Open Games in Closed Spaces: Authorities Subjugate LGBT Olympics in Moscow

By Trevor Allen

Despite numerous setbacks including venue closures and hotel and restaurant reservation cancellations, Moscow’s first ever “Open Games” successfully commenced on Wednesday evening. 330 participants have flocked from 11 countries and 22 regions of Russia to take part in this historic event.

According Elvina Yukaeva, director of the Open Games organizing committee, the problems that organizers have faced are not unprecedented: “When we had our first festival in 2012, they just didn’t let us into the boarding house we had rented.”

Konstantin Yablotsky, co-president of the Russian LGBT Sports Federation, said that they were given vague explanations for denial of entry to the venues. Yablotsky stressed to the press that this event doesn’t violate Russia’s federal “anti-gay propaganda law.” The events are being held indoors and, despite interest from Russian youth, will not admit minors.

Prior to the Games, infamous legislator Vitaly Milonov, author of the St. Petersburg “anti-gay propaganda” legislation, unsuccessfully lobbied Moscow authorities to ban the Open Games. Russian authorities broadly apply the “anti-gay propaganda” law, referring to the hypothetical presence of minors. It has become painfully apparent that the Russian government is using this law to restrict self-expression. Authorities have been aided in this effort by widespread ignorance. “People don’t know anything about homosexuality, they only refer to stereotypes,” said Yukaeva to reporters.

Fearing a further crackdown from authorities, organizers of the games are clandestinely informing participants and journalists about alternate venues. Foreign officials and allies have travelled to Moscow along with the participants, offering moral support and advice at educational events that are a part of the Games. For example, Olympic Diver and LGBT athlete-activist Greg Louganis spoke at the commencement to a crowd that included Dutch Minister of Sports, Edith Schippers.

Yablotsky still hopes for the event to be open to all Russian citizens: “We are not protesting, we just want to send a positive message to our authorities, our society, to say that we are good people – we are [normal] people.” Human Rights First lauds organizers of the Open Games for their courageous efforts. Participants’ arrival in spite of numerous difficulties proves that the Russian LGBT community will not let their voices be quelled.


Published on February 28, 2014


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