President Vladimir Putin has tried to reassure gay athletes and attendees, but at least one TV channel is sending a different message
Anyone who had hoped that international pressure ahead of the Winter Olympics in Sochi would lead to a softening in Russia’s anti-gay stance should probably give up those dreams right about now.
With just two months to go before the games, the Russian government has refused to bend on its “homosexual propaganda” law—despite pressure on Sochi corporate sponsors, threats to boycott the games, protests from Western celebrities and condemnation by the United Nations.
Love Conquers Hate
The Russian writing seen on the celebrities' shirts says "Love Conquers Hate". The t-shirts are sold as part of a HRC fundraising campaign to raise money for LGBT advocacy in Russia.
Under the law, the Kremlin has promised to punish anyone promoting “nontraditional” relationships. And it has. Last week, it fined Nikolay Alexeyev, eccentric LGBT activist and the founder of Moscow Gay Pride. Alexeyev stood alone outside a children’s library in the city of Arkhangelsk with a banner reading: “Gay propaganda doesn’t exist. People don’t become gay, people are born gay.” For his one-man protest, he was fined 4,000 rubles ($120).
President Vladimir Putin promised in late October that, despite the law, gay athletes and guests at the Winter Olympics in Sochi would feel at ease. But listening to state-run media, particularly TV channel Rossiya 1, isn’t exactly reassuring.
Speaking during his Special Correspondent television debate show last month on the subject of gays, Rossiya 1 journalist Arkady Mamontov said that a Western homosexual lobby was out to destroy Russia. “Thank God that these sodomites and abnormal people make up just one hundredth of a percent of our society,” he said.
Though no one has done a comprehensive study on the size of Russia’s gay population, in many other countries, that figure falls somewhere between 1.5 and 3 percent, and there’s no evidence to suggest Russia is any different.
Later in the program, Mikhail Degtyaryov, a State Duma deputy from the Liberal Democratic Party, offered to punch Michael Bohm, editor-in-chief of The Moscow Times, who argued that Russia’s treatment of gays showed that the country was at a primitive stage of development.
“All this hysteria, especially in the Western media, possible provocations that we expect during the Olympics, potential boycotts and other nonsense that is coming from the West is aimed at sabotaging Russia’s reputation,” said Degtyaryov.
Meanwhile, on the same show we learned that beauty stylists in Russia have the power to make men gay. At least this is what Elena Yampolskaya, editor-in-chief of Culture Magazine, insisted, as she addressed the “nature vs. nurture” arguments behind homosexuality. “Gays are created by stylists in Russia and not their parents. So talking about genetics is useless,” she said.
Wrapping up his show, Mamontov made a reference to the Old Testament story of Sodom and Gomorrah and blamed gays for the meteorite that fell over Russia last winter. “This is a warning to us all that we need to preserve our traditions, the family, the traditional love, or not only the Chelyabinsk meteorite will hit us, but something bigger,” he said.
You heard him: Gays are responsible for natural phenomena.
Rossiya 1, Russia’s second-biggest channel, with an audience of 117 million people, has become something of a megaphone for homophobia. Earlier this year, Mamontov’s colleague Dmitry Kiselev went as far as to suggest that when gays die in car accidents their hearts should be burned.