olympics, attendees and organizers are not guaranteed the same protections that Russian authorities claimed to offer during the Sochi Games.
"It is far beyond attempts to disrupt events by homophobic groups, but a targeted and strong decision of the authorities to not let public LGBT events happen through exerting pressure on venue owners," according to Anastasia.
Though the stakes are high and the threat of violence is tangible, the Russian LGBT Sport Federation has resolved to move forward with the Open Games, which are scheduled to run through March 2. Anastasia explained:
Even one day before the event the organizers cannot be sure that homophobic groups do not attempt to threaten venues to cancel prior agreements. That their locations were not leaked to extremists and street thugs. That there won’t be bomb hoax calls – by example of St Petersburg’s Side by Side Film Festival. What the organizers are sure about, however, is that the event will take place despite all these risks, and that those who are coming to Moscow this week will be persistent and determined to make it happen – because they join not simply to compete, but to claim their rights and to work their way to greater openness.
"We will use the opportunity to get maximum attention of the media to break the negative stereotype of the LGBT community in the mind of Russian people. We want to change the attitude of Russian authorities to the LGBT community and do it through sports, because sports forms a friendly image," Federation co-founder Konstantin Yablotsky told USA Today.
The Open Games are meant to counter the anti-LGBT climate in Russia, which has strengthened under President Vladimir Putin's so-called "propaganda" law that bans information on non-normative identities from being distributed to minors. The vague law has been applied broadly and often with force, in addition to inciting ant-LGBT violence. To learn more about the situation in Russia and GLAAD's work with grassroots advocates, visit glaad.org/Russia.
The Federation of Gay Games has launched a petition to Philip Craven, President of the International Paralymic Committee, over the situation with the Open Games. The ask is to not attend the Paralympics if the Open Games are not allowed to happen. Please sign and share.