I recently wrote a post about how some people are calling for a boycott of next year’s Olympics in Sochi, Russia given the country’s enactment of laws which we in the States - as well as others in the western world - would say violate the freedom of speech. While that post primarily addressed a formal boycott by the United States Olympic Committee - thus precluding participation by American athletes - it has since been brought to my attention that I did not mention a critical part of the discussion: the safety of sports fans in attendance of the Games.
While in the first post I mentioned that the USOC boycotting the Games or the United States government issuing a travel ban would be tragic for the athletes whose dreams would be crushed, fans not going to the Games is a completely different story. People deciding not to go of their own volition makes total sense, but this is something that goes beyond just next year’s Olympic Games. Just this week the first tourists were arrested under Russia’s draconian homophobic laws. According to the Huffington Post, four Dutch tourists were put in jail as they were suspected of “promoting homosexuality” to children. These laws are not just endangering gay people (which would be bad enough), but also allies and anyone else who believes in free speech.
With the radically anti-gay laws they have put in place, Russia has set itself amongst the ranks nations in the Middle East and Africa where most countries outlaw being supportive of homosexuality as well as homosexuality itself, even to the point where being gay will get you a state-sanctioned execution. As such, a concerted tourism boycott of Russia and a boycott of Russian products is something I can support. It should also be incumbent upon the United States Department of State and its foreign counterparts to issue travel advisories. While we in the LGBT community are aware of what is happening given that we are the primary target of these laws, many people outside of the LGBT community are unaware and thus they risk being thrown behind bars for saying the wrong thing. They will not even know why they are being jailed.
Whether or not even this will be enough to change Russia’s stance on LGBT equality and freedom of speech remains to be seen. However it is also incumbent upon the international community to make sure Russian officials how this makes Russia appear: as an archaic state that seeks to crush minority rights, trample free speech, and oppress its people. The fact of the matter is that instead of striding forward into the future where people‘s rights are concerned as it had been doing before, Russia is now pulling itself back into its own dark past where human rights mean nothing. It is high time Russia entered the 21st century with the rest of the world.