Planning to travel to Sochi for the Olympic Games? Last week, the State Department released a travel alert for Americans heading to Russia for the Games, which included a specific warning for LGBT Americans. According to the terms of Russia's notorious "gay propaganda" law, which has been interpreted broadly by authorities in the famously homophobic country, any foreign citizen can be jailed, fined, and/or deported if they demonstrate affection in public or take part in gay-rights protests.
"The law makes it a crime to promote LGBT equality in public," notes the travel alert, "but lacks concrete legal definitions for key terms. Russian authorities have indicated a broad interpretation of what constitutes 'LGBT propaganda,' and provided vague guidance as to which actions will be interpreted by authorities as 'LGBT propaganda.'"
The new law, signed in by President Vladimir Putin last June, is in stark disregard to the Olympic Charter and the peacekeeping spirit of the Games — but Putin won't retract it, in spite of international pressure and threats to boycott the Games. The ban on "gay propaganda" has led to an international feeling of regret that Sochi, Russia is where the Winter Olympics happen to be held this year.
For the first time in a decade, no member of the First Family will attend the ceremony, nor any high-up American diplomats. There are three openly gay delegates in Obama's handpicked committee that will be attending the Games instead, including Billie Jean King. "In the selection of this delegation, we are sending the message that the United States is a diverse place," noted White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.
The State Department travel alert isn't worried only about the LGBT community. In a lengthy column entitled "Terrorism," it writes:
Large-scale public events such as the Olympics present an attractive target for terrorists. Russian authorities have indicated that they are taking appropriate security measures in Sochi in light of this. Acts of terrorism, including bombings and hostage takings, continue to occur in Russia, particularly in the North Caucasus region.
Plus, Putin will allow public protest or demonstration with the permission of Russian authorities, which defeats the point of protest a little. The State Department writes:
Sochi authorities have determined that the village of Khost, located seven miles from the Olympic venues, will be the designated area for political demonstrations during the Winter Olympics. Demonstrations must be unrelated to the Olympics and the organizers must receive permission prior to the event from the regional authorities of the Ministry of Interior and the Federal Security Service (FSB).
Stay tuned for the inevitable — and important — drama.