As the Games Begin in Sochi, the Pressure Steps Up in Manhattan
BY PAUL SCHINDLER | As the 2014 Winter Olympics were opening in Sochi, Russia, critics of that nation’s crackdown on its LGBT citizens held at least three protests in Manhattan. Meanwhile, Internet giant Google offered its own perspective.
On February 6, the activist group Queer Nation, which has been leading street protests against Russia since last summer, turned out a crowd it pegged at more than 100 at the Russian Consulate on 91st Street on the Upper East Side, some wearing masks representing President Vladimir Putin, several of whom dumped fake blood on an Olympic flag.
“We’ve focused on the IOC [International Olympic Committee] and how holding the Olympics in Sochi goes against everything in its charter,” said Queer Nation member Ken Kidd in a press release from the group. “We’ve focused on NBC and major Olympic sponsors like Coke and McDonalds, who pay lip service to equality while profiting from inequality and ignoring Putin’s human rights atrocities. Now we’re once again laying our message right on Putin’s doorstep. The whole world is watching –– literally. Putin can’t hide his pogrom behind the sports page.”
Last June, Russia enacted legislation that essentially outlawed public discussion of homosexuality –– under the pretext of preventing the dissemination of information about gay life to young people. Since that time, that nation has been swept by a wave of anti-LGBT attacks, that have included kidnappings, torture, rape, and murder, some of those crimes brazenly boasted about on videos that have circulated. Queer Nation termed those crimes “effectively state-sanctioned violence against LGBT people.”
In addition to protests against Olympic sponsors, Queer Nation has also staged actions targeting Stolichnaya, the Russian vodka, Russian investment forums, and appearances at the Metropolitan Opera and Carnegie Hall by conductor Valery Gergiev and opera diva Anna Netrebko, both supporters of Putin.
Queer Nation member Scott Wooledge took a lead role last month in hijacking McDonald’s #CheersToSochi Twitter hashtag, which critics of the Sochi Games used to demand that Olympic sponsors denounce Russia’s anti-gay law. Since then, he and other activists created a parody site, CheersToSochi.org, to lampoon McDonald’s CheersToSochi.com.
Nearby the consulate, members of the Axios Eastern Orthodox Christians group, also on February 6, brought their message of opposition to Russia’s new law to the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia on East 93rd Street.
“Realize that we are your children too,” one sign read. “Speak up against the violence against LGBT people.”
On the evening of February 5, the group All Out organized events around the world, also calling on Olympic sponsors to take on their Russian hosts. Outside a McDonald’s in Times Square, several dozen demonstrators held up signs with insignias from the hamburger chain and Coca-Cola that read “Olympic Sponsors Speak Out Now.”
Google took note of the opening of the Games to send its own message about the choice of Sochi as the venue. Its home page showed winter athletes arrayed against a rainbow pattern. Across the globe, the page quoted from the Olympic Charter, in the language specific to the country where it appeared: “The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.”
Queer Nation released the following video of the protest outside the Russian Consulate: