Russian officials sent a letter to the International Olympic Committee saying that while they intend to respect the rights of LGBT visitors to the 2014 Winter Olympics at Sochi, the country stands by its brace of recently introduced anti-LGBT laws, including the ban on "homosexual propaganda." According to the Associated Press, the letter was penned by Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak.
"The Russian Federation guarantees the fulfillment of its obligations before the International Olympic Committee in its entirety," Kozak said.
He turned right around, however, and defended the country's law against "homosexual propaganda," under which it is a criminal offense to promote, display or endorse anything other than "traditional" heterosexual relationships. The law was written by St. Petersburg official Vitaly Milonov and is so broadly worded that it could apply to anything from wearing a rainbow flag pin to kissing a same sex partner in public or taking a stand in the media against the law.
Enforcement of the law "cannot be regarded as discrimination based on sexual orientation," he insisted.
The AP noted that this leaves the question up in the air as to whether athletes and Olympic visitors who step outside the lines of proscribed behaviors can expect to be harassed, arrested or beaten.
IOC president Jacques Rogge chose to interpret the letter as "strong written reassurances from the Russian government that everyone will be welcome at the games in Sochi regardless of their sexual orientation."
Russian officials have justified their anti-LGBT bias on the grounds that they are protecting children. Kozak's letter echoed that idea.
The "homosexual propaganda" law, he said, is a "restriction of information that promotes non-traditional sexual relationships among children."
He posited that "[t]hese legislations apply equally to all persons, irrespective of their race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation, and cannot be regarded as discrimination based on sexual orientation."
Playwright Harvey Fierstein appeared on MSNBC's "All in With Chris Hayes" last week to protest the Russian laws, which also include provisions preventing LGBT people from adopting children and forbids countries that allow same sex marriage from adopting Russian orphans in need of homes.
Fierstein said that to claim that the laws protect children is particularly heinous.
“Putin says he’s doing this to protect children. Now, everyone knows that 25 to 40 percent of all gay youth attempt suicide. The statistics go up when a law is passed against someone, there’s something official done," he said. "You want to protect children? You’re killing children."
[image of Vitaly Milonov via Wikipedia.org]