International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia in Saint Petersburg, 2009
During the summer of 2013, Russia's State Duma passed an anti-gay bill with a 436-0 vote. Backed by the Kremlin, the legislation banned the "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations." The language of the bill was vague, but it was seen by the international community as an effort to crack down on homosexuality. While the State Duma, or lower house, voted on the bill, more than two dozen protestors were attacked by anti-gay demonstrators and then arrested by police in Moscow. After Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the law in July 2013, athletes around the world wondered how this would affect the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
The new legislation was part of a push back toward traditional values from the Russian Orthodox Church and the Kremlin. The law included a large fine for holding gay pride rallies or for giving any LGBT information to minors. Some of the fines included up to 5,000 rubles for individuals and up to 1 million rubles for organizations. Those caught breaking the new law could be arrested. Foreigners could be deported.
In July and August 2013, Russia's anti-gay bill sparked international protest and outrage. Athletes throughout the world threatened to boycott the 2014 Olympics in protest. The International Olympic Committee began probing Russia to see how the country would enforce the law during the Olympics. In an effort to do damage control over the controversy, the International Olympic Committee said by late July that it had "received assurances from the highest level of government in Russia that the legislation will not affect those attending or taking part in the Games." Meanwhile, FIFA reported that it was also seeking out "clarification and more details" about the new anti-gay law from Russia, which would host the 2018 World Cup.
In July, an international call to boycott Russian vodka gained traction on social media. On July 31, protesters gathered outside the Russian consulate in New York City and called for a boycott of the 2014 Olympics as well as sponsors of the Winter Games by dumping several cases of vodka. On August 10, hundreds gathered in London near the residence of Prime Minister David Cameron and demanded that the government pressure Russia into repealing the law. Meanwhile, actor Stephen Fry called on athletes to not attend the Winter Games. Prime Minister Cameron responded to the protests on Twitter, "I share your deep concern about the abuse of gay people in Russia. However, I believe we can better challenge prejudice as we attend, rather than boycotting the Winter Olympics."
Stephen Fry wasn't the only celebrity to protest Russia's new law during the summer of 2013. Lady Gaga, Madonna and Tilda Swinton all spoke out publicly against the bill. Actor Wentworth Miller turned down an invitation to the St. Petersburg International Film Festival because of the new law. Television Personality Andy Cohen declined to co-host the Miss Universe pageant in Russia for the same reason.
On August 1, 2013, Vitaly L. Mutko, Russia's minister of sports, said to R-Sport, a state news agency, that gay athletes were welcome to attend the Winter Olympics in Sochi. However, Mutko pointed out that all athletes participating in the games would be expected to obey the new law and that no athlete or attendee could promote any nontraditional sexual orientation. In his statement, Mutko said, "No one is forbidding a sportsman with a nontraditional sexual orientation to come to Sochi. But if he goes out on the street and starts to propagandize it, then of course he will be held accountable. Even if he's a sportsman, when he comes to a country, he should respect its laws."
Critics and activists said the problem with the law was that it promotes an anti-gay bias in Russia. They cited recent attacks and murders of gays in the country as evidence such as the two gay men who were brutally murdered in May 2013, while Duma considered the new law. However, there was no official data on anti-gay crime in Russia for critics of the new law to use because most hate crimes still go unreported, according to Nikolai Alexeyev, a Russian activist, lawyer, journalist and founder of LGBT Human Rights Project, GayRussia.Ru. One thing was certain as the summer drew to a close and the focus shifted to the 2014 Winter Olympics, discussion and protest of Russia's new anti-gay bill was far from over.
On Sunday, December 29, 2013, at least sixteen people were killed in a suicide bombing at a railroad station in Volgograd, a city in southern Russia. Nearly three dozen others were wounded. The following day another suicide bombing took place on a trolley bus in the same city. At least ten people were killed and ten others were wounded.
Both explosions came just six weeks before the Winter Olympics were being held in Sochi, 400 miles away from Volgograd. Never has a host country experienced this level of violent terrorism so close to the Olympic Games. President Putin vowed to double security in all of Russia's railway stations and airports. During the Olympics, the government has planned for more than 40,000 law enforcement officials to be on hand at the event.