Outspoken LGBT rights ally John Lewis is the only member of Congress from Georgia to sign a letter calling on Secretary of State John Kerry to ensure the safety of LGBT Americans attending the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
“We are writing to you regarding the troubling implications of a recently-enacted Russian law criminalizing actions or statements deemed to be in support of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community,” states the letter, led by U.S. Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) and signed by 83 members of Congress including Lewis (D-Ga.).
“In light of the fact that the 2014 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games are scheduled to be held in Sochi, Russia, we would like to know what diplomatic measures the State Department is planning to take to ensure that American LGBT athletes, staff and spectators, and their supporters, are not arrested, detained or otherwise penalized during the Sochi Games,” the letter continues.
The congressional letter is part of increasing scrutiny of new anti-gay laws in Russia, spurred by the upcoming Winter Olympics. Some activists are calling on the United States and other countries to boycott the Games to protest Russia’s treatment of LGBT people, while others — including some openly gay Olympians — argue that the boycott would hurt athletes without changing Russian laws.
Several Atlanta gay bars have also joined in an international campaign to no longer sell Russian vodka, believing it sends a message although the main product targeted — Stolichnaya — is not manufactured in the country.
At the end of June, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law against “gay propaganda.”
“Press reports have indicated that punishable offenses would include public acknowledgment of one’s orientation, displays of affection between same-sex partners, statements in support of LGBT rights, and the use of symbols such as rainbows that are attributed to the LGBT community,” the congressional letter notes. “Foreign nationals found to be in violation of the law could be arrested and detained for up to 15 days.”
Russia has also banned gay couples and single people from countries with marriage equality from adopting Russian children, and last year created a century-long ban on Gay Pride parades.
“Hate crimes and violent attacks against the LGBT community have been reported, including the murders of two gay men earlier this year,” the congressional letter continues.
The International Olympic Committee has stated it will work to make sure that those affiliated with the games will not experience discrimination, but noted that “wider political issues in the country are best dealt with by other international organizations more suited to this endeavor.”
“In light of the importance of U.S. leadership on LGBT issues, and the quickly-approaching Sochi Games, we urge the State Department to determine the appropriate course of action to assure the safety and well being of LGBT and LGBT— supporting individuals involved in or attending the 2014 Sochi Olympics and Paralympics,” the letter to Secretary of State Kerry concludes.