Debating how issues of sexual orientation will play at the Sochi games


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JEFFREY BROWN: And we pick up on all this now with Andranik Migranyan, director of the Institute for Democracy and Cooperation, a nongovernmental organization that has close ties to Russia’s leadership. And Brian Moulton is the legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy group on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.

And, Brian Moulton, let me start with you.

How serious a problem do you see Russia for gays and lesbians?

BRIAN MOULTON, Human Rights Campaign: Sure. It’s a very serious problem.

We both have the law that was passed last fall that really restricts the ability of LGBT people to be public about who they are, to speak out in favor of equality at the risk of fines. And then there’s just a culture, a growing culture of harassment and violence against LGBT people that’s really been generated and exacerbated by this law.

JEFFREY BROWN: Andranik Migranyan, how do you see the situation in Russia? What’s the impetus, for example, behind this new law?

ANDRANIK MIGRANYAN, Institute for Democracy and Cooperation: Well, you know, I think that in Western media, this problem concerning LGBT community is grossly exaggerated.

I don’t think that we have a serious problem concerning this issue. But, you know, what is the problem at this moment, I think that Russian government and authorities, they are trying to consolidate Russian state and Russian society around some values after collapse of Soviet Union and communist ideology.

And because, unfortunately, in ’90s, liberal values were discredited as a result of that wild capitalism and grabbing by oligarchs of state property and creating the chaos and poverty in the society, now Russian society is consolidating around conservative and traditional values, which, you know, includes respect to family values, to the church, to state, valuing very highly patriotism and other conservative values.

This is — then, on top of that, we had another problem. Russia was declining — had declining population, demographic problems. And on top of that, the state authorities, they want to encourage the birthrate. And that’s why they are pushing forward the problem of family values and strengthening the family ties.

JEFFREY BROWN: Brian Moulton, what do you respond to that?

BRIAN MOULTON: Well, I think it’s very unfortunate that a response to adopting stronger values in the country means adopting values of discrimination against a group of people in that country.

And it’s sad to see the arguments that we have heard in the United States for many years about LGBT equality, that it’s harmful to families, ignoring the fact that these are people who have their own families, are raising children in many instances, exported and used by even American advocates in the country to hurt our community abroad.

JEFFREY BROWN: Have you seen the new law translate into direct actions, and is it also fear of what’s coming with the athletes? Do you fear that something might, I don’t know, discrimination against particular athletes?

BRIAN MOULTON: Well, we have certainly and seen the law applied, and we have seen — we have seen advocates fined. We just saw at the end of last month a newspaper editor fined for running an article about a gay man who lost his job as a teacher because of his sexual orientation.

So the law is being used to restrict the ability of individuals to express positive messages about LGBT people. Certainly, we worry that athletes, openly LGBT athletes in particular, who go to the Games and want to express their support for the LGBT community in Russia may be in danger.

You heard in the segment the mixed messages that Putin and other officials in Russia have given. I’m certainly hopeful that people will not be prosecuted in the Games, but we shouldn’t just focus on the Games. What happens to LGBT Russians when the international community’s attention turns away when the Games are over?

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Mr. Migranyan, what do you — do you hear mixed messages in what we just heard from Vladimir Putin and other officials?

ANDRANIK MIGRANYAN: No, I haven’t seen and heard any mixed messages.

The problem is that, today, New York Times mentioned that 75 countries in the world, they criminalize same-sex relations. Russia repealed the law in 1994, and we had these very severe laws under Soviet rule. And that’s why we don’t have any discrimination.

The only problem is — which we would really like to make clear for everybody in the world, this is the law against propaganda in presence of kids. That’s the only problem. Otherwise, you know, we have the position that: We will leave you alone. Leave us alone. We protect and we respect the minority rules. Respect the majority rights and majority way of life.

And this is the reality. That’s why I think that, again, there is, unfortunately, the situation when some minorities are becoming very active, and, in some cases, unfortunately, aggressive. They would like to impose their way of life and to impose on majority their perception how people must live and act.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right.

ANDRANIK MIGRANYAN: This is not right. And we need to have tolerance on both sides.

JEFFREY BROWN: I just want to ask you before we have to end here about the response, starting with you, Brian Moulton.

Are you satisfied with President Obama’s action and the people that he sent? Are you satisfied with the IOC’s response and companies?

BRIAN MOULTON: Well, we’re certainly very pleased that the president has taken the opportunity to send openly LGBT athletes as part of the delegation and to speak out against the Russian law, and our own State Department that has done a lot to make sure that people traveling to Russia for the Games are aware of the issues facing LGBT people.

Certainly, we would like to see the International Olympic Committee do more. We would like to see the corporate sponsors of the Olympics speak out against the law. There’s much more that needs to be done to raise awareness about what is going on in Russia.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, Mr. Migranyan, we just have about 30 seconds because we’re near the end of the program. So, let me just ask you, what’s been the response from this outside pressure in Russia? What do you make of that?

ANDRANIK MIGRANYAN: I don’t think that, in Russia, this is a real problem.

And I’m very glad that Billie Jean King is in American delegation. When I was a student, I was very happy, as a tennis fan, to see her in Soviet Union in Moscow in early ’70s. And that time, Soviet Union had very strict law against LGBT community, but she came to Soviet Union. She didn’t have any problem.

And I hope now she will enjoy her stay in Sochi. And I think everybody will be welcome over there independently to their sexual orientation, because Sochi is a place and Olympics is a place not to show their sexual orientation, but to show good results in sports.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Andranik Migranyan and Brian Moulton, thank you both very much.

BRIAN MOULTON: Thank you.

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