Senator Pressures Russia Over Anti-Gay Laws

7.31.2013

By Andrew Belonsky

A few new developments on the Russia front.

The campaign against Russia's anti-gay laws continues. First, a boycott of Russian vodka that began in the States has jumped the pond to Britain this week. And, second, Senator Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee, sent out a letter to the Russian ambassador condemning Russia's horrific policies, including bans on any speech that is remotely pro-equality.

Concerned about the laws in general, Sen. Markey said he's especially worried about how these laws will play out when Russia hosts the 2014 Winter Olympics. "While I strongly oppose the existence of such a discriminatory statute that singles out one group of individuals because of their sexual orientation, several of the law’s provisions are so vague and loosely defined that they could jeopardize the safety of the thousands of American athletes, spectators, and support staff who will be visiting Russia next year as part of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi," he writes.

The International Olympic Committee recently announced that it has received verbal assurances from the Russian Government that the new law would not be enforced against foreigners during the Sochi Olympics. This is welcome development.  However, the recent arrest of four Dutch tourists for violating the new law reinforces the need for clear, written assurances from the Russian government that the law will not be enforced against both foreign citizens and legal permanent residents, especially during the Sochi Olympics.

But not everyone's giving up on Russia. Aleksandra Efimova, Chair of the Moscow Committee of Chicago Sister Cities International, insists that despite Equality Illinois's requests, Chicago will not severe ties with its Russian sister city, Moscow. "As a person who has lived their life in both the United States and Russia, I firmly believe the best way I can affect change on this situation is to continue to keep relations open between Chicago and Moscow," said Efimova. “I feel that ending the sister city relationship with Moscow will only further hurt the LGBT citizens of our sister city by isolating them from places like our own city of Chicago that embrace their rights as individuals. One of the reasons that I have made Chicago my home is because it is an understanding and tolerant city that respects all of its citizens." He believes his group can help foster dialogue and diversity.

One person Efimova's unlike to sway is Vitaly Milonov. One of the Russian politicians responsible for writing the far-reaching anti-gay laws, Milonov predicts his country will defy the Olympic Committee and keep its anti-gay laws in place, even if that means arresting gay and lesbian athletes competing in the 2014 Winter Games being held in the Russian coastal town of Sochi. "If a law has been approved by the federal legislature and signed by the president, then the government has no right to suspend it. It doesn’t have the authority," he said.

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