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Last summer, Vladimir Putin took some pretty aggressive action against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Russians, with many publications in the western world dubbing the series of legislation “Putin’s Anti-Gay Crackdown.” Thanks to his policies, Russia makes the American Defense of Marriage Act - giving states the right to refuse recognizing same-sex marriage - look like a Martin Luther King, Jr. speech. Especially when you consider that one of Putin’s anti-gay laws extends to visitors of his country. The Russian police can potentially detain any foreign nationals suspected of being gay or supporting the gay community for up to two weeks.
Naturally, with thousands of foreign nationals set to enter Russia for the 2014 Winter Olympics, these policies sparked some concern.
There was an outcry last fall from allies of the international LGBT community, as several public figures called for a boycott. Public figures like the bitter Putin-rival and former chess world champion Garry Kasparov pointed to the fact that Russia’s harsh homophobia bears an uncomfortable similarity to the anti-semitic policies of 1930s Germany that eventually became genocide. So the last thing the United States could have wanted was for our participation in the Games to be viewed as tacit acceptance of Russia’s discrimination.
The boycott, however, never came to be. But what happened instead was so much better.
Companies across the globe launched advertising campaigns to show their support for LGBT athletes. Google changed its doodle on the first day of the Games to show pictures of several athletes atop the traditional LGBT rainbow. AT&T publicly condemned the Russian policies. “Russia’s law is … harmful to a diverse society,” said a statement from the company.
Hundreds of bars are participating in the #DumpRussianVodka boycott. Stoli (a vodka brand which was unfortunately mistaken for a Russian company at the beginning of the boycott—it’s Latvian) came out in explicit support of the LGBT community.
Even several governments joined in. President Obama appointed two openly gay representatives to serve as American Olympic delegates. The United States Olympic committee also recently updated its non-discrimination policy to include sexual orientation.
This month, Canada released this superb video to show its support. Even Germany’s uniforms at the opening ceremony looked a little gay. The jury’s out on whether this was an intentional statement, but the fact remains that every German athlete was wearing a rainbow all night.
Public figures like British Indian novelist Salman Rushdie, musician Elton John and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and a slew of famous authors all contributed their voices in publicly denouncing Putin’s anti-gay laws.
This massive, kindhearted and often humorous response is doing so much more for the LGBT community than a boycott ever could have. In cracking down hard on Russia’s LGBT citizens, Putin only prompted a worldwide surge of acceptance and support. The outpouring of advertisements, public statements, open letters and Facebook posts has effectively served to draw attention to the issue. Now it’s almost impossible to talk about the Sochi Olympics without these human rights issues coming up in the conversation.
The world’s reaction to Putin’s war on the gay community has shown the LGBT citizens of Russia and the world that they are not alone. It is a triumphant indication of the slow but marked progress we’re making. We can denounce hate, we can fight it with love and we can win.
Contact CU Independent Opinion Editor Lauren Thurman at Lauren.firstname.lastname@example.org.