Concerns growing over US gay athletes being arrested during Winter Olympics in Russia
Draconian anti-gay "proaganda" laws in Russia may affect US athletes and others on the Olympic team unless more assurances of tolerance are forthcoming from the Russian government.
The recent crackdown on gays in Russia has even the International Olympic Committee nervous.
In Russia it is now illegal to even speak about homosexuality around minors, much less openly display gay pride. Technically the ban is against "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" around minors, but the implication for openly gay individuals is clear. Public displays of affection by gays, including holding hands or displaying symbols like a rainbow flag, are now banned. Violators face steep fines and jail time; foreigners face similar penalties plus deportation.
So what will happen to openly gay athletes and fans, as well as any vocal supporters or protestors, when Russia hosts the Winter Olympics next year in Sochi?
This week, comments by a lawmaker from St. Petersburg set off a firestorm online when he said that fans and athletes would not be immune from prosecution during the games.
Vitaly Milonov, who sponsored legislation in St. Petersburg last year that became the basis for a national law signed by President Vladimir Putin in June, was quoted telling the Interfax news agency that the law will remain in place during the Olympics and will be applied to foreigners.
The International Olympic Committee appears only cautiously optimistic that the games will be safe for gay athletes and fans, noting that it has sought assurances from Russian authorities.
"This legislation has just been passed into law and it remains to be seen whether and how it will be implemented, particularly as regards the Games in Sochi," the IOC said in an emailed statement to ABC News.
"The IOC has received assurances from the highest level of government in Russia that the legislation will not affect those attending or taking part in the Games," the statement continued.
The IOC said it continues to urge that the games "take place without discrimination against athletes, officials, spectators and the media."
The U.S. Olympic committee recently sent a letter to American athletes warning them about the law, but stressing, "We do not know how and to what extent they will be enforced during the Olympic and Paralympic Games."
The USOC says they are doing what they can to ensure the safety of all Americans at the Games.
Which apparently doesn't include standing up to the Russian bigots. They didn't stand up to the Chinese commies and their draconian speech codes in Bejing so this milquetoast response to Putin's intolerance is to be expected.
You may oppose gay marriage, condemn gay people as sinners, work to discriminate against them in employment, and call them names in the street. But arrest them? Milonov says he has received support from some US lawmakers so perhaps the idea isn't too farfetched for American bigots either.
Gay activists have suggested boycotting Russian vodka in response to the anti gay legislation. That would be a pinprick. I hope every athlete and fan takes the opportunity to defy this ridiculous law by every means possible. We can disagree without resorting to putting opponents in jail.