WASHINGTON, August 1 (By Maria Young for RIA Novosti) – The newest US senator on Capitol Hill took aim at the Russian government this week, condemning what he called the country’s “hateful” new law on homosexuality, and asking Russia’s Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak for assurances that American athletes and tourists at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games will be safe.
The law bans the promotion of “non-traditional relationships” toward minors, a move that has outraged the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) community and its supporters in the United States and elsewhere. Proponents say it shields children from harmful influences.
“I am especially concerned with the provision of the law that allows for the possible detention of foreign citizens for up to 14 days before they would be expelled from the country,” said US Sen. Edward Markey, who was sworn into office on July 16, in a letter to Kislyak.
“Many members of international athletic delegations, their families, spectators, and support staff proudly identify as members of the LGBT community. I believe it is essential for them to both feel and be safe from arrest, detention, and other forms of discrimination while in Russia,” Markey added.
Kislyak’s office confirmed to RIA Novosti that he had received the letter, but had no further comment.
Meanwhile, a number of LGBT activist groups and individuals were calling through online platforms and social media to expand a boycott of Russian vodka and other products, by asking Olympic sponsors to withdraw their support of the Winter Games.
“Withdraw sponsorship for Sochi '14. No support to Putin,” said one poster on Twitter.
“Help #lgbt by making #notosochi2014 trend! Voice your outrage and include the sponsors,” read another.
Olympic corporate sponsors were largely silent on the issue Thursday when contacted by RIA Novosti.
“The Coca-Cola Company does not take positions on political matters unrelated to our business. Our Global Mutual Respect Policy sets out our expectations for how our associates should treat one another and everyone they interact with on behalf of the company. We do not condone intolerance of any kind,” Coca-Cola said in a statement to RIA Novosti.
“We have no comment at this time,” said a Visa spokesman. McDonald’s did not provide a comment by the time this story was filed, even though it said it would earlier in the day, and other sponsors including Procter & Gamble, Samsung, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Panasonic did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
An online petition at Change.org asking Olympic sponsors to condemn Russia’s “anti-gay laws” had more than 71,000 signatures of support by Thursday afternoon.
“We are seeing tremendous reaction to the vodka boycott. It has prompted a global conversation about what is going on in Russia,” said Duncan Osborne, a boycott organizer for the LGBT activist group QueerNation, in an interview with RIA Novosti.
“The question is, what is the next step, how do you draw in other participants? We support a boycott of all things Russian,” he said.
“We definitely are joining the call for sponsors to withdraw their support. I think it’s important to send a message to Russia we are not going to tolerate human rights violations,” said Larry Poltavtsev, president of international LGBT rights group Spectrum Human Rights, in an interview with RIA Novosti.
But he added, he wasn’t sure a boycott or withdrawal of sponsorship was the most effective move.
“If you want to be effective, a boycott of oil and gas from Russia would immediately get their attention. I guarantee if you turn off the switch then tomorrow you would get immediate concessions from them. They get their money from selling oil and gas, not vodka,” Poltavtsev said.
“We oppose the boycott of business structures that act as the sponsors to the Olympic Games in Sochi,” said a Russian LGBT activist group based in St. Petersburg, in a statement to RIA Novosti.
“Russian LGBT Networks believes that certain actions of said companies during the Games could be of way higher benefit to the cause of human rights. That is what should be requested from them, and definitely not boycotting them,” the group added.