A gay US Swimmer has written an open letter to “downright hot” Vladimir Putin, empathising with the Russian President and saying the nation must not be vilified ahead of the Sochi Olympic Winter Games.
Richard Alther published his missive in a Huffington Post blog saying: “It is a sterling moment for Russia and your role at the helm, political differences aside. Athletic achievement is something that we can all celebrate.”
Calling Putin “a proud, buff dude” he compares the ex-KGB agent with Daniel Craig and says that the nation’s new anti gay laws should not see Russia alone denigrated.
Referencing homophobic hate speech in America, he says Putin's attitude towards gay people can be found worldwide.
Nonetheless he presses the Russian President to “lay off the literal bully pulpit” and allow gay athletes to compete without fear.
He writes “Now, we're not asking to wear pink Speedos in the pool or basket-prominent leotards on the track and field. We simply want to strut our stuff (sound familiar?), which is sheer, bloody perseverance and skill at our sport. We want our family and friends to wave us on. OK, one or two could possibly, unintentionally, be wearing a Queer Nation T-shirt, now a violation under your law.”
In June, Putin signed a law banning the distribution of homosexual “propaganda” to minors. While Russians can be fined up to £2,500, foreign offenders can be jailed.
Amidst this climate of homophobia, there have been reports of gay people being the subject of vicious attacks.
A man was murdered in Volgograd in May, his skull smashed. He had also been raped with beer bottles.
The emergence of a series of online videos in September which showed a vigilante group appearing to assault gay men suggested a hardening of attitudes towards homosexuals among a section of Russian society.
In the same month a member of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ruling party tabled a draft law to take children away from homosexual parents.
The blog has provoked anger amongst the readers of the Moscow Times after being featured in an online article. A number of angry comments beneath the piece vent opposition to Alther’s comments.
One writes “Russian citizens don't want gay propaganda to under aged people, gays are a small minority, so what is the reason they want power beyond their status??”
While another says “Russia is “criticized” actually demonized, no matter what happens in Russia. Absolutely no relation. What western media writes about Russia has much more to do with geopolitical goals of media owners and those they represent.”
Altner says he is not demonizing Russia, ending his open letter by addressing Putin and saying: “We all know you're a macho man, which can be cool. Show that it takes a real man to treat others — meaning everyone — with grace, compassion, and respect.”
Altner's blog follows Paralympics gold-medallist Lee Pearson MBE vowing to protest against Russia's anti-gay laws at next year's Winter Olympics even if it means he could be put in prison.