On Wednesday, just one day before the kickoff of the Sochi Winter Olympics, the LGBT organization All Out, which was created nearly 3 years ago to bring a global focus to LGBT issues, organized protests across the globe to help continue to highlight the atrocities taking place against Russia’s LGBT community. The protests took place in over 20 cities including Paris, France and Asuncion, Paraguay but also in New York City’s Time’s Square.
The New York City protest, which took place in front of one of NYC’s flagship McDonald’s restaurants, and Hotspots was on the scene as All Out put pressure on the multinational corporation, which is one of the major corporate sponsors of the Sochi Olympics. McDonald’s, along with Coca Cola, have yet to speak out against Russia’s hateful anti-LGBT laws, which were passed in 2013, on the heels of the Sochi Olympic games.
Of the protesters who gathered outside of McDonald’s were Andre Banks, who is one of the founders as well as the Executive Director of All Out, as well as Hayley Conway who is one of the campaign managers working for All Out. Banks said that the organization has spent nearly 2.5 years working against anti-gay laws in Russia. He also stated “I will watch the games because there are nearly 50 Olympians including 12 who will compete in Sochi, who support All Out…[and] our mission to make it really clear to the Olympic games and the sponsors that they can’t just stay quiet and run down the clock on the issue of anti-LGBT laws in Russia.” Banks spoke to the gathered crowd about how important it was to keep up the pressure on sponsors like McDonald’s and Coke who have chosen to keep quiet even though there is evidence that members of our very own LGBT community are beaten, suppressed and jailed in Russia.
Despite silence from McDonald’s and Coke, another major sponsor of the Sochi Olympics, AT&T did break the mold and their silence and released the following statement the day before the games began: “Russia’s law is harmful to LGBT individuals and families, and it’s harmful to a diverse society.’ This statement marks the first time a major sponsor of the Olympics has spoken out against the law that forbids “LGBT propaganda when children are present”.
Protests are expected to continue as the games get underway this week. All Out Campaign Manager Hayley Conway said that the organization is working with a partner group called One Athlete Ally to ask Olympians and supporters to support Principle 6 which states “the practice of sport is a human right” and that every individual must be able to practice “without discrimination of any kind.” The International Olympic Committee is obligated to “act against any form of discrimination affecting the Olympic Movement.” Conway also stated that All Out will “do anything they can to help support LGBT allies and athletes in Sochi.” “We have raised more than $55,000 to begin setting up emergency legal funds and we will act on a case by case basis to help make sure people are fairly represented in Russia.”
The Olympic games are supposed to be above politics, but it’s impossible to ignore the fact that millions of Russians continue to live in fear for their very livelihoods. A total boycott of the games, as some in our community have suggested, would not be as effective as having all of the major sponsors come out in support of our community and having our allies on the ground in Russia speak out against the harmful treatment of LGBT men and women there. Let’s watch the games in the true spirit in which they were formed, let’s talk about the issues and let our LGBT brothers and sisters in Russia and around the world know that we support them, that they are not alone, and that we are working hard and doing all that we can to change the draconian laws that suppress and criminalize LGBT people. We support Principle 6 and believe that the practice of sport is a human right. We know that despite some LGBT athlete’s reluctance to come out of the closet, people are better off when they are free to be who they are born to be. We will always spotlight injustice, not just here at home in Florida, but also wherever we can across the world.