An official Winter Olympics countdown event was disrupted in New York City’s Times Square on Tuesday by gay rights activists protesting Russia’s anti-gay laws. At the 100 Day Countdown, U.S. hopefuls heard chants calling for the United States Olympic Committee to boycott the Games in Sochi. As the publicized media hour began, members of the activist group Queer Nation lined a crowd barrier and unfurled banners with the words “Don’t Buy Putin’s Lies!” and “Boycott Homophobia!” — and chanted while four athletes were interviewed on stage.
On Monday, Russian President Vladmir Putin assured the International Olympic Committee that the host country would make the athletes and guests feel comfortable in Sochi “regardless of nationality, race or sexual orientation.” Contacted after the Times Square demonstration, Queer Nation member Andrew Miller noted that the group is working with more than three dozen LGBT Russian activists, supports a boycott of all Russian goods and services and believes international events including the Olympics should not be held in Russia, and sent EW the following statement: “By buying into Putin’s hollow attempts to pacify his international critics, the International and United States Olympics Committees are complicit in the arrests, jailings, beatings, rapes, and murders of LGBT Russians that Putin’s anti-LGBT laws have engendered. Clearly, we’ve succeeded in embarrassing Putin by forcing him to make such hollow assurances. But if Putin wants gay men and lesbians to feel welcome in Russia, he must overturn his country’s anti-gay laws. The real issue is the Russian LGBT community, not Olympic athletes and tourists.”
EW spoke with three of those athletes who’d had their interviews interrupted at the event. Billy Demong, a four-time Olympian who became the first American athlete to win gold in Nordic Combined in Vancouver, understood the timing of the protest. “Obviously it would be nice if they waited, but then they wouldn’t have the platform,” he said. “We live in a free country, and this is also an opportunity for them to voice some of their concerns about what’s happening overseas. As an older athlete, I know enough to allow them to do their thing but focus on what I’m here to do and say.” That will be his mind-set in Sochi, if/when he qualifies for his fifth Olympics in December: “Certainly I have opinions about a lot of things, but I have to remember what my role is: I’m an athlete, and I’m here to compete, train, and do my very best for the United States at the Olympics.”
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