By: Bryan Reines
In June 2013 Vladimir Putin signed into law legislation that aims to “protect” the youth of Russia by banning homosexual propaganda. The world has since focused its attention on homophobic discrimination occurring at an institutional level all over Russia, even in vibrant and developed cities like St. Petersburg and Moscow.1 These abominable civil rights violations are only a recent example of transgressions that world superpowers get away with. The lack of a worldwide government fosters what political scientists refer to as international anarchy, the reality that powerful nations have no authority to answer to. This reality leads other strong nations, namely the United States, to a multi-faceted moral and pragmatic problem that focuses less on when do we intervene and more on what do we intervene over. Waging the next world war over Russia’s treatment of people who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender (LGBTs) surely is not a moral solution to these atrocities, nor is it one that the American people would accept. However, continuing to trade with and legitimize foreign regimes with unethical policies should sit heavy on the minds of first world leaders. Actors like the Obama Administration must take a stand against such abuses for moral and political reasons. Ultimately though, this stand must be finessed as to gain the maximum reward for the minimum cost.
The fact that Russia will hold the 2014 Winter Olympics has added another dimension to this issue. The question of what to do about this revolting legislation and the inhumane actions of Russian homophobes has prompted responses from celebrities, political figures, and Olympic athletes alike. Americans are reminded of the 1936 German Olympics and the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics, the former, participated in by the United States and the latter, boycotted by the United States. Olympians clearly favor participating in the games, which they have worked their entire lives for the ability to compete in. Blake Skjellerup, an openly gay speed skater from New Zealand, announced this month that he would rather make a statement by competing in the games.2 President Obama has publicly agreed with this logic saying, “We’ve got a bunch of Americans out there who are training hard, who are doing everything they can to succeed.”3 Obama has even exhibited a competitive attitude on the issue, hoping that a strong showing from LGBT’s could break down Russian stereotypes, much like Jesse Owens’ performance in the 1936 games. Obama said, “One of the things I’m really looking forward to is maybe some gay and lesbian athletes bringing home the gold or silver or bronze, which would, I think, go a long way in rejecting the kind of attitudes that we’re seeing there.”4 Obama has publicly condemned Russia’s actions but this condemnation does little to help the LGBT’s living in fear. This finessed approach solves Obama’s political problem but fails to be a moral solution.
It seems the only viable moral solution is to eradicate prejudice from Russia’s population, a strategy that (as Americans are well aware of) can take decades if not centuries to achieve. Unfortunately, a survey conducted in June by the All-Russian Public Opinion Center, seems to suggest that the de jure discrimination against LGBTs is rooted in the long-standing homophobia of the Russian populace. The study found that 88% of Russians support the homosexual propaganda ban, and similar surveys conducted by the Levada Center concluded that 35% of Russians think homosexuality is a disease, while 43% believe it to be a preventable bad habit.5 This ignorance and intolerance towards homosexuals is not merely a topic of political discussion as evidenced by the two high profile hate crime murders occurring in the month of May alone. 6 Eliminating this prejudice requires meaningful anti-discrimination education all over Russia, a domain in which Blake Skjellerup and Co. are ironically less impotent than American policymakers.
It seems unlikely that the Russian Government would dare to enforce its hateful laws during the Olympics with such a bright international spotlight upon it. Regardless, LGBT athletes of all nationalities must still participate in fear that they or their spouses will be subjected to prejudiced people and laws. In the political landscape, it seems unlikely that the world’s superpowers will actively impose their will on Russia through attempting to limit its sovereignty over this domestic issue. Morally, taking a strong stand against such policies seems like our only option, but from a practical perspective we see that a moral stand would have an immoral outcome. From an American outlook, the relatively small-scale human rights atrocities, egregious as they are, do not constitute a legitimate reason to get involved in Russia’s domestic affairs and endanger our tenuous relationship with such an (unfortunately) important international actor.
Bryan Reines is a Sophomore with a Political Science and Philosophy double major at Emory University. Born and raised in Atlanta, Ga. Bryan aspires to earn a Juris Doctor and work in international policy-making. He looks forward to studying in Dharmsala, India next semester where he will conduct a comparative research project on exile governments.
1Herszenhorn, David M. “Gays in Russia Find No Haven, Despite Support From the West.” The New York Times. August 11, 2013. Accessed September 28, 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/12/world/europe/gays-in-russia-find-no-haven-despite-support-from-the-west.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.
2 Buzinski, Jim. “Olympian Blake Skjellerup Won’t Let Russia’s Anti-gay Laws Tone Him down – Outsports.” Outsports. July 12, 2013. Accessed September 28, 2013. http://www.outsports.com/2013/7/12/4516798/olympian-blake-skjellerup-wont-let-russias-anti-gay-laws-tone-him-down.
3 Loumena, Dan. “President Obama Says No to a Boycott of 2014 Sochi Olympics.” Los Angeles Times. August 09, 2013. Accessed September 28, 2013. http://articles.latimes.com/2013/aug/09/sports/la-sp-sn-president-obama-olympics-boycott-20130809.
6Gutterman, Steve. “Gay Man Killed in Russia’s Second Suspected Hate Crime in Weeks.” Reuters. June 03, 2013. Accessed September 28, 2013. http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/06/03/us-russia-killing-gay-idUSBRE95209Z20130603.