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.



Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

The Government Is Giving Millions of Dollars in Electric-Car Subsidies to the Wrong Drivers

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Cheez-Its. Ritz. Triscuits.

Why all cracker names sound alike.

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Medical Examiner

Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?  

A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.

The Afghan Town With a Legitimately Good Tourism Pitch

A Futurama Writer on How the Vietnam War Shaped the Series

  News & Politics
Sept. 21 2014 11:34 PM People’s Climate March in Photos Hundreds of thousands of marchers took to the streets of NYC in the largest climate rally in history.
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 21 2014 1:15 PM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 5  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Time Heist."
Brow Beat
Sept. 21 2014 2:00 PM Colin Farrell Will Star in True Detective’s Second Season
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 21 2014 8:00 AM An Astronaut’s Guided Video Tour of Earth
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.