July 30, 2013— -- Russia has passed a series of laws this year targeting gays and lesbians, and concerns are gathering over whether the measures may impact next year's Winter Olympics.
Athletes and would-be spectators planning to decamp to the Winter Games in Sochi, on Russia's Black Sea coast, are especially on edge over one law: It lets Russian authorities detain foreigners who are deemed gay or gay-friendly for up to two weeks before expelling them from the country.
The statute also bans "homosexual propaganda." That vague term may effectively mark everything from gay pride parades to kissing same-sex partners in public as illegal. Russia also refuses to let gay couples adopt children.
The International Olympic Committee said last week that athletes and visitors to the games would not be affected by the anti-gay laws. But the "assurance" they received from the Russian government seems to be unraveling.
The man behind the anti-propaganda law, Vitaly Milonov, reportedly said in an interview with Interfax that "if a law has been approved by the federal legislature and signed by the president, then the government has no right to suspend it. It doesn't have the authority."
Milonov also reportedly said he's received support from both American and German politicians for his stance.
The IOC has said repeatedly that they want to make sure the games progress without discrimination. But some gay rights organizations have called on people to boycott Russian products, from the games themselves to native-produced vodka. A petition asking Secretary of State John Kerry to bar Milonov from obtaining a U.S. visa is rapidly gaining signatures.
Even if the laws are not enforced during the Olympics, gay visitors may face a local backlash. Three-quarters of Russians say society should not accept homosexuality, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. Just 16 percent say society should be accepting of the LGBT community. The numbers aren't much different among young Russians, either: Just 21 percent of those polled under 30 thought homosexuality should be accepted.
But at least one gay athlete is calling on people to attend the Games. Figure skater Johnny Weir wrote in an opinion piece for the Falls Church News-Press that a boycott would just hurt the athletes.
"The fact that Russia is arresting my people, and openly hating a minority and violating Human Rights all over the place is heartbreaking and a travesty of international proportions, but I still will compete," he wrote. "There isn't a police officer or a government that, should I qualify, could keep me from competing at the Olympics. I respect the LGBT community full heartedly, but I implore the world not to boycott the Olympic Games because of Russia's stance on LGBT rights or lack thereof."
For its part, the U.S. Olympic Committee said in a letter last week to several US partner groups that it was "aware of these laws" and was "engaged in in active discussions with the International Olymic Committee and the US State Department about how we can ensure that every American in Sochi, and especially our athletes, are safe and secure at the Olympic and Paralympic Games."
Do you think the U.S. and other countries should boycott the 2014 Olympics if Russia plans to enforce anti-gay laws?