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U.S. Senators express concern over Russia’s anti-gay laws, Olympic safety

Friday, August 2, 2013
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WASHINGTON — At least two U.S. Senators are speaking out over growing concerns of Russia’s anti-gay laws, and how enforcement of those laws would affect athletes and spectators attending the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

On Thursday, a spokesperson for Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) told Buzzfeed he plans to introduce a Senate resolution calling on the International Olympic Committee to oppose Russia’s anti-LGBT propaganda law and receive guarantees about the law’s enforcement during the games.

U.S. Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.)

And earlier this week, Sen. Edward Markey, (D-Mass.) sent a letter to the Russian Ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, asking for similar assurances that American athletes and fans would be safe on Russian soil.

Markey’s formal request comes amid growing outrage over the law signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in June that bans public discussion of LGBT subjects around “minor children,” which has also been widely interpreted to include public displays of affection between adults, and LGBT pride events.

“I am especially concerned with the provision of the law that allows for the possible detention of foreign citizens for up to 14 days before they would be expelled from the country,” said Markey, in the letter to Kislyak.

“Many members of international athletic delegations, their families, spectators, and support staff proudly identify as members of the LGBT community. I believe it is essential for them to both feel and be safe from arrest, detention, and other forms of discrimination while in Russia,” he wrote.

Merkley, meanwhile, said he plans a resolution asking the International Olympic Committee to oppose the law itself and to receive a guarantee that athletes and spectators will not be discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity at the games.

In a Twitter post, Merkley called the Russian law “Outrageous.” “Olympic discrimination against LGBT athletes and spectators is 100% unacceptable,” he wrote.

A spokesperson from Merkley’s office told LGBTQ Nation on Friday that the resolution has not yet been drafted, but that the issue will be taken up once the Senate returns from recess in early September.

Russian officials have publicly stated that visitors won’t be exempt from the country’s laws.

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On Thursday, Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko warned that gay athletes who speak out about homosexuality would be arrested and prosecuted, a position confirmed Friday to LGBTQ Nation by the chairman of the Russian Parliament’s Committee on Physical Culture, Sport and Youth Affairs, Igor Ananskikh.

According to Russian medai outlet RIA Novosti, Olympic corporate sponsors were largely silent on the issue Thursday when contacted:

The Coca-Cola Company said it “does not take positions on political matters” unrelated to its business; Visa and McDonald’s also refused comment. Other Olympic sponsors including Procter & Gamble, Samsung, Pricewaterhouse-Coopers and Panasonic did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

In the meantime, LGBT activists in the U.S. are calling for a boycott of all things Russian, the most prominent being a boycott of Russian vodkas, and centered around Stolichnaya (Stoli) brand vodka, which has Russian roots but is distilled in Latvia.

Activists are also calling for a boycott aimed at sponsors of the International Olympic Committee, asking Olympic sponsors to withdraw their support of the Winter Games.

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