Pride House International – a coalition of LGBT sport and human rights groups – has called on everyone attending the Sochi Winter Games to hold hands with someone of the same sex in protest against Russia’s ‘gay propaganda’ law.
The ‘Same-Sex Hand-Holding Initiative’ is part of the the group’s response to the International Olympic Committee’s choice of Russia as host nation for the 2014 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in February next year.
In June, the Russian federal legislature passed a law prohibiting “the promotion of non-traditional sexual relations among minors.” This makes any expression of real or perceived homosexuality – even something as innocuous as same-sex hand-holding – potentially illegal.
In the weeks since the bill passed, numerous activist groups have come forward in protest with various demands from a change of venue to a complete boycott.
Konstanin Yablotskiy from the Russian LGBT Sports Federation is part of Pride House International, and was instrumental in conceptualising the Same-Sex Hand-Holding Initiative.
As Yablotskiy explained, “Long after the 2014 Olympics, we in Russia will continue to live under this horrible law. For a few weeks we have the opportunity to bring the attention of the world to the situation in Russia. The Same-Sex Hand-Holding Initiative enables everyone to get involved with a simple yet iconic gesture”.
The campaign is simple: Pride House International is calling on everyone present in Sochi – athletes, staff, media, officials, spectators, sponsors, vendors, and fans – to take every opportunity to hold hands with a person of the same sex.
“There are extreme restrictions on the uniforms and other items worn by athletes at any Olympic Games. Flags, badges, or pins are not allowed without IOC approval, a near-impossibility, and wearing something as seemingly innocuous as pink socks or shoelaces is very difficult for athletes to do, and complex to organise for other participants and spectators,” said the Federation of Gay Games’ Les Johnson.
“But everyone can hold hands with their neighbour. Indeed, raising your rivals’ hands in camaraderie is an image we see on every podium at every sporting event.”
Pride House International urged anyone wanting to participate in the campaign to exercise caution and said that hand-holding should happen only in public view with as many witnesses as possible, including the media.
It is unclear how the Russian authorities or the IOC will respond to the campaign. Russian officials have said that the gay propaganda law will be in force during the Games.
The IOC has also warned that the Olympics are not a platform for political expression. Activists argue, however, that expressing one’s natural sexual orientation is not a political action.
Pride Houses, venues welcoming LGBT athletes and fans, have been hosted during the Olympic Games since 2010. The Russian authorities have refused to allow a Pride House organisation to be registered in the country for the Sochi Games.