Professors weigh in on LGBTQ rights in Sochi Olympics

Professors at Lafayette expressed differing views on situations caused by anti-gay policies in Russia and their effect on the Sochi Olympics at a lecture given on Thursday.

History department head Joshua Sanborn, government and law professor Katalin Fabian, and professor of languages and literature Rado Pribic were the panelists at a lecture held by the Amnesty International chapter at Lafayette College as a Sex Week event.

Sanborn and Fabian spoke about the politics of the Olympic Games in relation to anti-gay rights and the restrictiveness of the law, while Pribic, who spoke third, made sure to point out that he was taking another approach to the subject than the other professors.

“Last week I knew I don’t [sic] want to prepare anything because I have to respond. I’m going to take a very different viewpoint,” Pribic said.

Pribic stated that academia lives in an Ivory Tower, out of touch with the way the rest of the United States and the globe feel about gay rights. Pribic also stressed the importance of recognizing the “vilification of Russia” in American society, which colors our view of the Russian regime. He said that Russia is joined by a large portion of the rest of Europe in its policies towards LGBTQ rights and much of the Russian population supports these anti-gay laws. Furthermore, Pribic said he was “completely against the Pussy Riots [sic]” and that people hold them to a “double-standard”.

Professor Sanborn disagreed, saying Pribic simplified Pussy Riot’s complex politics.

“Professor Pribic is able to have his own views on Pussy Riot and other phenomena in Russia today and I think the way [he] characterized them and the way [he] compared them to others is both facile and misleading,” he said.

Sanborn outlined the history of LGBTQ rights in Russia. While he admits that it is a “thinly developed field,” he stated that for most of Russian history the LGBTQ community was outlawed in Russian society, albeit a short period during the Soviet era. He said current pro-LGBTQ demonstrations may not make a massive impact in Russia today, though they nevertheless may be a small step in ensuring greater rights for the LGBTQ community as time goes on.

“A suspicion that these Sochi games may well indeed be important for LGBTQ rights but maybe not in a direct way,” Sanborn said. “Vodka boycotts, tut-tutting corporate sponsor statements, and one expects a medal stand demonstration or two will make headlines but I doubt that they’re going to change much of substance in the near future.”

Still, he stressed that the Sochi games may have a large affect illustrating the flaws in “Putinism,” which will have a broad impact towards more rights for the LGBTQ community in Russia as in the future.

Professor Fabian spoke after Sanborn, highlighting the inherently political nature of the Olympic Games in recent history and discussed that the anti-gay laws in Russia allow same-sex couples, but outlaw gay “propaganda.” The extent to which these laws can be enforced is unclear, due to the “beautifully political” way the term “propaganda” is used in the laws. Fabian also said the LGBTQ rights, among many other issues, demonstrate the current debate between Western and Russian ideologies.

“This contemporary conflict, I don’t want to call it as the Cold War [sic], but a serious debate between Russia and the West is continuing and emerging and Sochi is going to be one of those stages,” Fabian said.

Many audience members thought the lecture was informative and allowed for a better of Russian politics and the politics of the Olympics.

“Probably the most surprising is the way the law got passed. It isn’t specifically written to target anything; it was just worded so broadly that it can be interpreted to mean pretty much anything,” Xenia Dubischar ‘17 said.

“What generally struck me was how politics can be advertised on the biggest stage [the Olympics],” Tam Asher ’17 said. Asher also said that each professor brought up interesting points and their views “complemented each other really well.”

About William Gordon

William Gordon '17 is the editor-in-chief of The Lafayette. He writes about student government, law, financial aid and music. He's studying English and government & law with a minor in economics.

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