NEW YORK — Olympic gold medalists stood on a temporary stage in Times Square talking about training and teamwork when the chants rose up from about 50 feet away.
“Homophobia has got to go!” bellowed more than a dozen protesters who unveiled a rainbow banner reading, “Don’t Buy Putin’s Lies.”
The U.S. Olympic Committee set up a mini ski slope in the tourist magnet in midtown Manhattan on Tuesday to celebrate 100 days until the Sochi Games. The very public spectacle achieved its goal of attracting the attention of the throngs of passers-by.
It also allowed the group Queer Nation New York to call for a U.S. boycott of the Olympics from an adjoining sidewalk.
“The USOC and the international community should not legitimize Russia’s violations of fundamental human rights by holding the Games in that country,” said Duncan Osborne, a member of Queer Nation, an LGBT rights groups. “Russia has placed itself well outside the bounds of global human rights standards and no international event should be held there.”
A recently enacted Russian law outlaws “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations among minors.” That law has raised fears of whether it could be applied to international athletes and fans – but also broader criticism that the International Olympic Committee should pressure the host country to repeal the law.
The USOC’S official stance is that it disagrees with the law but that a boycott is out of the question. The organization is seeking clarity on what will and won’t be regarded as violations of the IOC rule against using the Olympic stage to make political protests or demonstrations.
Meanwhile, in Sochi, with IOC President Thomas Bach in attendance, President Vladimir Putin promised Monday that gay athletes and guests at the Winter Games will feel at ease.
The International Olympic Committee has also said it received assurances from the Russian government that it will respect the Olympic Charter, which prohibits discrimination of any kind at the games.
The Queer Nation demonstration on Tuesday is the latest in a series of high profile protests launched by the activist group that included an October 28 confrontation with Moscow government officials at a meeting promoting US investment in Russia held at the Princeton Club in Manhattan and protests against Putin supporters conductor Valery Gergiev and soprano Anna Netrebko at Carnegie Hall on October 10 and at the Metropolitan Opera’s Opening Night Gala on September 23.