Putin’s homophobia is hardly veiled, particularly in light of a Russian law passed last year that criminalizes public support for gays and lesbians. But Friday, the former KGB agent told volunteers at an Olympic mountain venue that, in his words, “one can feel calm and at ease” about Russia’s views towards gays. Concerns about the safety of gay and lesbian Olympic visitors have been mischaracterized, he seemed to say.
Putin then said, “Just leave the kids alone, please.”
That’s the true version of the Russian president’s thoughts.
As the winter games draw near — they begin Feb. 7 — concern about Russia’s stance on gays is rapidly rising in the United States and its like-minded countries. Earlier this week, the U.S. State Department issued a warning for Americans traveling to the games in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi. The department wants gay Americans to follow the guidelines posted on its website, which advise travelers to practice “personal judgment and knowledge of local laws and customs.”
Putin, for his part, is proving incapable of setting a tone of equality and safety for gays who spend February in Russia, be they athletes, Olympic officials or spectators. That Putin quipped about keeping gays away from children — hinting at some unfounded, offensive, predatory trait — is nothing more than a homophobic slight inappropriate for a nation’s leader.
To his credit, Putin is a man soaked in Russian patriotism and pride, along with his rigid, Soviet-styled ideology. Now back under Putin’s guidance, the Kremlin is banking on the nation’s first winter Olympics to become a celebration of modern Russia, which, given the games’ scope, could happen.
What Putin doesn’t understand is that his stance on gay and lesbian rights is becoming a main theme of the games weeks before they begin. His comments Friday only make that stance more disconcerting, and disgusting, too. The world is watching to see how this former KGB agent welcomes Olympic visitors of all sizes, shapes and orientations.