During Sochi Opening Ceremony, Russian Police Arrest Anti-Gay Protesters

Russian police celebrated the opening ceremonies of the Sochi games by arresting four gay activists protesting in St. Petersburg Friday, thus ensuring that the global community’s general disgust with Russia’s anti-gay policies won’t be tempered by the Olympic festivities. The protesters were attempting to hang a banner emblazoned with Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter, which prohibits discrimination in the games, from the Belinskiy Bridge. According to Anastasia Smirnova, one of the protesters, they’ve all been released, but were charged with “participation in an illegal public assembly.”

One eyewitness suspects that Russian authorities had been monitoring the activists beforehand, as police arrived almost instantaneously as the protesters were attempting to hang the banner.

"Either the phones are being listened to or maybe there are cameras all over the city; only a few people knew about this action," the activist told BuzzFeed.

Under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin, Russia has embraced a policy of of violent, aggressive homophobia and legislated persecution of gay Russians. It’s currently a crime to display "gay propaganda," which effectively means that it’s illegal to publicly identify as gay. This, and other anti-gay laws, have ushered in a wave of violent beatings and assaults on LGBT Russians, prompting the State Department to issue a travel alert to LGBT Americans in Sochi for the games, as Bustle reported:

The Russian government has expressed its hostility toward LGBTQ citizens and visitors in numerous ways in recent years, from banning gay pride parades in Moscow for 100 years, to fairly blatant state encouragement of homophobia, to cracking down on gay “propaganda” in advance of the Olympics. In what many found to be telling expression of Russia’s official rejection of LGBT individuals, Anatoly Pakhomov, the mayor of Sochi, recently stated that there are no gay people in Sochi, or if there are, “I don’t bloody know them.”

The U.S. expressed its opposition to Russia’s stance in the form of President Obama’s Olympic delegation, which includes gay former Olympians Brian Boitano (figure skating) and Caitlin Cahow (ice hockey). On Friday, Boitano told USA Today, “Everyone knows why we’re here. We’ve made it obvious and quite public as to why Caitlin (Cahow) and I are supporting the delegation and are here. I think Russians know that and I think Americans know that and we’re proud to come from a country who supports tolerance and diversity and we stand strong.”

When the White House announced the delegation in December, it issued a statement saying that the group ”represents the diversity that is the United States.”

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