Source: ESPN

As the images of medal winning performances in Sochi fade in to memories, the Russian Olympic team continues to celebrate their esteemed position as the winner of the most gold medals and tops the total medal count. However, this high level of athleticism during the 2014 Olympics does little to improve Russia’s image which has been marred by political contention.

The international condemnation in question arose from numerous state and non-state actors in reaction to Russia’s 2013 policy known colloquially as the Russian anti-LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) law; the new law prohibits the dissemination of information to minors about non-traditional sexual relationships, publically speaking in favor of non-traditional relationships, and carrying out any public support or rallies for LBGT rights. This law, passed unanimously by the Russian Duma with the expressed support of President Vladimir Putin, extends across the Russian state, and is in line with policies already put into effect by many regional governments.

Criticism of the oppressive law has been amplified within the international community by Russia’s hosting of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, yet few realize that the polices they now condemn in Russia are almost identical to those in effect in Utah during the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City.

At the time of the Salt Lake City Games, the state of Utah was one of eight states to have anti-LGBT propaganda laws on the books similar to the Russian laws currently causing controversy. What is more, in 1993 the Russian Federation decriminalized LGBT relationships while the United States Supreme Court did not officially rule on this until 2003, when it struck down a Texas law that made LGBT relationships illegal in the court case Lawrence v. Texas. When the United States hosted the Olympics in 2002, there were more draconian laws on the books in parts of the country than in Russia today.

Eight states (Utah, Arizona, Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina) have laws currently on the books, often referred to as ‘No Homo Promo’ laws. Similar to the Russian law, these statutes were intended to protect minors from neutral information and any positive portrayal of LGBT lives.

However, there are marked differences between the Russian and American laws. Most notably, the Russian laws were passed by the highest legislative assembly in Russia, the Duma, whereas the laws in the United States were passed on a state level. This is a salient difference because the laws are not broadly applicable in the United States, and individual liberty has the opportunity to be protected by the federal government. Additionally, the laws in Russia are applied to an individual’s right to express support for the LBGT community, while the US laws are targeted at educational policy.

 (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

(AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Also of note is the enforcement of the laws in the United States with little recourse, violent or otherwise, for those considered to be ‘in violation’ of the law. This is juxtaposed with many accounts of arrests and suppression in Russia, most notably the public whipping of  peaceful protestors from the band Pussy Riot in Sochi during the second week of the Games.

While the United States condemnation of Russia’s LBGT policies could be considered hypocritical, it marks a significant change in American attitudes towards progressive policies. While LGBT rights in Russia are trending downward, the opposite can be said of LGBT rights in the US. With swelling grassroots support for marriage equality being validated in the appellate court systems, it seems that the United States is moving toward an unprecedented level of support of marital rights for its LGBT citizens. Sadly, the same cannot be said for Russia

Now that the games in Sochi are coming to a close, it is important to still stand with Russia’s LBGT community. While the the pursuit of Olympic glory ends, the fight for LBGT equality in Russia is just beginning.

Caitlin Handerhan, MPA '15

Written by Caitlin Handerhan, MPA '15

Caitlin Handerhan '15 is a fellow at the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs. While pursuing her master's degree at Cornell, Caitlin is concentrating her studies on human rights and social justice. A 2013 graduate of Mercyhurst University, she holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science.

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