Russia to Back Off on Anti-Gay Laws During the Sochi Olympics

The concession is not about actually respecting gay rights, but "to be as politically correct and tolerant as we can be."

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Police detain a gay rights activist during a Gay Pride event in St. Petersburg, June 29, 2013 (Alexander Demianchuk/Reuters)

In an effort to (sort of) smooth things over with the international community, a top Russian lawmaker says his country won't be enforcing their harsh anti-gay laws when thousands of visitors come to the Winter Olympics next year. Igor Ananskikh, the head of the Russia's Committee on physical training, sports and youth, said on Friday that they've decided "not to raise this issue during the Games," trying to put an end to fears that gay athletes and fans will be rounded up and prosecuted when the city of Sochi hosts the next Games.

Russia has taken a lot of heat in the last few weeks and months for its increasingly hostile stance toward the LGBT community. Gay pride parades have been besieged by violent attacks that have gone unchecked (or have been outright encouraged) by the police, and a host of new laws have been passed to crack down on anyone even suspected of homosexual behavior. One law even bans "gay propaganda"which can include something as simple as telling a child that homosexuality is normal.

Most worrisome, particularly as it regards the Olympics, is a law that allows foreigners to be arrested by police if they are suspected of being gay. Earlier this week, Russia's sports minister said that gay and lesbian athletes would be allowed to compete in Sochi, but "if he goes onto the street and starts propagandizing it, then of course he will be held accountable." With so many visitors flooding the city — many of whom are known publicly to be gay — that was a real cause for concern, prompting some to consider whether a boycott of the Games is in order. (Gay rights activists around the world are already pushing a campaign to boycott Russian-made vodka.)

Ananskikh's statement is contradictory to other claims made about enforcement of the law, but he openly admits that his concession is not about actually respecting gay rights, but "to be as politically correct and tolerant as we can be" during the Olympics. The goal at this point is merely to avoid a major international incident at an event that is scientifically engineered to make the world look like a happy peaceful place. It won't change Russia's laws or the incredibly dangerous climate for gay people there, but it might be able to let everyone play nice for two weeks next February.

This article originally appeared on The Atlantic Wire

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