Athletes and media from around the world will soon pack up and return home after two weeks in Sochi. The Winter Olympic Games have been an exercise in public relations for a nation seeking to restate its place as a global power and President Putin has delivered a dazzling spectacle of dizzying proportions for the world's entertainment.
When the world media reflect back on these Games they will record stories of ceremonies and sporting celebrations. But the story that must continue to be told long after the Games is that of the state-sponsored oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Russia.
The world's gaze over the past two weeks, and in the run up to the Games, has thrown a blinding light on how LGBT people in Russia are hunted and persecuted simply for how they were born. So called ‘propaganda’ laws have been installed at a federal level that prohibit even neutral public discussion of same-sex relationships. LGBT people are all too often brutally attacked in the name of upholding traditional values.
The focus on Russia has been intense, but we mustn't forget that homophobia can be found in all countries on all continents. Most recently in India the nation’s top court re-criminalised gay sex and Uganda’s parliament has passed draconian laws which will, should the President not intervene, further criminalise homosexuality. The lives of LGBT people in those countries, and many many more, tell the story of daily homophobia and transphobia without recourse to justice.
In many countries it would be understandable for LGBT people to be devoid of hope. But our work with organisations and individual activists across the globe has shown that hope still burns bright. At Stonewall we are endlessly inspired by the passion and bravery of the activists we work with who, in some of the most difficult situations, are standing up, speaking out and achieving change. We have no doubt that they will eventually achieve their goals and we will stand shoulder to shoulder with them as they do so.
Stonewall was founded 25 years ago to challenge injustices in Britain and it is as a result of the hope, passion and bravery of so many, that we stand on the eve of the first same-sex marriages and full legal equality for lesbian, gay and bisexual people. But our story isn't solely one of triumph. It was only 25 years ago that Britain introduced its own 'propaganda' ban in the form of the reviled Section 28. Whilst that law was repealed over a decade ago, its legacy lives on today in the endemic levels of homophobic bullying in schools and the scandalous levels of suicide and self-harm among young gay people. It reminds us all that the journey to true equality, not just in law, is a long bumpy one.
And at Stonewall our journey continues. We will continue to change hearts and minds in streets, schools, churches and homes to demonstrate that everyone has the right to love who they love free from fear, prejudice and persecution. We have a responsibility too, to share our experiences from the last 25 years: we know what works and what doesn't work. We’ll continue to work with human rights defenders from across the world during their own long journeys until they can realise their goals. Lots has been achieved, but there remains lots to do.
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