Sochi Watch: Fighting Homophobia With Smooches and Pooches

Screen Shot 2013-08-21 at 9.06.09 AMThere was a lot of excitement this week when what was thought to be an act of defiance came out of Russia: Two women athletes locked lips on the winners podium after winning a 4 x 400 meter relay in Moscow. Russian runners Kseniya Ryzhova and Tatyana Firova were believed to be taking a symbolic stance against their country’s new anti-LGBT laws that ban anything that could be seen as promoting homosexuality.

The laws have drawn particular outrage because of the approaching Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, in February 2014.

Neither of the World Athletics Championship athletes released immediate statements on whether they meant the kiss as a political act, but people were hopeful that it was. Unfortunately, the Russian sprinters have now come out (not that way) and said that their smooch was purely a victory celebration. That was disappointment enough, but Ryzhova added that the speculation surrounding the kiss was “more of a sick fantasy not grounded in anything.”

The incident came on the heels of Russian pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva being quoted—after two Swedish athletes had painted their nails rainbow colors in support of LGBT rights—as saying, “We [Russians] consider ourselves, like normal, standard people, we just live boys with women, girls with boys.” Isinbayeva later amended herself, claiming she was misinterpreted in her comments in support of the LGBT “propaganda” law.

Protests against Russia’s homophobia are happening around the world and on a variety of podiums. Though the kiss between the sprinters turned out to be a non-protest, we applaud the American Kennel Club for taking a deliberate stand in favor of LGBT equality.

Screen Shot 2013-08-21 at 8.57.02 AMThe International Dog Show—seen by many as the Olympics of the canine world—will also be held in Russia in 2016. Russia’s draconian anti-gay laws so outraged the American Kennel Club that it publicly condemned them and demanded that the Fédération Cynologique Internationale move the dog show to a country that champions equality. The AKC wields a lot of power in the dog world, and its criticism carries serious weight. An excerpt from the statement:

Dogs do not discriminate. Gender, race, sexual orientation and other status do not enter the equation of responsible pet ownership. That is why the American Kennel Club and our constituency are puzzled and disappointed by the decision to allow Russia to host the 2016 World Dog Show. The proliferation of anti-gay and lesbian laws in Russia today is both disturbing and shocking to our community.

Talks of boycott and protest began to surround Russia in late June when President Vladimir Putin banned “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations,” and then a few days later enacted another law that blocks LGBT couples and anyone from a pro-gay-marriage country from adopting a Russian infant. The International Olympic Committee promised foreigners that athletes and spectators will be exempt from Russia’s anti-LGBT laws, but that does little for the discrimination gay Russian citizens face daily.

As the Olympic Games approach, tensions will continue to mount as more and more organizations step up to show Russia’s intolerance won’t be tolerated. The Ms. blog will keep you updated about the protests as they happen.

Photos courtesy of Sea Turtle and fotografiacontraste via Creative Commons 2.0.


Associate editor of Ms. magazine