Russian Society Requests Figure Skater be Less ’Fabulous’
Olympic bronze medalist figure skater Johnny Weir is a self-proclaimed Russophile. He adores the culture and skating style of Russia, says his Wikipedia page. He taught himself to read and speak the language, he’s a collector of Russian Cheburashka memorabilia, he named one of his chihuahuas Vanya after the Chekhov classic and he even married a Russian Jewish husband, Georgetown Law graduate Victor Voronov.
But Weir’s beloved Russia has passed some controversial new laws. Championed by President Vladimir Putin, Russia passed a law making it illegal to speak about homosexuality in front of children, or even display a rainbow flag in public, and this puts Weir in a difficult position.
"This law is a tragedy for the LGBT community in Russia," Weir told ABC News.
The law allows for the deportation of foreign nationals for what is perceived to be the "propaganda of homosexual relations," states Pravda. And under the law, foreign nationals could face fines of up to 100,000 rubles and be detained for 15 days before deportation, reported The Associated Press.
"I’ll take proper precautions, but at the same time, I won’t stop being myself," said Weir. "I won’t stop being Johnny Weir, the gay, fabulous ice skater person walking down the street."
Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said that standing up for children’s rights remains a top priority of the state and society.
And a statement released by the Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed Russia’s commitment to protecting children’s rights and their fight against pedophilia and sexual exploitation.
"This bill is not discriminatory against people of a non-traditional sexual orientation," Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matviyenko told reporters in St. Petersburg. "Thank God, the times when they were prosecuted under the Soviet legislation have passed. Now they are ordinary normal members of our society. Adult people have a right to decide how to live."
Public opinion polls show that over 90% of Russian parents do not want propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among their children, Matviyenko said.
"As to minors, it’s not someone’s whim, it’s a societal request," she said.
This leads to the question, how much of Weir being himself is propagandizing? In the 2010 Olympics, Canadian sports broadcaster Alain Goldberg commented on Weir’s flamboyant demeanor.
"They’ll think all the boys who skate will end up like him," he said. "It sets a bad example."
Yet even as parents may oppose his flashiness, Weir’s outspokenness and love for Russian culture led fans in the country to vote that an main-belt asteroid, discovered in 1996, be named after him.
"An athlete of nontraditional sexual orientation isn’t banned from coming to Sochi," said Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, as reported by the Associated Press. "But if he goes out into the streets and starts to propagandize, then of course he will be held accountable."
In May, Putin signed into law a ban prohibiting same-sex couples in foreign countries from adopting Russian children. And protests against what people perceive to be anti-gay lawmaking are spreading across the globe.
Actress Tilda Swinton released a picture of herself in front of the Kremlin with a rainbow flag. Gay bars across the United States are dumping Russian vodka, and boycotting Russian products.
Now recent reports released by the Russian non-governmental news agency Interfax suggest that the country is taking these protests seriously. Igor Ananskikh, deputy chairman of Russia’s Duma’s Physical Culture, Sport and Youth Policy Committee stated:
"The Olympic Games is a major international event. We need to be as polite and tolerant as possible. That is why a decision has been made not to raise this issue during the Olympics."
Some feel that the United States should boycott the Winter Olympics all together until Russia changes its discriminatory laws, but Weir fervently opposes this action.
"I’ve seen my parents sacrifice thousands of dollars, thousands of hours of their lives as I was trying to strive for the Olympic Games," Weir said. "The Olympics are the athletes’ life. It’s our livelihood."