Russia said Thursday it would enforce its new anti-gay law during the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, which means a ban on expressions of gay pride both in person or online, according to the Associated Press.
But at the last Winter Olympics in Vancouver in 2010, it was a very different story. Gay advocacy groups set up multiple "Pride Houses" as safe havens and gathering places for gay athletes in the city. Refugee counselors were on hand to counsel gay visitors or athletes who did not want to return home to countries that persecuted homosexuality. Rainbow flags adorned some streets. The Huffington Post dubbed the games the "gayest Olympics ever."
Fast forward three years, and Russia's Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko has told Russian sports newswire R-Sport that "an athlete of nontraditional sexual orientation isn't banned from coming to Sochi... but if he goes out into the streets and starts to propagandize, then of course he will be held accountable."
Vancouver is already responding to the development, with a planned "Kiss-in Protest Kick Off" in front of the Russian Consulate Friday. In New York and other U.S. cities, gay rights activists are protesting by boycotting Russian vodka. GlobalPost reports that some customers are going to bars and pouring the alcohol on the ground, while some bar owners have chosen to stop carry Russian brands of vodka altogether.
But Dara Parker, the executive director of Vancouver-based LGBT group Qmunity, which hosted a Pride House in 2010, says the International Olympic Committee also needs to be doing more to respond.
"The committee needs to take a stronger position to ensure there are safe spaces for gay athletes," she says. "There are very few out professional or high-level athletes, so it's very important to create this space."
The IOC issued a statement on Wednesday saying that the Olympics were free to all people regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation.
"We would oppose in the strongest terms any move that would jeopardise this principle," the IOC wrote, though it did not say how it would respond to any enforcement of the legislation.