Gay Rights Protests Against Olympic Sponsors Continue Into Opening Ceremony
Advocacy groups like All Out took to the streets in over two dozen cities from Vancouver to Jerusalem and armed themselves with the simple message: "Love always wins."
Now, a history lesson or so later, American corporations are spending hundreds of millions to attach their brands to the XXII Olympic Winter Games in Vladimir Putin's Russia, where "homosexualism" has been defined by the president himself as a disease of the West that Russia will cure.
Since the Russian parliament passed a law that bans propaganda of "nontraditional sexual relations," human rights advocates have been working tirelessly to get it off the books. Protests targeting sponsors of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have been staged around the world and, now that the Opening Ceremony is finally upon us, the opposition is as spirited as ever.
This week, advocacy groups like All Out took to the streets in over two dozen cities from Vancouver to Jerusalem and armed themselves with the simple message: "Love always wins."
On the lighter side of the issue, the Canadian Institute of Diversity and Inclusion released a commercial featuring a pair of tandem male lugers thrusting inside their sled. The tagline reads: "The games have always been a little gay. Let's fight to keep them that way."
Vitaly Milonov, a Saint Petersburg assemblyman and the anti-gay propaganda law's chief architect, isn't shy about the fact that he drafted it with the intention of cleansing Russia of the "unhealthy" element that is homosexuality. Recently, Milonov insisted that the violence against gay people -- documented accounts of videotaped torture (warning: graphic content), murder, and stonings with priest-blessed rocks -- is "fake information"; indeed that gays themselves are the perpetrators who "rape kids."
And while the violence against the LGBT community is less state-sponsored and more vigilante-driven, it is committed openly as police look on. A national network called Occupy Pedophilia (from the same graphic video as above) is quite candid about the fact that it hunts gay people with machine guns. Its members proudly appear on British TV without their voices distorted or their faces blurred.
The gay propaganda law has been called a virtual resurrection of Article 70 from the old Soviet system that forbade anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda, vaguely written to allow latitude in its interpretation and implementation. Its predecessor was a legal tool for imprisoning Soviet dissidents and, as we're witnessing with the new law, "propaganda" can mean wearing a pink triangle or waving a rainbow flag -- now arrestable offenses.
Russia isn't on a slippery slope toward criminalizing LGBT citizens; it's already taken off from the ski jump.
The response from top IOC sponsors to the international outcry has been boilerplate at best. Statements issued by Coca-Cola, McDonald's (NYSE:MCD), Visa (NYSE:V), and Dow Chemical (NYSE:DOW) generally read like "we support all human rights" platitudes without actually condemning the Russian law.
AT&T (NYSE:T), however, took a more forceful stance on its consumer blog, explicitly saying that the company stood against the law, which it called out as "anti-LGBT." DeVry University (NYSE:DV) and Chobani promptly followed suit with similar statements.
"I don't think that we're ready to necessarily embrace using the Olympics as an agent of change in the world," Michael Mulvey, a profesor at the Telfer School of Management at the University of Ottawa, told the CBC in an interview about the way multinational corporations view the issue. He cautions that the short-term gains that might come from speaking out against the Olympics could ultimately lead to a backlash since many people still feel the focus of the games should stay fixed on the athletes.
Though not an IOC sponsor, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) has made, perhaps, the most public demonstration of its views (it helps to host the world's biggest search engine) with its latest search page Doodle: a rainbow version of its logo with Olympic athletes illustrated above each letter.
At the bottom of the page, Google highlights the hypocrisy of this year's event in Russia with a quote from the Olympic charter.
"The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play."
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