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Make Olympics in Russia the gayest ever

By Frida Ghitis, Special to CNN
updated 7:45 AM EDT, Fri August 2, 2013
Protesters call for Russia to repeal its anti-gay laws before the 2014 Winter Olympics on Wednesday in New York.
Protesters call for Russia to repeal its anti-gay laws before the 2014 Winter Olympics on Wednesday in New York.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Frida Ghitis: Anti-gay laws in Russia outlaw supporting gays or calling for equality
  • Anti-gay laws spur intimidation and at times deadly violence against gays, she says
  • Ghitis: Nations should make 2014 Winter Games in Russia a defiant gay and lesbian gala
  • It's a no-brainer that tourists should boycott the Games

(CNN) -- You don't have to be gay or even Russian to feel the wrath of the Russian government's homophobia. You could go to jail if you are "pro-gay," whatever that means. And that's under just one of a growing number of hate-infused bills becoming law at a time when, as it happens, Russia is preparing to host the world in the next Winter Olympics.

The perverse anti-gay legislation is inflaming an atmosphere of persistent intimidation and at times deadly violence against Russian gays and lesbians.

The question now is: What should the rest of the world do?

With the 2014 Winter Olympic Games coming to the Russian town of Sochi on the Black Sea coast, President Vladimir Putin and his country are about to receive a massive influx of publicity and cash. But exactly what kind of publicity -- and how much cash?

The world has an opportunity to let Putin -- who signed all the laws -- and the politicians he dominates know just how repulsive their actions are. There is a chance of helping Russia LGBT activists persuade the government to reverse the most offensive legislation.

Frida Ghitis
Frida Ghitis

Ideas are already in play. Human rights activists in the United States, Canada, Europe and Australia are pushing for a boycott of the Olympics or of Russian products such as vodka.

An Olympic boycott might not be the best way to go. Instead, let's turn the Winter Games into the gayest games in history.

Let the Russian police, if they want, arrest every athlete, every coach from Europe, North American, Australia and other forward-looking countries -- that includes you, Uruguay, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa. The teams should march during the opening ceremonies brandishing rainbow flags, holding hands, proclaiming that every one of them supports equal rights for gay and lesbians -- in Russia and everywhere else. Make it an "I am Spartacus" moment for the world.

Let Putin arrest them all.

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And as for going as a tourist to the Sochi Olympics: Forget it. Russian lawmakers are making that boycott a no-brainer.

Olympic sponsors NBC, Visa, Coca-Cola, Panasonic, Procter & Gamble and others also have a responsibility to push against these blatant violations of human rights.

Keep in mind that Russian laws are encouraging vigilante "justice" against gays and lesbians. Police have assaulted Pride marchers and looked the other way when thugs attacked peaceful demonstrators protesting discrimination. There have been gruesome killings that authorities acknowledge were motivated by homophobia.

The talk of launching an Olympic boycott is something the International Olympic Committee dreads.

The IOC has naively -- or disingenuously -- claimed it received "assurances from the highest level" that Russians police won't start rounding up suspected homosexuals and their suspected sympathizers during the Games.

Just imagine the sweeps of athletes, trainers and tourists, rounded up and sent to Russian prisons because they believe gays and lesbians should be treated like everyone else.

And police could do just that: The country's sports minister and a close ally of Putin, the legislator Vitaly Milonov, said the law will definitely be enforced and no exception will be made.

Violation of the propaganda law, which applies to Russians and foreigners, means a punishment of $3,000 in fines and up to 15 days in jail, followed by deportation, for anyone who even speaks about homosexuality.

The legislation is already having an effect.

Russian publications reporting on the laws already carry cringe-worthy disclaimers saying, "This article contains information not suitable for readers younger than 18 years of age, according to Russian legislation."

It's easy to think the legislation is just symbolic, that it couldn't possibly be serious, certainly not regarding foreigners. But last week, police arrested four Dutch activists who had traveled to Russia to make a documentary on gay rights.

And the anti-gay laws keep coming. There's the law that allows police to arrest "pro-gay" tourists; a law that labels as pornography and banned propaganda any writing or statement calling for tolerance or equality, and another law banning the adoption of Russian children by anyone in a country where there is marriage equality.

There's a rumor that the next law will remove children from same-sex couples. Terrified parents have started sending their children away.

Some think the witch hunt against gays shows Putin is trying to deflect attention as the economy slows down and perhaps playing defense against opposition accusations that his friends have stolen as much as $30 billion in money earmarked for the Olympics.

Putin has always understood the power of propaganda and has never shied from showing himself as relentlessly macho, able to take on tigers, ride horses bare-chested or catch the biggest fish while displaying his youthful musculature.

The Russian president understands the power of images.

For those who want to stop, or at least slow the vicious crackdown against gays, lesbians and anyone who supports equality, that provides an opportunity to push back.

The only unacceptable course of action is doing nothing.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Frida Ghitis.

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