Protestors allege NBC silence on Russian gay-rights violations

Monday December 16th, 2013

Members of Queer Nation NY hold up a banner at a protest outside of NBC.
Anastassia Smorodinskaya/SI

As the Sochi Olympics draw closer, many people belonging to or in support of the LGBT community are becoming more vocal about their outrage over what they say is NBC's failure to report on human rights violations taking place in Russia. The motive behind the alleged silence, they say, is an effort to sweep any controversy surrounding the Games (to which the network has exclusive broadcast rights) under the rug.

Organizations like Queer Nation NY, which has been staging protests throughout New York City in front of venues hosting holiday parties for the NBC's various departments, such as the Today Show and NBC Nightly News, say that the network is intentionally downplaying Russia's intolerance of homosexual culture and the violence and discrimination against LGBT people that occurs on a regular basis.

"They (NBC) are neglecting to report that people are afraid to be themselves," Queer Nation NY activist Ken Kidd said at a recent protest staged outside the NBC Sports annual Christmas party. "There are laws in effect that forbid people from speaking about the fact that it's okay to be gay. People are being beaten up. They're being physically violated. They're being raped. It's being done for entertainment. Vladimir Putin's regime is, if not encouraging it, then certainly letting it go on."

There is no denying that anti-gay sentiments run rampant in Russia and often manifest themselves through acts of violence against those who identify as gay, lesbian or transgender.

Last month alone, a prominent gay club in Moscow (which is generally considered to be a tolerant, gay-friendly city, by Russia's standards) was the scene of a shooting when two men opened fire into the crowd, followed by a poisonous gas attack on the same club just one week later.

But according to protester Scott Wooledge, those and countless similar events are not being reported by NBC, nor is the network covering the indifference of Russian officials towards the hate crimes being committed in their country. "On one hand you have Nazis who literally use the word 'safari' to describe how they are attacking LGBT people, and then you have the government saying 'we don't see any crime, we don't see anything going on,'" Wooledge said. "So what would become of any minority if the government just decided that it was okay for other citizens to hunt them down like animals?"

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LGBT activists believe NBC not only avoids shedding light on human rights violations in Russia, but the network is also guilty of spreading misinformation. Kidd said he believes the worst offender to be, ironically, openly gay figure skater Johnny Weir, who was hired by NBC as a commentator for the games.

"Johnny Weir is supposed to placate our fears that NBC isn't going to report what's going on, but not only is he not reporting these things, in his commentary on the run up to Sochi, he's actually discounting what's going on," Kidd said. "He'll say things like 'Oh, it's so great. It's so upsetting to me when people say things about what's supposedly happening in Russia.'"

Earlier this month, Weir called those in protest of his decision not to boycott the Olympics "idiots" during a talk at Barnard College, stating that he is a supporter of the Russian people, not the Russian government.

Weir, who was not available for immediate comment, later apologized for name calling and admitted that life is different for homosexuals in Russia than it is for him. Despite the apology, the damage with LGBT community seems to have already been done, at least for some.

If NBC continues to provide news coverage of minority rights in Russia that LGBT supporters deem to be insufficient, the network's televised broadcast of the Olympics may lose viewers come February, the protesters said.

"The very obvious thing is that they've spent almost a billion dollars on airing the Olympic games. So it's entirely up to them that it be a glorious and wonderful thing that everybody wants to watch," Wooledge said. "But amongst the LGBT community -- from what I'm seeing on social media -- I can't tell you how many people are like, 'I am not watching that Olympics.'"

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