MU students hope Russian anti-gay law spreads awareness of LGBTQ issues

Thursday, February 6, 2014 | 5:41 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — As criticism of Russia's gay-propaganda law persists during the run-up to the Olympic Games in Sochi, members of MU's LGBTQ community hope the opposition leads to a positive outcome.

They think it could advance the discussion of human rights and endorse the value of tolerance worldwide.

"I feel like it is an excellent platform for human rights because the entire world is watching," said Jess Asher, 26, a student who identifies with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer issues. "Many people are outraged about their laws, and that's awesome."

Andrew Hanson, 19, who belongs to the university's LGBTQ community, applauded President Barack Obama for his position on the matter. Obama has been openly critical of President Vladimir Putin for the Russian government's stance on gay rights. 

"I am glad for what he has done," Hanson said about Obama. "I think it will help spread awareness."

Intolerance of homosexuality in Russia has been increasingly contentious as the games, which open Friday, approached. On Thursday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned persecution of gays.  

“Hatred of any kind must have no place in the 21st century,” Ban said at a meeting of the International Olympic Committee.

Last year, the State Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, passed and Vladimir Putin signed a bill that would ban the promotion of gay propaganda. The law makes it a crime to advocate or teach a topic that indicates homosexuality is acceptable.

Putin has also signed a law that forbids adoption of Russian children by gay parents, or parents who live where same-sex marriage is permitted. 

Another law, passed last summer, permits Russian police to arrest suspected homosexuals. Last month, Putin said no one affiliated with or attending the Winter Games would be targeted.

"No one should be punished for talking about the policies of the government," Hanson said. "A fine for discussing the treatment of the queer community is targeted censorship and bigotry."

Delan Ellington, 19, another member of MU's LGBTQ community, said one of the best aspects of the Olympic Games is the global sense of togetherness. The Russian laws and subsequent punishment undermine this type of unity and support, he said.

In January, Obama announced that he would send a group of openly gay athletes to represent the United States in the opening and closing ceremonies. The delegation will include ice hockey player Caitlin Cahow and figure skater Brian Boitano.

Asher said she thought the upshot of the controversy could be wider acknowledgement of alternative lifestyles and beliefs.

"People are talking about LGBTQ issues now more than ever before," she said. "I hope this opportunity is used for positive change."

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