Russia and The Art of Provocation

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There have been many responses to Russia’s anti-gay legislation, and many suggestions on how to best address state-sponsored homophobia during the Sochi Winter Olympic games. But how can we best support the LGBTQ community in Russia? The gays in Sochi have their own idea.

Members of Sochi’s gay community, speaking to the Agence France-Presse, shared what they’d like to see done in order to address the Russian anti-gay legislation, in an article published by the Huffington Post on October 13.

Patrons of a gay bar in Sochi are “categorically against a boycott,” said club owner Andrei Tanichev.

The community in Sochi calls for athletes to participate in the games, and wear rainbow shirts and other paraphernalia in order to show their support for Russia’s LGBTQ community. According to the club owner, the Russian state is not allowed to interfere with displays of gay solidarity during the Olympics, so such an action could not be stopped by Russian officials.

“Russia can’t do anything about athletes who are planning to wear rainbow T-shirts, and that’s one of the reasons we don’t think a boycott is needed,” Tanichev said.

However, that might not actually be the case.

“The law enforcement agencies can have no qualms with people who harbor a nontraditional sexual orientation and do not commit such acts [to promote homosexuality to minors], do not conduct any kind of provocation and take part in the Olympics peacefully,” said a statement issued by the Russian Interior Ministry in August.

According to the statement, gays will be allowed to attend and participate in the games as long as they do not conduct any acts of provocation.

As has been reported worldwide since the passing of the anti-gay legislation, the Russian state considers displays of the rainbow flag, signs supporting gay rights, and even rainbow painted finger nails as displays of provocation.

The International Olympic Committee has stated that it is satisfied with the response from the Russian state in regards to LGBTQ rights during the Sochi Olympics, and that it will not challenge the enforcement of the law during the games.

“The IOC doesn’t really have the right to discuss the laws in the country where the Olympic Games are organized. As long as the Olympic Charter is respected, we are satisfied, and that is the case,” said IOC Chairman Jean-Claude Killy in a press conference held in September.

As reported by Ria Novosti in the days leading up to the International Association of Athletic Federations World Championships, held in Moscow last August, IAAF president Lamine Diack made a similar statement, saying that Russia’s anti-gay legislation had to be respected during the games, and that he was “sure we’re [the IAAF and its participants]not going to be disturbed by political problems.”

Diack went on to say that it was not the IAAF’s place to “start calling on people to do this and that,” directly echoing the statement made by IOC chairman Killy.

“Some things have to be respected and some things don’t have to be respected,” Diack continues in the article. “There is a law that exists and this has to be respected.”

The outcome of such an approach during the IAAF World Championships was a Swedish athlete being forced to repaint her nails because the nails were interpreted as a provocation in support of gay rights.

It is reasonable to assume that a similar outcome is likely during the Sochi Olympics, where displays of the rainbow flag, pink triangle, or other “gay paraphernalia” will be policed and silenced by IOC officials in compliance with the Russian state’s anti-gay legislation.

While the Russian state can indeed do something about athletes who wear rainbow T-shirts, possibly forcing athletes to change their dress or leave the field, such an action will likely fuel more media coverage of such pro-gay “provocations,” and will result in increased international awareness of the homophobic atmosphere being cultivated within Russia.

While the LGBTQ community in Sochi spoke out against certain forms of provocation such as rallies and gay parades, with gay club owner Tanichev quoted as saying “nobody will go to gay pride parades, and nobody needs these parades today,” the call for athletes to participate in the games and wear rainbow flags suggests a different form of protest is needed.

Instead of boycotting the Olympics, and walking away from the homophobic violence in Russia, showing up for the games and being publicly policed for wearing gay paraphernalia may be just the kind of provocation the Russian state needs.

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