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

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

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

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.


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.



The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

The GOP Senate Candidate in Iowa Doesn’t Want Voters to Know Just How Conservative She Really Is

Does Your Child Have “Sluggish Cognitive Tempo”? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

The Supreme Court, Throughout Its History, Has Been a Massive Disappointment

Why Indians in America Are Mad for India’s New Prime Minister

Damned Spot

Now Stare. Don’t Stop.

The perfect political wife’s loving gaze in campaign ads.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD

The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  News & Politics
Sept. 30 2014 2:36 PM This Court Erred The Supreme Court has almost always sided with the wealthy, the privileged, and the powerful, a new book argues.
Building a Better Workplace
Sept. 30 2014 1:16 PM You Deserve a Pre-cation The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.
Sept. 30 2014 1:48 PM Thrashed Florida State’s new president is underqualified and mistrusted. But here’s how he can turn it around.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 4:45 PM Steven Soderbergh Is Doing Some Next-Level Work on The Knick
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 4:59 PM China’s Not the Problem With Carbon Emissions. We Are.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath the Methane Lakes of Titan?
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.