It was a kiss that added further ammunition to the mounting pressure on Russia’s new and controversial anti-gay laws. After winning the 4 x 400 metre relay at the World Athletic Championships in Moscow, Russian athletes Kseniya Ryzhova and Yulia Gushchina shared what reports are calling a “lingering kiss” in front of spectators.
And then later on, when the two stood on the podium with teammates Tatyana Firova and Antonina Krivoshapka, all four women kissed each other.
Yesterday, after a few days of silence, Ryzhova explained that — despite many hopeful reports — the kiss was not in protest. “It was just happiness for our team,” she said to The Guardian. “If people want to write all sorts of dirt about us, they should at least know that Yulia and I are both married.” This morning, another statement came out via Associated Press: “The storm of emotions going through us was incredible. And if we, accidentally, while congratulating each other, touched lips, excuse me. We think the whole fuss is more of a sick fantasy not grounded in anything.”
Why Is This Such A Big Deal?
Although it wasn’t a politically-driven move, the debacle follows a series of backlashes that’s put Russia’s strict anti-gay laws under the watchful eye of the media and gay rights supporters around the globe.
The newly-introduced Russian law bans “the propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations”, which in this case refers to any public expression of support for relationships between men and men, women and women, and involving bisexuals and transgender people; furthermore, it discourages discussion of such relationships among people younger than 18. Those who violate the law can expect fines of up to 5,000 rubles ($AUD166) for individuals, and one million rubles ($AUD33,245) for organisations. Punishments are more severe for propaganda on the web or in the media, and foreign citizens are subject to fines of up to 100,000 rubles ($AUD3,324), up to 15 days in prison, and deportation and denial of re-entry into Russia.
It’s been clarified by the Russian government that the laws will be enforced during the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, making the Games an extremely politically-charged terrain. Interestingly enough, even Hitler suspended Germany’s anti-gay laws during the 1936 Olympics, yet Russia refuses to do the same.
The head of Russia’s National Olympic Committee, Alexander Zhukov, tried to reassure gay athletes that they could compete “without any fear for their safety whatsoever” — so long as they don’t “put across [their] views in the presence of children.” And in a news conference last Sunday, Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko explained: “We want to protect our children whose psyches have not formed from the propaganda of drug use, drunkenness and non-traditional sexual relations.”
People Are Upset About This:
Tilda Swinton has taken a stance against the laws. Stephen Fry wrote a moving open letter. And on Tuesday, musicians Claire Boucher (Grimes), Edward Droste (Grizzly Bear) and Will Wiesenfeld (Baths) battled it out over Twitter.
What Happens Next?
The outrage comes in the midst of more public calls to boycott the upcoming Winter Olympic Games. A week ago, after an 800m race at Luzhniki stadium, American athlete Nick Symmonds dedicated his silver medal to his gay and lesbian friends at home: “Whether you’re gay, straight, black, white, we all deserve the same rights. If there’s anything I can do to champion the cause and further it I will, shy of getting arrested,” he said. “I respect Russians’ ability to govern their people. I disagree with their laws.”
The legislation has already created a big problem for the International Olympic Committee (IOC), who were presented with a 320,000 signature petition protesting the Russian laws earlier this month. There’s been pressure on the Committee to strip Russia from hosting duties, and to uphold Principle Six of the Olympic Charter, which aims to promote non-discrimination: “Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.”
The IOC has reassured athletes that there will be no discrimination at the Games, while at the same time underlining that the Games are no place for political protest. Whether the Russian Government sees public hand-holding as a political protest remains to be seen.
Celline Narinli spends most of her time writing and talking about Australian music on whothehell.net and 2SER FM. She also writes for The Drum Media and Concrete Playground, and dreams about gelato burgers daily.
Feature image: Paul Gilham/Getty Images, via Huffington Post.