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Russia is experiencing huge international backlash after recently passing anti-gay propaganda legislation which bans “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations around minors.”   So strong is the international disgust at this move that many countries, including the United States, are considering Boycotting the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics in fear of what this legislation will mean for gay athletes traveling to the nation.

Calls to boycott the Winter Olympics began after Russia’s sports minister made a statement this week that Russian anti-gay laws will be enforced during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

“An athlete of nontraditional sexual orientation isn’t banned from coming to Sochi…But if he goes out into the streets and starts to propagandize, then of course he will be held accountable.”

Anyone found guilty (residents and foreign citizens alike) of breaking the law face fines of up to $3,000, 15 days of jail time, and in the case of foreign citizens, deportation and denied re-entry.

WHY are people so genuinely shocked by this.

Obviously, these new laws are a huge set back for the LGBT community, and personally I find them appalling.  However what I find incredulous is why the international community would honestly believe they should be exempt from adhering to and respecting the  laws of the foreign country they are visiting.

Any traveler knows that upon entering another country they are subject to and expected to uphold the laws of that country.  You may not agree with them, you may find them repulsive, however you respect them and you adhere to them. Otherwise you are arrested and detained, just like their residents would be.  This isn’t news.

Traveling is all about experiencing another culture, and is not about imposing your own principles or beliefs on another nation.  In regards to the Olympics, this is an event which brings countries together regardless of their differences, and an event which is about excellence in sport and international peace.  International politics have no role in the Olympic Games; an event where countries come together in one location and leave their political agendas at the border.

Olympic athletes are not attending the Olympics as homosexuals, nor are they attending as heterosexuals.  They are traveling as representatives of their country – as elite athletes – and Olympic teams have ALWAYS been required to adhere to an incredibly strict code of conduct when representing their country at an international event.  This includes not demonstrating in the streets to further your personal or political agenda.

However in response to international backlash, it was reported today that the Russian law will not apply during the Olympics after all.  In a statement from Igor Ananskikh, the head of the Russian Duma Committee on physical training, sports and youth, it was said:

“The Olympics is a major international event. Our task is to be as politically correct and tolerant as we can be. That’s why we made the decision not to raise this issue during the Games.”

My personal beliefs aside, I find it ridiculous that a country should have to bow to Western ideals and relax their laws to ensure attendance at an international event.  Would the United States and Canada boycott the Olympics if they were held in the United Arab Emirates – a country which enforces no kissing or touching, no swearing or making indecent gestures, no indecent clothing and no sharing of private space with a member of the opposite sex?  Did they boycott traveling to the recent Bejing Olympics over China’s questionable human rights activities?  And is  it not hypocritical for a country (the United States) to boycott the Olympic Games on an issue which so clearly continues to divide their own country.

Russia has not banned homosexuality.  They haven’t issued a decree to detain anyone and everyone who might be homosexual, and homosexual acts are not illegal.  What they have banned is the propaganda of it.  Members of the LGBT community may still travel safely through Russia, so long as they keep their sexual orientation private.  These laws are no different than those of the 78 other countries throughout the world which still enforce anti-homosexuality laws.  This is no different than me being required to dress appropriately when traveling through Arab and Islamic countries, and refrain from public displays of affection with my partner in public.

Whether or not you agree or disagree with Russia’s new laws, respect the country enough to respect their laws, and don’t be surprised if you are detained and deported for breaking the law while in their country.

Do you think boycotting travel to Russia is the answer?

Related: Why Even Boycotters Should Visit Israel


  1. Boycotting Russia for such reasons would be like boycotting the USA for their gun laws – that is if you disagree with them.

    It’s a tough question, but as you said you cant be surprised if you are detained and deported for breaking their laws. That is for Russia OR any country.

    • I totally agree with you. I’m personally think gun legislation needs to be bought in ASAP within the US, but I’m still living here (recently immigrated!).

      I think we can definitely raise awareness while still traveling and abiding by their laws. I think maybe even attending the Olympics and being there in itself is statement enough in this case.

    • The difference is our gun laws do not discriminate against an entire population of people based upon who they love. Apples and oranges.

      But you are right – people can exercise the right NOT to come here just as people who don’t believe in bigotry can exercise the right not to go to Russia.

  2. Very well said. It’s a classic “when in Rome…” The Olympics shouldn’t be a political ground.

    • Thanks Jessica, glad we share the same view!

    • The Olympics shouldn’t be a political ground – but they are.

    • Sadly I don’t think we’ll ever have any kind of international event without politics – politics seem to permeate every facet of our society. As much as we can try to fight against it!

  3. To choose to visit a nation and spend money there is, at some level, an endorsement of its values and its laws. Yes, many nations still have regressive policies on homosexuality. But few nations, particularly as prominent as Russia, are using their laws to tacitly endorse attacks on homosexuals for cheap political gain. “Propaganda” is being very, very broadly interpreted and very brutally suppressed.
    Your defence of Russia’s position offends me. “Russia has not banned homosexuality… What they have banned is the propaganda of it. Members of the LGBT community may still travel safely through Russia, so long as they keep their sexual orientation private. ”
    I suggest strongly that you spend the next month keeping your heterosexuality private. Picture yourself beaten for holding someone’s hand. Do not attend a heterosexual event. Do not look at your loved on in public. Do not refer to yourself as part of a couple. Do not dine with heterosexual couples. If you slip up and find yourself promulgating heterosexuality in public, picture yourself beaten by skinheads and having the video posted on Youtube.
    Welcome to the safe world of gay people in Russia.

    • I do apologize if I offended you – obviously not my intention at all. I am not attempting to take any sides, I am simply trying to suggest that we should respect the laws of other nations while traveling, and not necessarily force international changes based on our own beliefs.

      As mentioned, I was comparing the situation to that of a heterosexual couple traveling through the United Arab Emirates, which I have done, and where you do in fact need to keep proper distance from your partner while in public. Heterosexual couples have been detained in horrible conditions within the UAE for exactly what you have described – for looking at their loved ones, holding their hand etc, however we don’t boycott Arab countries, we adapt our behaviour when traveling through.

      I think there are potentially other ways in which we can raise awareness and put pressure on a nation which doesnt need to involve a complete boycott of the whole country. There are obviously LGBT movements within Russia, so I think perhaps where and how you spend your money within the country could be a better alternative to consider.

    • Megan- your point about having to modify behaviour in the UAE is an excellent one, and it raises the question, why do we go there? Yes, we travel to see, to learn and not to judge. I have traveled in this way as well. Yet the older I get, the less willing I am to spend money in countries that treat women brutally or imprison gays or quash religious dissent or refuse to address egregious gun violence (as mentioned above.) There is a moral responsibility that comes with investing dollars in a country, and I find am becoming much more particular of late. Of course then I risk cutting off my nose to spite my face, as it were, and my traveling world becomes smaller. No country is wholly good, just as none is wholly evil.

    • Totally agree with you – no country is wholly good, just as no country is wholly evil. I do agree with the moral responsibility which comes with spending money in a particular country, however I do think that you can spread awareness as you travel.

      I really believe that travel is one thing which has the possibility to change our world for the better – to quote Mark Twain:

      “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

      I do think also traveling to such countries gives us a better and more well rounded view of the world, and makes us appreciate the amazing life we are so fortunate to have in the Western World.

  4. Great points Megan. I was actually just having a conversation about respecting other cultures this morning. I agree with you–it doesn’t matter if people agree with it or not, you should always be respectful of another culture when you are visiting another country.

    • Thanks Jenna :)

  5. Megan, the final sentence of one of your posts above is spot on.

    It’s not about the country you spend your money in. It’s about how.

    And this doesn’t just relate to other countries, but to your home country, right down to a local level.

    There are a LOT of things, that I don’t particularly agree with, that happen around me. And this governs not just who receives the money I spend, but also who receives time and effort.

    Travel and make a difference. Boycott, and who exactly wins?

    • Perfectly put Iain – I really love that: “travel and make a difference”. You’re right – I don’t think anyone wins with a boycott.

      Excellent point about applying the same to local situations within your home country. Thanks for commenting.

    • An incredibly well written piece by Stephen Fry – I will admit that the one thing I do prize is my right to free opinion and speech without fear of persecution. He does also make a decent point about politics being involved in every aspect of life whether we like it or not.

      I still don’t necessarily agree that a boycott of the Olympics or of travel to Russia is the best way to approach the situation – surely the international media coverage around the world during the Olympic games could be used to the advantage of furthering human rights in the country by raising awareness.

      A boycott to me seems like saying “we don’t agree with what you’re doing so we’re going to leave you do do your own thing”, at which point a government as head strong as Russia would respond with “thanks for your opinion, we will in fact do our own thing, and maybe we’ll boycott the next games in your country in retaliation” – which happened in the 80’s. Doesn’t necessarily achieve much more than furthering the bad blood between the countries.

      Thankyou for your comments on this thread btw – I have a very high respect for those who are able to carry out a discussion and respect opposing views.

  6. Do I agree with what’s going on in Russia? Absolutely, not. I’ve seen pictures of ppl being beaten in the streets simply for being perceived as gay or for supporting the gay community while the police just stood by and watched these ppl being beaten. Once they were in too much pain to move or where unconscious, they were the ones placed under arrest that those who committed the physical violence Others are being rapped and murdered in the street while no one does anything to help them. It makes me sick.

    Would I personally travel to a country where this is happening? No. That would be against my own beliefs not to support a country committing such horrific crimes against there own citizens and others. However, I wouldn’t tell another that they can’t go there based on my beliefs.

    • Thanks for your comment Kimmy. I find this situation difficult personally because I’m a huge advocate for human rights – but there are so many atrocious environments and government regimes throughout the world that we’re not boycotting I guess I’m stuck at why would we travel happily to these parts of the world but not Russia.

      I think we can make a difference without a boycott – but at the same time, just talk of a boycott has sparked awareness and discussion of the issue. Sadly there will never be a right or wrong answer for a situation like this.

  7. I think you could just be selective about where you spend your money.

    • Thanks Anna. While I’ll be continuing to travel, I’ve recently started to reevaluate how I spend my money in certain countries :)

  8. A very thought provoking piece! Travelling to a country doesn’t necessarily mean you agree with their laws and actions & as you rightfully put it, that IF one decides to go, respect the country and respect their laws. That to us is the crux of the article – not that you are pro or anti- this new law. It does raise the question too: who will suffer and “be punished”‘from boycotts? Potentially the locals whose livelihood depends tourism & travel….

    • Thanks for your comment … Thats an excellent point too – making the locals suffer for a crime of the government.

      I’ve always thought that countries need to advance and instigate change themselves – it’s amazing that we in the Western world are in a position to put pressure on countries to do the right thing (by our standards) and to pull them into line so to speak, but for instance if you force democracy on a country which isn’t ready and isn’t used to that concept I’ve always thought that send them backwards even more.

      Same thing – if you force beliefs on a country which isn’t ready for them – or on a country who as a whole doesn’t share the same view – I’m not sure that would achieve anything. It’s a difficult issue.

  9. Well said. I want to point out it was illegal for Russian citizens to be homosexual not that long ago. This is HUGE set back for their citizens – not tourists.

    I love Russia. It’s an amazing country with even more amazing people. The laws and politics though aren’t so amazing. Having traveled to Russia several times, so long as you respect the laws and remember you’re in Russia – all will be good.

    There is more to Russia and politics. If people choose to boycott it based on its politics they’re the ones missing out on an amazing experience.

    • Thanks Elaine :) Very well said – we shouldn’t necessarily judge the whole country by their laws. As Don mentioned above, no country is wholly good, and no country is wholly evil. Just different to our own.

      I just mentioned above in another comment – I think the only way to instigate change here for this specific situation is for it to come from their citizens – not tourists. There has to be an overwhelming want or push from within the country for change to happen. Only time will tell I suppose!

  10. I’ve gotta agree with Don. We’re big believers in the notion that travelers have to vote with their wallets. We refuse to visit China or Japan, because their government policies have enabled a global illegal wildlife trade to flourish, resulting in the deaths of millions of whales, dolphins, rhinos, elephants, tigers, bears and other animals every year. Not to mention China’s horrible human rights violations in Tibet.

    Incidentally, we actually turned down a 3-week press trip to Russia last year, not because of a boycott (we knew nothing about this issue then), but because 3 weeks is too long to be away from my daughter unless it’s for a place I’m REALLY passionate about, like East Africa, India or Morocco. I don’t regret it one bit.

    • Thanks for your comment Bret. That being said could you also do something within those countries to help towards the cause, while opening your wallet to locals and grass-root endeavors?

      Watched an incredible documentary called “the Cove” which was all about an elite group of activists who go into Japan and document and question their dolphin hunting activities. The dolphin situation in particular; dolphin meat was being packaged in supermarkets as whale meat – still wrong, but local communities knew nothing about it.

      Really interesting and thought provoking film if you haven’t watched it – a lof of which was filmed in secret with hidden underwater cameras and microphones.

    • Wow – an incredibly inspiring guy – I have a lot of respect for him and the way he is approaching the situation. I agree with everything he said in his statement, and am glad that his approach to the situation is somewhat similar to what I was aiming at with the article.

      It’ll be interesting to watch the issue play out over time.

  11. Wow! This topic certainly raises and interesting debate.

    When discussing travel and politics I think it’s important to make a clear distinction between government policy and the actual people of a country.

    I’ve faced a similar conflict about my trip to Myanmar. Obviously I disagree with much of what has happened in this country’s recent history. However, I believe that the country is worth visiting to learn about its history & culture and to make personal connections with people. I’m here knowing that about 10% of what I spend will go directly to the government. Some people would not be ok with this and that is their choice to boycott travel to Myanmar. I know this and I can accept it because I have made an effort to spend my money on local businesses to benefit the people of Myanmar. I think that the personal experiences that I’ve had more than make up for the sliver of money that goes to the government.

    Similarly, as an American, I know that a good deal of my tax money goes to support things that I morally disagree with, such as ongoing war. I can’t do anything about this, but I can choose where the rest of my money goes and I can become educated about the political situations that I disagree with.

    In other words, travel is not black and white. I think it is best when used as an educational tool. Rather than completely boycott a place, perhaps we can risk the travel to these questionable countries and use our time to learn what we can from inside.

    Anyway, an interesting piece! Thanks for bringing it up!

    • Thanks for your really thoughtful comment – you raise some really great points about travel not being black and white, and I totally agree with you.

      I’ve always seen travel as educational, and I think we can definitely use travel experiences to not only educate and grow ourselves, but to also pass that knowledge onto others who we meet. Who knows – we might just be able to make a difference this way!

  12. Very well put! If I blacklisted every country whose laws I don’t agree with, it would put a large part of the world out of bounds … including my own country! Surely, this is a case for a policy of ‘Don’t ask; don’t tell’ ?

    • Thanks Keith :) Completely agree – we would find ourselves with a very limited list of destinations if we chose to not travel because of a disagreement with their government. I also think that a country needs to develop in their own time – you can’t change deeply rooted opinions by forcing them.

  13. When the ancient Greeks established the Olympic Games, they did not expect that the Spartans and Athenians would suddenly decide that the alternate form of government was acceptable. They hated each other. But during the Olympics both sides stopped fighting and sent athletes to the games to compete without spears, arrows, or shields.

    Today, there are practices in almost every country that are disliked by other Govts or people. It might be the LGBT issue in Russia, women’s rights in the MiddleEast, gun rights in the USA, or the poll tax in Australia. But you send your athletes.

    And if you have a moral problem with the host nation, then vote with your wallet. Don’t go, and don’t watch the games on TV. That is an action that has some meaning and impact. All the rest is just moving your mouth without saying anything.


    • Thanks for your comment JR – I’m with you 100% of the way on this. I’m very glad that they didn’t boycott the games in the end, because I think that would have set a horrible international precedent.

      As you said, there are practices in almost every country which are disliked and morally disagreed with. Countries need to advance in their own time and on their own terms – you can’t force your views or values on a whole nation or government.

  14. Obviously chiming in quite late here, but just wanted to make 2 points. First, I’ve spent 3 months traveling around Russia (and altogether a year in former Soviet countries, many of which also frown upon homosexuality). The thing that struck me throughout was that people can be very touchy feely – it’s not unusual for 2 straight men to be putting their arms around each other or walking arm in arm down the street. So unless people are making out or being very obvious about their homosexuality, I’m really not sure how anyone would distinguish between 2 friends or 2 people who were part of a couple. And as you pointed out, plenty of heterosexual couples change their behavior when visiting Muslim countries that frown upon PDA or unmarried men and women having too much contact, so it’s not that much different.

    Second, dozens of countries have far worse laws against homosexuality than Russia does. Russia’s is only news because they are hosting the Olympics. If they weren’t I guarantee almost no one would be paying attention. I am much more appalled by places like Uganda where it’s a crime punishable by death.

    • Thanks Katie – never too late to join the conversation!

      Thankyou for adding a bit more context to this conversation. I wasn’t aware Russia was a touchy feely country; I experienced similar cultural norms while traveling through the Pacific Islands. Homosexuality is outlawed, however holding hands in public between members of the same sex is seen as a sign of friendship. Thanks for pointing this out.

      I think sadly the fact that more countries have worse laws only strengthens the argument that this didn’t have much to do with homosexuality necessarily, and was more of a way for the US to publicly disapprove of Russia. I’m starting to realize there will never really be a day where politics can be pushed to the side.

  15. Megan,
    We disagree with a boycott of travel to Russia simply because it is difficult to know where to draw the line between which countries are “good” and which countries are “bad”. One could make the argument that no traveler should ever travel to Communist countries (sorry China), Christian countries (sorry USA), or certain Muslim countries because of how their religious or political philosophies oppress or restrict the expression of an individual’s rights.

    • Hi J.R. I absolutely agree with you 100%. And a lot of the time the fact is that whats “good” to one country is completely morally corrupt to another. So as you said, it’s always difficult to draw the line. And I find that actually traveling and starting discussions with people who hold opposing political and moral beliefs has more of an effect in these situations than a boycott ever will.

      Thanks for leaving your thoughts :)

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