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February 13, 2014

An Update from Russia

As the Olympic Games began last week, a Human Rights First delegation was in Sochi to speak up for equality and to amplify the voices of those harmed by Russia’s crackdown on the LGBT community. Our team was featured in news coverage from the Associated Press here and here, USA Today here and here,out against Russia’s crackdown on the LBGT community Sports Illustrated, The Business Insider, The Sacramento Bee, Washington Blade, and NPR

As our journey to Sochi began, U.S. Olympian David Pichler and I stopped by St. Petersburg, where we met with Russian LGBT activists Anastasia Smirnova, Igor Kochetkov, Maria Kozlovska and another activist who prefers to remain anonymous. Our visit was a chance to catch up with old friends and to catch up on the most recent news out of Russia. Tellingly, despite the international attention generated by the Sochi Olympics, they told us they were still anticipating an ongoing and increased backlash against Russia’s LGBT community.

The very next day, as Human Rights First’s delegation traveled on the Games and just hours before the Opening Ceremony, Russian police detained Anastasia and four other activists. They were detained  for holding posters that called for the Sochi Games - and for Russia - to uphold the Olympic Charter’s nondiscrimination clause,  Principle 6. While they have since been released, they continue to face charges and possible fines for speaking out.

While one may have thought these arrests could give pause to those fighting for equality in Russia, they did not. While in Sochi, David and I met with Andrei Ozerny and his boyfriend, Marat.  Andrei recently made international news after he wrote to Svetlana Zhurova, the Mayor of Sochi, and introduced himself as one of the communities LGBT residents. His letter was prompted by the Mayor’s public statement to the BBC that there are no gay people in Sochi. Since Andrei penned his note to the Mayor, he’s been harassed and threatened, but he still plans to remain engaged in the fight for equality in Russia. He is not alone and Human Rights First is committed to standing with those in Russia who are working each day to secure equality and safety for the LGBT community.

When the Olympic torch leaves Sochi on February 23, Human Rights First’s attention to the human rights abuses in Russia will not go with it. President Obama appointed the right delegation to the Olympics.  The United States needs to keep up that bold commitment in their diplomacy after Sochi too. We will continue to support Russia’s LGBT community by encouraging the United States to continue engaging with activists and others facing the brutal consequences of Russia’s crackdown. We will also urge U.S. officials to continue raising concerns about the discriminatory anti-propaganda laws as part of its official engagement with Russia.

Russia’s LGBT community needs our support. In the coming weeks, we will let you know how you can join us in our work to advance equality in Russia and beyond. In the meantime, you can continue to follow developments here.