Russia and the IOC Agree: Don’t Be Openly Gay at the Olympics

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
Aug. 13 2013 12:06 PM

Russia and the IOC Agree: Don’t Be Openly Gay at the Olympics

169651527
The IOC gets a gold medal in bigotry.

Photo by Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images

On Monday, the Russian Interior Ministry confirmed what other Russian officials have been saying for weeks: Openly gay people attending the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, including athletes, will be arrested under the country’s draconian new anti-gay law. That law, you might recall, prohibits “homosexual propaganda” and is designed to discourage any kind of support for gay rights or even gay people.

Mark Joseph Stern Mark Joseph Stern

Mark Joseph Stern is a writer for Slate. He covers science, the law, and LGBTQ issues.

The International Olympic Committee’s response to gay people? We mean it: Stay in the closet.

Advertisement

According to an IOC spokesperson, the Olympics aren’t the place for “proactive political or religious demonstration,” anyway. Just read the fine print: Rule 50 of the Olympic charter declares that “no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.” By the IOC’s logic, gay people should be keeping quiet about their sexuality no matter what, in accordance with Rule 50. If they speak out and get arrested under Russian law—well, it’s not the IOC’s fault that they just couldn’t keep their mouths shut.

This response is absurd on several levels. First, it’s simply incorrect. As my colleague June Thomas has pointed out, Russia’s law is written so broadly that a spectator noting that she loves her gay relative could lead to arrest. One need only state that being gay is OK in order to risk prosecution under the “homosexual propaganda” statute.

Second, and more importantly, the notion that voicing support of gay people and gay rights, or that being gay, is a “demonstration” of “political propaganda” in violation of Rule 50 is obtuse and insulting. Supporting gay people’s right to exist and live openly is not “political.” It’s about human dignity, about respecting gay people as human beings and equals rather than disordered second-class citizens. Gay athletes aren’t planning to march through Sochi shouting confrontational slogans. They’re hoping to wear a rainbow flag pin out of pride for their community, or perhaps simply acknowledge the love and support of a partner. That’s not a demonstration of politics. It’s a demonstration of dignity.

Of course, the IOC’s bizarre intimation that being openly gay is somehow political propaganda has deep roots in homophobic culture. Consider the complaint, still common in parts of this country, about people who seem particularly gay: I don’t have a problem with homosexuality, but why do they have to shove it in my face? Where heterosexuality is the norm, any indication of homosexuality might seem like a belligerent affront. That’s certainly how the IOC sees it.

But consider how this rule might apply to other minority groups. What if a female athlete spoke out in support of equal rights for women? What if a black athlete declared that black people should be proud of their heritage? By the bylaws of the IOC, these proclamations should count of “political propaganda” as well—but of course they do not, because Russia is not arguing that women or black people are aberrant and immoral by the mere fact of their existence.

It remains unclear how best to remedy Russia’s homophobic threat to the Olympics. Some are calling for a boycott; others hope to move the event to an LGBT-friendly country. President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron have resisted these efforts while decrying Russia’s anti-gay law, though they’ve yet to propose their own solutions. Either way, the IOC’s demand that gay people remain functionally closeted during the games can only make matters worse. The committee has essentially accused openly gay people of “demonstrating” their sexuality as “propaganda” just by being gay—perfectly mirroring Russia’s new law. That’s not a solution. It’s the exact kind of homophobic thinking that got us here in the first place.

TODAY IN SLATE

Culturebox

The Ebola Story

How our minds build narratives out of disaster.

The Budget Disaster That Completely Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

The Shooting Tragedies That Forged Canada’s Gun Politics

A Highly Unscientific Ranking of Crazy-Old German Beers

Education

Welcome to 13th Grade!

Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.

Culturebox

The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

Want Kids to Delay Sex? Let Planned Parenthood Teach Them Sex Ed.

Would You Trust Walmart to Provide Your Health Care? (You Should.)

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 22 2014 9:42 PM Landslide Landrieu Can the Louisiana Democrat use the powers of incumbency to save herself one more time?
  Business
Continuously Operating
Oct. 22 2014 2:38 PM Crack Open an Old One A highly unscientific evaluation of Germany’s oldest breweries.
  Life
Gentleman Scholar
Oct. 22 2014 5:54 PM May I Offer to Sharpen My Friends’ Knives? Or would that be rude?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 22 2014 4:27 PM Three Ways Your Text Messages Change After You Get Married
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 22 2014 5:27 PM The Slate Walking Dead Podcast A spoiler-filled discussion of Episodes 1 and 2.
  Arts
Culturebox
Oct. 22 2014 11:54 PM The Actual World “Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 5:33 PM One More Reason Not to Use PowerPoint: It’s The Gateway for a Serious Windows Vulnerability
  Health & Science
Wild Things
Oct. 22 2014 2:42 PM Orcas, Via Drone, for the First Time Ever
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.