International News: Russian state TV derides and mocks openly LGBT athletes

Logo of Russian state television Rossiya 1.

Russia is known for virulent state-sponsored homophobia and transphobia. Russian officials and state-controlled media have depicted LGBT+ rights as a “Western attempt to subvert the very fabric of Russian society and statehood,” as President Vladimir Putin has said.

Prior to the Olympics in Sochi in 2014, Putin conflated homosexuality with pedophilia, saying that “gay people have nothing to fear in Russia as long as they leave children alone.”

Now, during the Olympic coverage of Tokyo 2020, Russian state TV has made repeated anti-LGBT comments in response to participation of openly LGBT athletes. Some of the language and imagery used by both TV hosts and guests has been highly offensive yet has aired without comment on Russia’s most popular TV networks.

Talk shows have focused on LGBT athletes at the Olympics, using terms like “abomination” and “perversion.”

An International Olympic Committee (IOC) spokesman told the BBC in a statement, “Discrimination has absolutely no place at the Olympic Games.”

Gay British gold medalist diver Tom Daley and Laurel Hubbard, a trans woman weightlifter from New Zealand, were targets of Rossiya 1.

One of the panelists on the Russian 60 Minutes-style program, Alexei Zhuravlyov, who is a member of the Russian parliament, said he was “disgusted” by gay and transgender people.

“We stand opposed to all this smut and perversion, strongly opposed,” he told the show, pointing at the studio screen which showed Hubbard. “We stand against this abomination,” he said. Zhuravlyov also used an offensive Russian word to describe gay men, and other offensive language was used about trans people.

The show’s host, Olga Skabeyeva, did not challenge the comments, instead referenced and supported the anti-gay turn taken by Hungary and Poland.

Russia is officially banned from Tokyo 2020 after being found guilty of state-sponsored doping. But more than 330 Russian athletes are competing as the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC), without the Russian flag or anthem.

On state TV’s Channel One, Russia’s second most-watched channel and the official Olympics network, Anatoly Kuzichev, host of the show Time Will Tell, appeared on the set wearing a wig and mocking Laurel Hubbard. He called trans people “psychopaths” and suggested that they should be treated by psychiatrists.

Another Russian MP, Pyotr Tolstoy from the Kremlin’s United Russia party, argued on a different episode of the series that the Olympics were trying to “implant [a Western] agenda of equal rights, additional rights for LGBT, transgender people and other perverts into the Olympic movement.”

In a statement to the BBC, the IOC said: “We have been in contact with our contractual broadcasting partner in Russia in order to get clarity on the situation and to underline the fundamental principles of the Olympic Charter and we are following up accordingly.”

IOC also pointed to its own efforts in celebrating the diversity of its athletes, noting its support for the Tokyo games’ LGBT+ hospitality center Pride House.

“We welcome that Tokyo 2020 has embedded diversity and inclusion in the Olympic Games model.”


Bill before Ghana’s parliament set to criminalize gay rights advocacy

The Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill, a sweeping law that could criminalize the country’s LGBT community and its allies, is under discussion in Parliament in Accra. The bill has garnered support in the largely conservative country and has been described as “a homophobe’s dream.”

Eight lawmakers are sponsoring the bill, which was introduced in parliament August 2. The bill would impose a maximum 10-year prison sentence on people who support and advocate for same-sex and gay rights. Individuals or groups would also not be allowed to provide social or medical support to LGBTQ+ people.

The bill would expand Ghana’s existing laws, making it not only illegal to be part of the LGBT community but also to advocate for LGBT rights. The law carries prison terms of up to five years for Ghanaians who identify as queer, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, pansexual, or nonbinary and their allies. Human Rights groups say the law also advocates for conversion therapy, a harmful and discredited practice that claims to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

“This bill is a homophobe’s dream law,” Danny Bediako from the LGBT group Rightify Ghana told Reuters. “The community is shocked at how wide-ranging it is. People are even scared to go out now, and some members say they will leave the country if the bill is passed into law. Even those who want to help us will be afraid.”

In Ghana, “unnatural carnal knowledge” and same-sex relationships have been criminalized since 1960, and Human Rights Watch found Ghana’s LGBT+ community is often victimized by harassment and physical abuse.

An LGBT support center opened in Accra in February and police raided the offices of LGBT+ Rights Ghana. Soon after, the new center was closed due to fears for the safety of staff after multiple threats and abuse.

Twenty-one gay rights advocates are now on trial after having been arrested at a workshop for allegedly championing LGBTQ+ rights.

Public outcry over the center precipitated the bill. Information Minister Kojo Oppong Nkrumah pushed for “legislation in the interest of public morality.” The Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection, Sarah Adwoa Safo told Parliament in February, “Our laws are clear on such practice. It makes it criminal.”

Another parliamentarian and sponsor of the new bill, Sam George, blamed the U. S. for promoting “progressive propaganda.”

The bill has widespread support. LGBT rights groups have tried to raise awareness of the dangers of the bill and Rightify Ghana and LGBT+ Rights Ghana have also tried to raise international awareness to pressure Ghana.

As has been the case in Hungary and Poland recently. Ghanaian conservatives have used homophobic rhetoric under the guise of protecting so-called family values. This bill could have life-or-death consequences for LGBT Ghanaians.

Kwasi Prempeh, the head of the Ghana Center for Democratic Development, which defends gay rights, told Voice of America (VOA) the bill is a distraction.

“We’re in almost a post-COVID situation and there are a lot of challenges to deal with,” Prempeh said. “This is not the kind of distraction we need at this time. And unfortunately, it is being foisted on us by these crusaders who really will not stop.”

Prempeh added that even if the bill is passed, it will be legally challenged. Prempeh said, “If it does get presidential assent, I’m almost certain that it will be challenged judicially.”

But opposition lawmaker Sam George, who is leading the effort to pass the bill, said it is not aimed at infringing on the “sexual preference of individuals as long as they do not force it on others.”

George said, “I don’t care what you do in the confines of your room or the privacy of your home. But when you want to make that a way of life, when you then want to demand that the rest of us accept your perversion and when you want to demand that the rest of us accept your way of life and target our children, then we’re not going to allow you to do that.”

In solidarity with Ghana’s LGBT+ community, the U.S. Embassy in Accra has raised a Pride Flag.

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Victoria A. Brownworth is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, DAME, The Advocate, Bay Area Reporter and Curve among other publications. She was among the OUT 100 and is the author and editor of more than 20 books, including the Lambda Award-winning Coming Out of Cancer: Writings from the Lesbian Cancer Epidemic and Ordinary Mayhem: A Novel, and the award-winning From Where They Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth and Too Queer: Essays from a Radical Life.