The time has come for American corporations doing business in Russia, including top Olympic sponsors Coca-Cola, Dow Chemical, General Electric, McDonalds, Procter & Gamble and Visa, to show the world that the non-discrimination policies in their employee handbooks have no borders.
For years these companies have enjoyed the patronage of the LGBT community and a reputation as corporate human rights leaders. Both are due, in part, to their high ratings in the Human Rights Campaign's prestigious Corporate Equality Index, an annual report that scores companies based on their policies and practices regarding LGBT employees. An enthusiastic Coca-Cola celebrated its seventh consecutive perfect rating since 2006 with a press release that featured its head of Global Diversity claiming that Coke is "as inclusive as our brands." Visa, with a 90 percent CEI rating, offers a special Platinum Rainbow Card that "provides gays and lesbians access to philanthropic tools no matter where they live or work."
Yet all of these corporations have chosen to remain silent about the well-publicized, systematic persecution of LGBT people in Russia, which has intensified with the passage of a trifecta of laws in June that criminalize virtually every aspect of being or even seeming gay.
Just yesterday, a new bill was introduced in the Duma that would deny gay parents custody of their own children — less than 24 hours after President Vladimir Putin insisted, in a widely circulated interview, that gays are not discriminated against in Russia.
Corporations that fail to act soon risk winding up on the wrong side of history. Last week, activists began dumping Coca-Cola in Times Square. Days later, HRC's president sent a letter to all of the Olympics' top 10 sponsors calling on them to take a number of steps to demonstrate their opposition to Russia's anti-gay laws publicly. Earlier this week, 34 cities in 21 countries across the globe rallied in support of Russia's LGBT activists. Today, President Obama, having cancelled his bilateral meeting with President Vladimir Putin over Snowden-related tensions, will meet with LGBT rights groups during his trip to St Petersburg for the G-20 summit.
Let's face it: At this point, no one but the International Olympic Committee believes the latest reassurances from Russian officials that "everyone will be welcome at the Games in Sochi regardless of their sexual orientation." And not only because Putin derailed that notion less than 24 hours later by proclaiming that all protests, marches or demonstrations will be banned during the games.
By now, the mainstream media has begun reporting on the brutal videos the LGBT community has been gasping over for weeks – the ones proudly posted online by Neo-Nazi skinheads who enjoy luring gay men with online ads, then kidnapping and torturing them. In one, a man is forced to drink urine to "cure him" of being a homosexual. In another, a transgender woman is brutally beaten by five laughing thugs.