Yesterday, the coalition of international sports and human rights groups behind Pride House, announced a new initiative aimed at protesting the Russian treatment of gays: same-sex hand holding.
At the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, and the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Pride House created a space where the LGBT athletes and visitors could gather to celebrate the games and learn about the long history of LGBT athletes. A Pride House was planned for the 2014 Winter Olympics too but they were barred from the Sochi Olympics by a Russian court. That hasn’t meant they’ve gone away. Quite the opposite. Never has their mission to educate and change hearts and minds been more clear.
The first thing the Pride House coalition did in developing a response to the Russian anti-gay posture, was to ask their Russian members for ideas. “Any response, no matter how well-meaning, would be inappropriate without the input of LGBT sportspeople in Russia” explained Lou Englefield, Director of Pride Sports UK. In fact, it was Konstanin Yablotskiy, a Pride House member from the Russian LGBT Sports Federation, who came up with the concept: hand holding. Same-sex hand holding by athletes, coaches, sponsors, spectators and visitors to the games. The group wants everyone to hold hands “at every opportunity”.
“Long after the 2014 Olympics,” Yablotskiy observed, “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. We know from gestures like Usain Bolt’s lightning stance the impact of such images that are simple, replicable, and identifiable”.
Obviously, the more people who participate, the harder it will be for the Russians to respond. It’s hard not to think about the impact of a Parade of Nations during the Opening Ceremonies, where hand-holding athletes march into a stadium full of hand-holding spectators. But even while they encourage everyone in Sochi to hand hold with a friend, they are urging caution. The new Russian propaganda law could land same-sex hand-holders in jail, and/or deported. Pride House says same-sex hand holding should be done only in public view where there are witnesses, especially witnesses from the international press.
Pride House says it will have T-shirts, posters, web badges and pins to support the hand holding campaign available through their website in early October to help spread the word. They want to make the Sochi Olympics memorable not just for sport, but for the response of the international community to the Russian persecution of gays.
Pride House is betting the world can have an effect on public opinion in Russia, if we all just stand united, hand in hand.
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