On Wednesday, February 5, former US Olympic diver David Pichler penned a piece for the Miami Herald, expressing his support for the Russian LGBT community, the LGBT athletes from the US, and his condemnation of the Russian government’s homophobic laws.
Pichler, a gay athlete, is also a member of the Human Rights First delegation travelling to Sochi for the Olympic games, where they intend to engage with international media and human rights defenders to cover the impact of the crackdown on LGBT civil rights.
In the op-ed, Pichler emphasized the fact that “anti-LBGT violence, often committed by neo-Nazis, is a major problem in Russia, and the ‘propaganda’ law legitimizes the hate in hate crime.”
Pichler made reference to his past, when “a former coach—in an act of vindictiveness—outed” him to destroy his Olympic career, in order to make clear that, although not to the same degree as Russian LGBT, he has also faced discrimination based on his sexuality.
He added, “I refer to it now only to point out that like most LGBT people, wherever we live, I know what it’s like to have others try to use my sexual identity against me.”
Pichler urges people not to stop fighting for Russian LGBT rights after the Winter Olympics comes to an end.
“When the Olympic flame is extinguished, American LGBT athletes will pack up and head home to their increasingly tolerant country. LGBT Russians will remain in a country that, left unchecked, might keep going in reverse.”
He also said, “Together—American athletes and their supporters—we will show Russians that the United States respects and honors its LGBT citizens, and that LGBT people are just that, people. We’re sons and daughters, activists and athletes. And perhaps we’ll be able to give LGBT Russians hope that better, freer days lie ahead.”
Russia has faced increasing international outcry since the introduction of their bill outlawing “gay propaganda.” Signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin last year, the law has caused concern in the build up to the Sochi games due to its ambiguity. Many are worried that the law could endanger LGBT athletes and supporters.
Russian authorities have recently halted a punishment against the first ever minor to break the propaganda law, reportedly due to bad publicity. The girl was accused of propagandizing her “non-traditional sexual orientation” in November 2013 to other classmates.
14-year-old Lena Klimova was the fifth person in Russia to be charged under the law.