All publicity is good publicity, right? Russia has gone all out with the Sochi Winter Olympics, blowing $51bn on the most expensive Winter Olympics ever. It was their bid to be stood up and counted on the world stage, to get a slice of the tourism pie that the UK gorged itself on in 2012. But if they knew that most of the publicity generated would be around the issue of gay rights, they probably wouldn't have bothered.
In a delicious bit of irony for the country that legislates against homosexual 'propaganda', Sochi 2014 has done nothing but boost the visibility of the Russian LGBT community. It's the most expensive piece of propaganda they could ever have produced.
(Credit: AP/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Anyone who follows politics knows that Russia is not one to fly the rainbow flag. Although they decriminalised homosexuality in 1993, ILGA-Europe still rates Russia as the least protective country in Europe for LGBT citizens. In 2013 they passed a law banning 'the propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships', a notoriously vaguely-worded piece of legislation which is essentially used as a club to beat the LGBT community down with. Gay pride marches are often met with shockingly violent resistance, both from the police and civilian groups.
There's no way to downplay the plight of LGBT Russians. There's no doubt that they're having a crap time of it. They're being denied basic human rights, being persecuted for something that isn't actually illegal and being brutalised for simply being true to themselves.
But, ultimately, the Sochi Olympics have warmed my rainbow-loving heart.
Not because of the Russian politics. Not because of the enjoyably enthusiastic commentators. But because of everything that's happening around the Winter Olympics. The pro-LGBT sentiment inspired across the globe by one country's ignorance is glorious. Whether it's the Canadian Institute of Diversity and Inclusion pointing out that the luge has always been "a little gay", Channel 4 opting to climb "gay mountain" or iconic 'lipstick Putin' posters, everyone has been publically expressing solidarity. The Guardian, Channel 4 and The New Statesman are among the brands who re-did their logos in rainbow colours. Even the Google doodle celebrated gay athletes.
When major brands are publically and very visibly accepting homosexuality as not only normal, but something worth celebrating, that's when things change. That's when kids grow up seeing homosexuality as a natural part of life, and homophobia as the bewildering 'other'. But brands have budgets, and they won't bother to promote gay rights unless they get some publicity for it. Sochi has provided that publicity, and brands have risen to the occasion with gusto.
There have been protests across the world and extensive media coverage. But on the whole people have been turning to what have always been the greatest weapons against bigotry - wit and creativity. Let's be honest, you'd much rather watch some homoerotic luge-ing to the tune of 'Don't You Want Me' than angry and confused hate-mongering. The pro-LGBT response has been human, funny and immensely enjoyable. That's the way to win friends and influence people. And thanks to the Sochi Olympics, these forms of creative expression are everywhere, and they're going viral.
It's a shame that these responses are even necessary. In this day and age, we shouldn't still need to be fighting for gay rights. But Sochi has held up a global megaphone to the issue, and the whole world is basically giving Russia the middle finger and telling them to swivel. They might even enjoy it.