Last night, President Obama talked to Jay Leno on The Tonight Show, and shared his frustration with anti-LGBT laws like those enacted in Russia just before the Sochi Winter Olympics. When asked about Russia's anti-gay law, the president responded, "I have no patience for countries that try to treat gays or lesbians or transgender persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them."
Russian officials, and Russian media insist the law only bans LGBT propaganda to minors. However, the definition of "propaganda" can include holding hands with someone of the same gender, writing a pro-LGBT blog post or article, or wearing a rainbow flag. The law has also given license to anti-gay groups to harass and assault LGBT people. Just last week, it was revealed that gay Russian teenagers were being targeted, kidnapped and tortured, while photos of the torture were posted to the internet. Some have died from their ordeal.
President Obama made it clear that Russia is not the only country with draconian anti-LGBT laws. However, there is a particular spotlight on Russian, as the country prepares to host the Winter Olympics in Sochi. LGBT advocates have been rallying, attempting to protect LGBT Russians, as well as participants in the Olympic Games. Some have called for a boycott of Russian products. Others are delivering a petition to the International Olympic Committee to ensure the safety of LGBT athletes and fans during the games. Others have advocated for moving to Olympic Games out of Russia. Still others are organizing Olympic athletes and fans to make a visible statement during the games.
LGBT advocates have been petitioning President Obama to speak out against the law, which he finally did during his interview with Jay Leno. Obama has also cancelled a meeting with Russian Vladimir Putin, which was scheduled to occur during the G-20 Summit in September. The cancellation came after President Obama made his remarks about the anti-LGBT law, but is likely also related to Russia's asylum for whistleblower Edward Snowden.
GLAAD is cooperating with several coalition partners on the Russian anti-LGBT laws and the Olympic Games. We are working with several Russian and Russian-speaking LGBT advocates to bring the stories of LGBT Russians to an American and international audience. We will also work with media outlets to ensure that coverage of the Olympics includes the backdrop of the anti-LGBT laws. By increased scrutiny and attention, we can protect LGBT people in Russia and around the world.