By Brent Gerchicoff
As I sat watching the beautiful opening ceremonies of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, I was reminded of some of the humanitarian issues revolving around the games that has been in the news in recent weeks. The games proving entertaining, especially in terms of the men's and women's hockey, which I am watching with keen interest. However, the drama is not limited to the field competition of various Olympians. An international drama is constantly in the background, with human rights being thrust into the foreground.
Russian treatment of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) community has invoked international outrage and condemnation.
In 2013, the Russian Duma (parliament) placed a strict ban on what it considers "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships." Of course, "non-traditional" relationships is broadly defined, but its obvious purpose is to ostracize homosexual couples, bisexual and transgendered peoples. This has the effect of marginalizing people who the State defines as "non-traditional," forcing to the background any relationship Russia does not consider "normal."
The law would force corporations to pay exorbitant fines (upwards of US $30,000) for supporting LGBT rights, and provides a prison sentence of 15 days and deportation of foreign citizens who likewise promote these rights. According to the law, officials may detain individuals in prison for up to 14 days for being suspected homosexuals.
Beyond the institutionalizing of the marginalization of LGBT peoples in Russia, violent acts of hate are on the rise. The Untied States annual Human Rights Report has noted the prevalence of anti-LGBT violence. Even more disturbing is that the same report calls attention police failure to respond to these violent hate crimes. Police do not ensures the safety of homosexual, bisexual, and transgendered people.
According to www.globalequality.org, in May 2013, a 23-year old homosexual man was sexually assaulted and murdered in Volgograd, Russia within the context of increasing hate crimes and "rising national homophobia." This is, by far, not an isolated incident. In fact, Global Rights Watch released the following video as the Games started. (Warning: the content of this video may be deeply disturbing.)
View video at Global News
Even as the Olympic Games opened, 10 LGBT rights activists were arrested in St. Petersburg, Russia. The activists unfurled a banner quoting the Olympic Charter's non-discrimination clause, which states: "The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play."
The St. Petersburg police promptly arrested the individuals and refused comment or statement, according to an Associated Press article.
In light of the draconian laws and oppression of LGBT people in Russia, the international community has vociferously criticized President Putin and the Russian government for the rise of national homophobia.
In August of last year, President Barack Obama expressed strong views of the deeply problematic treatment of LGBT people in Russia. The President said he has "no patience for countries that try to treat gays, lesbians or transgendered persons" negatively. Obama added, "I've been very clear. When it comes to universal rights, when it comes to people's basic freedoms, whether you are discriminating on the basis of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation, you are violating the basic morality that I think should transcend every country."
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, while suggesting that the treatment of the LGBT community in Russia runs contrary to the Canadian conception of human rights, has said little to condemn the Russian government. More needs to be said but the Prime Minister has said he will not be attending the Olympic Games, as has President Obama. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande have personally declined invitations to the Sochi Olympics as well.
Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, spoke against Russian anti-LGBT policies from the Black Sea in strong comments directed to the International Olympic Committee (IOC). In the statement, Ban Ki-moon's statements strongly condemned the treatment of marginalized people in the following statement, in an attempt to shame the IOC into criticizing these hateful policies:
"Hatred of any kind must have no place in the 21st century."
"We must all raise our voices against attacks on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex people.,"
"We must oppose the arrests, imprisonments and discriminatory restrictions they face."
"I know that Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter enshrines the IOC's opposition to any form of discrimination."
"The United Nations stands strongly behind our own 'Free and Equal' campaign, and I look forward to working with the IOC, governments and other partners around the world to build societies of equality and tolerance."
While Pope Francis has not specifically condemned Russian anti-LGBT practices in the months leading up to the Sochi Olympics, nor since the games started, has taken more steps towards encouraging some measures of acceptance towards the LGBT community into the Catholic Church.
Since his tenure as Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis has made encouraging statements, leading some to believe that his attitude towards homosexual, bisexual, and transgendered people will be more positive and inclusive than predecessors. In a brief statement, Pope Francis said, "If someone is gay and seeks the Lord with good will, who am I to judge?" In another interview, His Holiness said, "Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person? We must always consider the person."
Strikingly, in Pope Francis' first message on World Peace Day, he stated that we are all God's children. The Pontiff said, "[Brotherhood] is the foundation and pathway to peace. In Christ, the other is welcomed and loved as a son or daughter of God, as a brother or sister, not as a stranger, much less as a rival or even an enemy. In God's family, where all are sons and daughters of the same Father...All men and women enjoy an equal and inviolable dignity. All are loved by God."
Furthermore, Pope Francis, while not recognizing gay marriage or civil unions, has sought a greater degree of inclusivity for LGBT people. In a statement to Asia News, the Pope has said, "the Catholic Church has never been opposed to the decriminalization of homosexuality, because we have never considered gay people criminals. The Catholic Church...teaches that homosexuals have the same dignity of every human being and condemns all forms of unjust discrimination, harassment or abuse." According to the Times of India, Pope Francis told an LGBT group that "to say that those with other sexual orientations are sinners is wrong," and further that "we must be sensitive in our homilies and how we speak in public and I will so advise our priests."
These statements has led to the shocking announcement that a leading LGBT publication, The Advocate has named Pope Francis their "Person of the Year."
Pope Francis has made great strides in calling for inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) people within the Catholic community as a whole. With a following of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics and the megaphone that comes with this voice, the Pope can do more. I am hoping that Pope Francis does more over the closing days of the Olympic Games to criticize Russian anti-LGBT laws, hate crimes directed to what they deem as "non-traditional" couples, and national homophobic attitudes of hatred and violence. Pope Francis must use his pulpit to condemn these homophobic activities in Russia, and signal to people all over the world that this is wrong. Heterosexual and LGBT people, regardless of sexual orientation, are deserving of equal respect and dignity. We are, after all, all God's children.
Last Night at the Gayete
The Centaur Theatre's 2015-2016 season is drawing to a close with its final production of Last Night at the Gayety, a musical comedy by Bowser & Blue which runs until May 22nd.