KAZARYAN: Sharing Sochi background

On Sept. 5 Aleksey Zhuravlev, a member of the Russian State Duma, proposed an amendment to the Family Code of Russia that would deprive those “practicing non-traditional sexual relations” of their parental rights. Though the Russian government recently voted to prevent same-sex couples from adopting, this amendment goes far beyond that. Termination of parental rights is usually restricted to situations involving drug and alcohol problems, violence or abuse.

This is just another step on a long road of human rights violations being paved by the Russian government. Many people are condensing this history as they discuss the upcoming Sochi Olympics and whether the political situation in Russia warrants a boycott. I would like to start, however, by providing a summary of the legislative history of gay rights in Russia as essential background to this discussion.

In March 2012, a regional legislative assembly submitted a bill to the Duma proposing to amend Russian law to protect minors from homosexual “propaganda.” The bill, however, provides no explanation of what exactly propaganda constitutes, defining it merely as “the purposeful activity and spread of information that could harm the health, moral and spiritual development [of children] … forming misconceptions about social equivalence of traditional and non-traditional sexual relations.” In January of 2013, the Duma passed these amendments.

That February, Elena Mizulina, head of the State Duma’s Committee on Family, Women and Children, proposed amendments to the bill. Among other things, she proposed blocking websites containing “homosexual propaganda” from the Internet and defined homosexual propaganda as information showing minors the “attractiveness of non-traditional relationships” or a “distorted view of the social equivalence of traditional and non-traditional relationships.” In June, that amendment was passed unanimously. Only one member of the Duma abstained.

International human rights groups have called the current situation in Russia one of the worst abuses of human rights of the post-Soviet era. And after analyzing this statement, many truths are clear.

First, the unclear legal writing of Russian law gives authorities, whether law enforcement agencies or courts, the opportunity to interpret the law in any way they want.

Second, the fact that homosexual “propaganda” is banned but so-called heterosexual propaganda is not is a direct violation of the Constitution of Russia, the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Because of these human rights abuses, many people — from writer Stephen Fry and Human Rights Watch to Sen. Lindsay Graham — are calling for countries and athletes to boycott the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. They believe this boycott would incentivize the Russian government to grant gay and lesbians the equality of the law and freedom from infringements on their rights.

In response, Russian officials like Vladimir Putin are assuring the international community that no lives will actually be impacted by the laws the Duma has passed. They say no citizens will by affected by the law so long as they do not openly promote homosexual relationships to minors. But here’s the catch — any words about homosexuality can be interpreted as this propaganda.

Despite all of this, I honestly believe that boycotting the Olympics would be the wrong thing to do. The boycott of the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics did not in any way encourage the Soviet Union to take its troops out of Afghanistan.

And it is especially important to remember that athletes, who train during their entire lives for this moment, deserve a chance to compete. For an athlete from any country of the world who believes in equal rights, to win in these Games will be a much more important victory and statement to the whole world.

Ashkhen Kazaryan is a 2013 –’14 Fox international fellow in residence at the MacMillan Center. Contact her at ashkhen.kazaryan@yale.edu.

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