LGBT rights (or the lack of them in many countries) have not only been one of the most prominent news topics in recent times, but also one of the most poignant.

We can welcome some progress, belated as it is. Fifteen countries now recognise same-sex marriage, including Britain, where legislation on the matter was recently pushed through parliament.

We only have to look to Russia and the recent introduction there of revolting and repressive anti-gay legislation and celebrations of progress are quickly extinguished.

Fry stands up against anti-LGBT Putin

In his recent letter to British prime minister David Cameron and the International Olympics Committee (IOC), writer Stephen Fry candidly reflects on the 1936 Berlin Olympics and on the upcoming Winter Olympics in Russia in 2014.

The 1936 games were held under the rule of Adolf Hitler, a tyrant who had persecuted those whose “only crime was the accident of their birth”. As Fry so vehemently states in his letter, “Putin is eerily repeating this insane crime, only this time against LGBT Russians”.

While homosexuality is a much debated and sometimes contested topic, this is not just a time for debate. This is a fundamental human rights issue.

What happened to universal human rights?

Following the devastation of the Second World War, the world hoped  to eradicate any chance of a rebirth of a tyranny that can never be forgotten. The year 1948 saw the ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the first global illustration of rights to which all human beings are  entitled.

Perhaps it is pessimistic to say that today we live in a world that is a far cry from the ideals of the UDHR. However, when we look at the dreadful situation to which Putin has condemned Russia and its people, we can see the world is still a long way away from realising even the simple ideals of inherent dignity, liberty and equality.

Will the IOC live up to Olympic ideals?

Fry appeals to The IOC to put the pressures of money, politics and diplomacy aside, and to “stand up for what the movement is pledged to do”. Among other things, the IOC is committed to:

  • The promotion of peace
  • Acting against any form of discrimination
  • Encouraging and supporting measures to protect the health of athletes
  • Opposing any political or commercial abuse of sport or athletes

When we look at that list, how can we feel comfortable sending gay Olympians to the 2014 Games in Russia, a place where they cannot freely be themselves?

As Fry so fervently states, “It is simply not enough to say that gay Olympians may or may not be safe in their village”. The mere idea is outrageous and would oppose everything that the IOC strives for.

“It is simply not enough to say that gay Olympians may or may not be safe in their village”.

If we allow the Winter Olympics in Sochi in Russia to go ahead without protest, are we not tolerating another tyrant’s persecution of another minority group?  Just looking at the pictures of violent anti-gay protests and beatings in Russia that have bombarded the global media will compel many to take action, however small.

Our power as global citizens

Today we live in a global community.  We are global citizens and Fry is right. Putin cannot be seen to have the approval of the civilised world. There has been much progress in the fight for human rights across the globe, but there is still much progress to be made.

We have to ask ourselves if we want to live in a world where the fundamental right to express yourself is a punishable crime. Do we want to see history repeating itself? In his letter, Fry quoted the eloquent words of Edmund Burke, “All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing”.

There are no words more fitting. It is time for us to stand up and act.

Author: Kate Keohan

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