It’s no secret that the institutionalized homophobia in Russia has reached frightening heights. With the Olympic Games months away, there’s plenty of cause for concern about how the Russian government and the IOC will treat gay athletes and their allies.
Fortunately, even amidst the threats of imprisonment, there are activists willing to take a stand in Russia. Here are five such LGBT activists who prioritized the cause over the consequences in the crusade for equality:
1. Anton Krasovsky
Tired of having to report on the anti-gay laws in his country, Russian news anchor Anton Krasovsky decided to take a stand and come out on live television. “I’m gay, and I’m just the same person as you, my dear audience,” he said. Almost immediately, Krasovsky was fired, his shows were cancelled, his email password was changed, and his information was taken off the television station’s website. Although Russia has taken pains to scrub all evidence of the public coming out from the internet, Krasovsky’s courage will certainly not be forgotten by those who witnessed it.
2. Nick Symmonds
With all of the controversy surrounding how Russia will handle gay athletes for the upcoming Winter Olympics, an American runner has been the first to challenge the country’s stance. After winning a silver medal at the Track and Field World Championships in Moscow, Nick Symmonds, who had previously agreed to not discuss the issue of homosexuality, changed his mind and dedicated his medal to his LGBT friends.
“As much as I can speak out about it, I believe that all humans deserve equality as however God made them,” Symmonds said in a statement to the Russian press. “Whether you’re gay, straight, black, white, we all deserve the same rights. If there’s anything I can do to champion the cause and further it, I will, shy of getting arrested.” Of course, arrest is not out of the question for Symmonds considering others have been detained for similar statements of “propaganda.” How Russia handles this incident will be a good indication of what’s to come at the Olympics.
3. Nikolai Alekseyev
Nikolai Alekseyev is arguably the most prominent gay activist in Russia. Despite bans on gay pride parades, Alekseyev continues to organize such events and foster pride for the gay community in a country that has tried to outlaw even signs of homosexuality. He has taken a leadership role in many LGBT causes in Russia including criminalizing hate speech, fighting to keep gay businesses open, allowing gays to donate blood and legalizing same-sex marriage.
Most recently, in his communications with Russian politicians, Alekseyev has been accused of “obscenity,” a bogus allegation that has become the go-to charge in Russia against those who disagree with the government.
4. Pussy Riot
Obscenity charges also landed members of Pussy Riot in jail. The now famous female punk band represents several dissenting politicial ideologies, including sexual minorities. In fact, at least one member of the group identifies as LGBT. Performing at both pride events and other public arenas to spread its message, Pussy Riot screams songs that condemn the government for its attitude toward homosexuality. One particularly critical song features the lyric: “Gay pride sent to Siberia in chains.”
Though two Pussy Riot members are currently incarcerated, the other dozen or so anonymous members continue to organize and promote LGBT rights.
5. Tilda Swinton
Tilda Swinton has always marched to the beat of her own drum, and she did precisely that while visiting Moscow this summer. The Oscar winner held a rainbow flag in front of the Kremlin; she captioned a photo of the event with “In solidarity. From Russia with love.” Though it may seem like a minor act of defiance, the police have apprehended others for similar action… just check out the police car creeping up behind her in this picture.
With the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi fast approaching, LGBT athletes should be focused on their sport rather than their safety in Russia during these events. Sign this petition to tell the IOC to protect LGBT athletes and visitors.
Photo Credit: Peter Gray