Wasatch Savage: Putin's Russia — a closet of Olympic proportions

Welcome to Putin’s Russia. Please keep your voice, love and “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” behind closed doors at all times.

With a corrupt leader who supports an anti-gay law that led to a rapid increase in violence, discrimination and harassment targeting the LGBT community, I had a hard time digesting the concept of Russia being allowed the privilege of hosting the Olympics this year. To me, the Olympics have always been a way for the countries participating to come together and share an experience to inspire a greater sense of global unity. I consider the Olympians to not only be athletes, but to be ambassadors representing their countries under the world’s spotlight. Russia, under Putin’s rule, is not a country that deserves to host the games. As Olympians train their whole lives for their opportunity to get an Olympic medal, the experience should be one of fulfillment and pride.

Out of an estimated 2,800 athletes competing in the Sochi Olympics, there are only seven openly gay Olympians. That is only .25 percent of all athletes competing in the Sochi Olympics. That number is improbably low, which gives us good reason to argue that there are many closeted gay Olympians in Sochi. I’m not saying that people getting brutally beaten in the streets of Russia for being gay is the main reason, but hey, that’d put some fear in me. There are many reports that discriminatory assaults against people of the LGBT community in Russia are going unpunished, and the anti-gay law in Russia actually led to a sharp increase in this sort of behavior. The anti-gay law in Russia implies members of the LGBT community to be second-class citizens. For this reason, assailants against the LGBT community are being met with impunity.

As an openly gay man, I wouldn’t feel safe in Russia. Pretending the LGBT community does not exist will not make it go away. Prosecuting members of the LGBT community for existing will always result in resistance, turmoil and backlash from those being wrongly criminalized.

To the seven brave, openly gay athletes competing in Sochi, I am with you. I am proud to stand with you as a member of the LGBT community. After years of training, you shouldn’t have to miss your opportunity because the Olympics were hosted in a socially unstable country, dictated by a socially inept leader. To the closeted gay athletes in Russia right now, we’re with you too. I understand for the closeted Olympians there are probably more reasons associated with fear of coming out, but if a main concern is the current state of LGBT rights in the Olympics’ host country, don’t let Putin’s Russia be your closet. There is no better time than now to be a part of progress to a more accepting world.

Lastly, to the LGBT community of Russia, you aren’t alone. The inevitable force of progress is with you today, fighting for a better tomorrow.