Anti-gay sentiment runs high in Russia, where homosexuality was illegal during the Soviet Union and only decriminalized in 1993. A law that sent homosexuals to psychiatric wards wasn't annulled until 1999. Petitions for gay pride parades in Moscow have been rejected and unsanctioned rallies are often met by egg-throwing Russian Orthodox believers as well as physical violence. Police are often seen ignoring the attacks, and they often detain the gay rights activists.
In recent months, a new trend of attacks has gained popularity on Russian social media. Groups lure gay men online into meeting them in person, then humiliate and attack them on camera. They post the images and videos online under a hashtag that translates as "Occupy Pedophilia."
The U.S. has not yet issued any specific warning to gay Americans traveling to Russia. The State Department's informational page about Russia, however, notes the law and the dangers faced by those who are openly gay in Russia.
"Discrimination based on sexual orientation is widespread in Russia. Harassment, threats, and acts of violence targeting LGBT individuals have occurred," the page notes. "Public actions (including dissemination of information, statements, displays, or perceived conspicuous behavior) contradicting or appearing to contradict such laws may lead to arrest, prosecution, and the imposition of a fine."
The concern about discrimination against foreigners attending the Olympics comes amid a renewed effort abroad to pressure Russia about the new anti-gay law, including calls for boycott of the games as well as of Russian products.
Influential gay activist Dan Savage last week called on supporters to stop buying Stolichnaya and Russian Standard, two major Russian vodka labels, and to urge bars and restaurants to do the same, coining the hashtag #DumpStoli.
Leading Russian gay activist Nikolai Alexeyev, however, said he did not think the vodka ban will be effective since Stolichnaya consumed overseas is both bottled and based outside Russia.
"To be honest, I don't see the point in boycotting the Russian vodka," he said, according to Gay Star News.
"It will impact anyone except the companies involved a little bit. The effect will die out very fast, it will not last forever," Alexeyev said.
Stolichnaya is produced by a Russian company for domestic consumption and by Luxembourg-based SPI Group for sale in more than 100 countries abroad. The overseas product is made from Russian ingredients, but bottled in Latvia.
In response, the company's website has highlighted its longstanding support for gay rights, including a banner image on its Facebook page stating "Stolichnaya Premium Vodka stands strong & proud with the global LGBT community against the attitude & actions of the Russian government."
Calls for a full boycott of the games have been few thus far, but some activists, including the group Human Rights Campaign, are urging NBC, which will air the games in the United States, to include stories about the anti-gay law in its coverage.
Mark Lazarus, the head of NBC Sports, has promised that if the law impacts any part of the Winter Games, "we will make sure we are acknowledging it and recognizing it," according to the Guardian.