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More Olympic-linked furor over Russia’s anti-gay law ahead of Sochi games

Wednesday, February 5, 2014
Sochi protest

Elena Ignatyeva, AP
A gay rights activist holds a banner in front of a large clock showing the number of days left until the start of the Olympic games as a police officer approaches, left, in St. Petersburg, Russia, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014. The banner reads “Berlin 1936 = Sochi 2014,” a reference to the Olympic Games that were held in the capital of Nazi Germany.

Updated: 5:00 p.m. EST

Protesters in cities around the world targeted major Olympic sponsors Wednesday, just ahead of the Winter Games in Sochi, urging them to speak out against Russia’s law restricting gay-rights activities. Two more sponsors of the U.S. Olympic team condemned the law, but leading global sponsors did not join them.

“No, no to Russia’s anti-gay law,” chanted several dozen protesters in Paris who gathered in front of a McDonald’s restaurant at the Place de la Republique. The fast-food chain is one of the International Olympic Committee’s 10 top sponsors for the Sochi Games, which open Friday.

Protests also took place in London, Jerusalem, St. Petersburg, Russia, and elsewhere. In all, 20 demonstrations were planned by the advocacy group All Out and its allies.

Sebastian Scheiner, APIsraeli activists hold signs as they protest against Russia's human rights record and anti-gay law in front of Israel's President Shimon Peres' residence in Jerusalem on Wednesday during the visit of Dmitry Kiselyov, head of Russia Today,  Russia's largest news agency.

Sebastian Scheiner, AP
Israeli activists hold signs as they protest against Russia’s human rights record and anti-gay law in front of Israel’s President Shimon Peres’ residence in Jerusalem on Wednesday during the visit of Dmitry Kiselyov, head of Russia Today, Russia’s largest news agency.

Remy de la Mauviniere, APA group of gay rights activists demonstrate in front of a restaurant in Paris, Wednesday Feb. 5, 2014, to protest against Russian policy over gay rights. Signs read: Sport Does Not Discriminate. Sponsors, It's Time to Say No.

Remy de la Mauviniere, APA group of gay rights activists demonstrate in front of a restaurant in Paris, Wednesday Feb. 5, 2014, to protest against Russian policy over gay rights. Signs read: Sport Does Not Discriminate. Sponsors, It’s Time to Say No.

McDonald’s, like other top IOC sponsors, reiterated that it supports human rights and opposes discrimination, but its statement did not mention the Russian law.

Coca-Cola, another prime target of protests, also didn’t mention the law in its latest statement, though it described itself as a strong supporter of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

“We do not condone intolerance or discrimination of any kind anywhere in the world,” Coca-Cola said.

Visa, another IOC top sponsor, issued a similar statement. General Electric, an IOC sponsor since 2005, declined comment.

In contrast to the cautious approach of IOC sponsors, three sponsors of the U.S. Olympic Committee have decided to speak out explicitly against the Russian law.

The first, on Tuesday, was AT&T.

“Russia’s law is harmful to LGBT individuals and families, and it’s harmful to a diverse society,” it said.

Following suit on Wednesday were DeVry University, a for-profit education enterprise, and yogurt-maker Chobani.

“We are against Russia’s anti-LGBT law and support efforts to improve LGBT equality,” said Ernie Gibble, a DeVry spokesman.

“It’s disappointing that in 2014 this is still an issue,” said Chobani’s CEO, Hamdi Ulukaya. “We are against all laws and practices that discriminate in any way, whether it be where you come from or who you love — for that reason, we oppose Russia’s anti-LGBT law.”

AT&T’s move was praised by leading groups in the coalition that has been working for months to pressure sponsors into speaking out.

“AT&T has broken the ice,” said Minky Worden, director of global initiatives for Human Rights Watch. “Top sponsors of the Olympics like Coke, GE, McDonald’s and Visa are going to have to follow suit — they are very much on the wrong side of history in refusing to use their leverage with the International Olympic Committee to ask for reform and to defend LGBT Russians.”

The Russian law, signed in July by President Vladimir Putin, outlaws pro-gay “propaganda” that could be accessible to minors. Critics say it is so restrictive and vague that it deters almost any public expression of support for gay rights.

Nonetheless, about a dozen Russian activists protested the law Wednesday in St. Petersburg, hundreds of miles north of Sochi. Two unfurled banners reading “Berlin 1936 = Sochi 2014,” referring to the Olympic Games held in Nazi Germany. One-person protests are legal in Russia, and the two activists holding signs were spaced far enough apart that neither was arrested.

In London, about 150 people rallying outside Prime Minister David Cameron’s office urged McDonald’s and the IOC’s other sponsors to speak out.

To date, the IOC and its top sponsors — who pay millions for the rights to use Olympic symbols in television commercials and other marketing — have expressed general opposition to discrimination and pledged to ensure that people gathering for the Sochi Olympics wouldn’t be affected by the law.

IOC spokesman Mark Adams said Wednesday the committee and the sponsors have been in constant communication about several issues in Russia, but he declined to describe the conversations when asked whether the sponsors wanted the IOC to make a specific statement about the law.

A coalition of 40 international groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, sent an open letter to the 10 top sponsors last week urging them to run ads promoting equality for LGBT people.

Human Rights Watch posted a video this week on YouTube of gay people in Russia being bullied, chased and beaten, compiled from footage the group said was uploaded by perpetrators. The video got more than 830,000 views in less than two days.

Aside from AT&T, DeVry University and Chobani, sponsors of the U.S. Olympic Committee who were contacted by The Associated Press shied away from explicit condemnations of the Russian law, while expressing support for diversity and opposition to discrimination. These sponsors included TD Ameritrade, the Kellogg Co., United Airlines, BP, Nike and Hilton Worldwide.

“Our sponsorship of the USOC is about supporting Team USA, not engaging in political or policy debates,” said Scott Dean, a BP spokesman.

The Russian law “is unaffiliated with our ongoing support of the Olympic movement,” said Hilton Worldwide. “Our mission is to help athletes on their journey… fostering and promoting the values and spirit of the Olympics amongst our guests and members.”

Citigroup cited its “longstanding support” for LGBT rights, and added that it was backing the USOC’s “ongoing efforts” to address the issue with the IOC.

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26 more reader comments:

  1. In the meantime…gay marriage is now legal in Scotland: http://www.west-info.eu/gay-marriage-is-legal-in-scotland/

    Posted on Wednesday, February 5, 2014 at 4:00pm
  2. For the record, the Russian for “Stop Homophobia” is “остановить гомофобию”

    Posted on Wednesday, February 5, 2014 at 4:00pm
  3. Love this

    Replied on Wednesday, February 5, 2014 at 4:26pm
  4. I am genuinely wondering if the protestors are American or Russian.

    Replied on Wednesday, February 5, 2014 at 4:27pm
  5. Posted on Wednesday, February 5, 2014 at 4:04pm
  6. .,i don’t think the Russian could embarass themselves enough… with all the delays, terror threats, this homophobic law, killing of stray dogs, horrible accommodation, dangerous slopes that made an olympic athlete withdraw, and all that turbid water which looks like a urine, Sochi will be a big failure for Putins propaganda… I thought Beijing 2008 and Athens 2004 was a mess, this olympics however takes the icing of the cake…

    Posted on Wednesday, February 5, 2014 at 4:10pm
  7. When the IOC is so desperate they let the games be held in a country like Russia - the Olympics are over. Either scale them back to the kind of austerity games held during WW2 - or stick a fork in them.

    Replied on Wednesday, February 5, 2014 at 4:31pm
  8. I agree. It's a Total Mess over there. Buildings still not complete. Cheesy accommodations you would find at the bates motel. No phones, No Tv, No WiFi, no shower curtains, cross your fingers when flushing the toilet, if it flushes at all. Oh don't drink the bloody water, it's toxic...Good lord with all this, the IOC still wants to go ahead with the Olympics in Russia? This is going to go down as the WORST OLYMPICS EVER!

    Replied on Wednesday, February 5, 2014 at 5:15pm
  9. I don’t get it. The Olympics is suppose to promote cooperation among the nations and advocate peaceful relations.
    How is prejudice and discrimination going to promote those ideals?
    Really, the Olympic Committee need to ask the right questions before selecting a site.
    This site should have been rejected.

    Posted on Wednesday, February 5, 2014 at 4:26pm
  10. Hannah Why would it make ant difference if their Russian or American?
    What they really are is HUMAN!

    Posted on Wednesday, February 5, 2014 at 5:04pm
  11. The Americans seem more affected by this than the Russians. I've been to Moscow, and was kicked out because I was talking to someone I had met on VK. The atmosphere is VERY different over there.

    Replied on Wednesday, February 5, 2014 at 7:55pm
  12. How come the U.S. is Putin up with this SHIT!, Oh ya, Greed! And FUCKING GLORY!

    Posted on Wednesday, February 5, 2014 at 5:17pm
  13. stop hate in all its forms!

    Posted on Wednesday, February 5, 2014 at 5:34pm
  14. Love that poster with lipstick on Putin the dictator

    Posted on Wednesday, February 5, 2014 at 5:45pm
  15. i think the russian people are still watching shows from the 50′s and 60′s…it is still a communist country..welcome to putins new and improved Soviet Union NYET! GAYS!

    Posted on Wednesday, February 5, 2014 at 7:16pm
  16. Well if they don’t like gays in Russian why don’t they let them come to USA or somewhere where they will be excepted an let the Russians be by them selfs

    Posted on Wednesday, February 5, 2014 at 8:02pm
  17. Violates the United Nations Human Declaration of Rights

    Posted on Wednesday, February 5, 2014 at 8:46pm
  18. What people abroad have to do? Watch answers from Russian LGBTs. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SF2mMCeRogk

    Posted on Wednesday, February 5, 2014 at 8:51pm
  19. Tatu is performing for the Olympics. They are a russian band that portrayed lesbians and kissed in their controversial music video “all the things she said” and lena katina is an lgbt activist. I’m sure they will do something on behalf of the lgbt community.

    Posted on Wednesday, February 5, 2014 at 10:01pm
  20. They are openly bisexual

    Posted on Wednesday, February 5, 2014 at 10:01pm
  21. Boycott!

    Posted on Wednesday, February 5, 2014 at 10:43pm
  22. Could only watch 10 mins of hunted as disturbing n awful

    Posted on Wednesday, February 5, 2014 at 10:58pm
  23. when is the LGBT community going to allow pedophiles and those who have sex with animals into their group? I mean, you can’t help who you love, right? LGBTPB, has a nice ring to it.

    Posted on Wednesday, February 5, 2014 at 11:06pm
  24. Some people should just stay down in the cess pools that they live in and leave us adults to finish making our country’s freedoms more perfect.

    Posted on Wednesday, February 5, 2014 at 11:12pm
  25. We will protest tomorrow, on saturday and sunday in front of the russian embassy in berlin. many people expected!

    Posted on Wednesday, February 5, 2014 at 11:13pm
  26. Bill Averso you look like a sad miserable person. No wonder you have love about your pet goat on your mind.

    Posted on Wednesday, February 5, 2014 at 11:27pm