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U.S. Senators: Russia's ban on LGBT expression violates Olympic charter

BY CURTIS TATE, McClatchy Newspapers

A group of senators warned Friday that the reputation of the Olympics would be damaged if Russian authorities were to arrest or harass lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender athletes or spectators at the Winter Games.

A day after the Senate approved gay rights legislation in a historic bipartisan vote, a dozen senators wrote International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach that a Russian law banning "homosexual propaganda" violates the Olympic Charter.

The lawmakers also dismissed assurances from Russian authorities that the law would not be used to intimidate visitors to the Sochi Olympics. Dozens of supporters of LGBT rights have been beaten and arrested since Russia adopted the law earlier this year.

"Discrimination based on an individual’s sexual orientation is inconsistent with the Charter, and clearly contrary to the spirit of the Olympics," wrote the senators, including Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. and Dick Durbin, D-Ill.,

All voted Thursday for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would ban job discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The law passed 64-32.

The Olympic Charter doesn't specifically mention sexual orientation, but it does state that "any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement."

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The full text of the letter follows:

November 8, 2013

Dr. Thomas Bach
The International Olympic Committee
Chateau de Vidy
1107 Lusanne, Switzerland

Dear President Bach:

Congratulations on your recent election as President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

As members of the United States Senate, we would like to express our strong appreciation and support for the Olympics’ mission—to promote peace through international engagement and athletic competition. Unfortunately, we believe that the recent law passed by the Russian Federation targeting members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community runs contrary to the Fundamental Principles of Olympism.

In that regard, we write to express our deep concern about the IOC’s recent declaration that “as long as the Olympic Charter is upheld, we are fully satisfied.” We disagree with this position, and strongly urge you to reconsider given that the Russian law banning “homosexual propaganda” is clearly inconsistent with the Olympic Charter.

According to the Olympic Charter, “any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.” Discrimination based on an individual’s sexual orientation is inconsistent with the Charter, and clearly contrary to the spirit of the Olympics.

The Russian Federation’s recently enacted law singles out LGBT individuals and their supporters and prohibits them from fighting discrimination or seeking equal protection under the law. This law has already led to threats and arrests of LGBT individuals and their supporters. A 24-year-old man was recently charged with violating the law after he held up a pro-LGBT sign, and four Dutch filmmakers making a documentary about LGBT Russians were arrested in July.

In addition, this anti-LGBT propaganda law has had other serious consequences. Neo-Nazi and other bigoted groups have used it as an opportunity to brutally attack LGBT individuals. We have been deeply alarmed by images of Russian LGBT men and women being harassed, threatened and severely beaten for advocating for their rights. Sadly, it appears that the police do little or nothing to protect them.

Many in the international community—including United Nations’ human rights experts and U.S. President Barack Obama—have spoken out in opposition to this law. President Obama noted that the anti-LGBT law is a violation of universal rights, and we could not agree more. This law is not only an affront to basic principles of non-discrimination and equality, it also contradicts the rights enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the Russian Federation is a party.

In light of the situation in the Russian Federation, we are very concerned about the harmful impact this law could have on the upcoming Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in Sochi. The United States will be sending both LGBT athletes and spectators to these Games. Although some Russian Authorities have indicated that the law will not affect Olympic spectators and participants, we have yet to see a satisfactory explanation of what type of activities or behavior will be permitted.

If LGBT individuals or supporters were to be arrested or harassed during the Olympics, the reputation of the IOC would be damaged. We are not reassured by vague public statements from some Russian Federation authorities that there will be “no discrimination,” when the very nature of this law is discriminatory, and when other senior Russian Federation officials have publicly warned that those who “spread propaganda” will “also be held accountable.”

Therefore, we respectfully request more detailed information about the IOC’s preparations for the Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in Sochi, including how the IOC will work to ensure the Olympic Charter is upheld for athletes and spectators alike. Specifically, we ask that you provide responses to the following questions:

1. Have you received official confirmation from the Russian Federation regarding how the law will be enforced—if at all—during the Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games. For example, will self-identification as an LGBT individual, including via news or social media, be permitted by Russian Federation authorities during these Games? Are you aware of any actions by LGBT individuals or supporters that would put them at risk of prosecution under the discriminatory law by Russian Federation authorities?

2. Will spectators and participants enjoy protection from prosecution under the discriminatory law if they leave the Olympic village host city, including during travel to or from the Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in Sochi?

3. What concrete assurances will visitors and athletes have that local law enforcement outside of Sochi will not be permitted to enforce the anti-LGBT law with respect to foreign nationals?

The IOC has a responsibility to ensure that the values of Olympism are upheld and, as the Olympic Charter states, “act against any form of discrimination” —including equal rights for LGBT individuals. This is not an issue of politics; it is an issue of fundamental human rights.

As such, we look forward to working with the IOC to ensure the safety and human rights of all athletes and spectators at the Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in Sochi are protected. Furthermore, we strongly encourage the IOC to reconsider its position and adhere to the letter and spirit of the Olympic Charter by insisting that the host country comply with the principle of nondiscrimination.

Thank you for your attention to this request.


Barbara Boxer
United States Senator

Chris Murphy
United States Senator

Jeff Merkley
United States Senator

Dick Durbin
United States Senator

Lisa Murkowski
United States Senator

Jeanne Shaheen
United States Senator

Sheldon Whitehouse
United States Senator

Claire McCaskill
United States Senator

Al Franken
United States Senator

Elizabeth Warren
United States Senator

Chris Coons
United States Senator

Mark Udall
United States Senator


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