Lawmakers Ask Kerry to Protect Gays at Russian Olympics

A group of House Democrats and one Republican -- former Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) -- are imploring Secretary of State John Kerry to take measures to protect gay athletes and fans at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), ranking member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, said the U.S. "must do everything we can to protect those Americans who are traveling to Russia for the Olympic and Paralympic Games this winter" in the wake of recent laws passed in Russia.

Those include making it a crime to publicly support gay rights and to publicly acknowledge one's sexual orientation, and foreign nationals can be arrested and detained under the laws for up to 15 days.

"Russia’s anti-LGBT laws defy basic human rights that should be guaranteed to everyone at all times and in all places,” said Nadler. “These laws are completely contrary to the uniting spirit of the Olympics, which brings diverse nations together in a spirit of peaceful and friendly competition.”

A total of 88 members signed on to the letter to Kerry, which was led by Nadler.

"We are particularly troubled because while the newly signed law is the most recent and most extreme codification of Russia’s maltreatment of its LGBT citizens, it is also part of larger trend of anti-LGBT actions in Russia," they wrote. "...Hate crimes and violent attacks against the LGBT community have been reported, including the murders of two gay men earlier this year. In 2012, Moscow instituted a hundred-year ban on LGBT pride parades, a ban that was deemed illegal by the European Court of Human Rights, but which nevertheless resulted in the arrest and detention of seventeen LGBT activists for displaying rainbow flags. Russia’s record of anti-LGBT legislation and persecution pose serious concerns for the safety of LGBT Sochi Olympic participants and spectators."

The International Olympic Committee pledged to “work to ensure that the Games can take place without discrimination against athletes, officials, spectators and the media," but also acknowledged it can only do so much.

"In light of the importance of U.S. leadership on LGBT issues, and the quickly-approaching Sochi Games, we urge the State Department to determine the appropriate course of action to assure the safety and well being of LGBT and LGBT— supporting individuals involved in or attending the 2014 Sochi Olympics and Paralympics," the members wrote. "We look forward to hearing from you regarding what efforts have been undertaken, especially efforts undertaken in coordination with other foreign governments, and are committed to working together with you on this issue."