By Nick Butler

All Out Sochi logoJuly 30 - One of the world's largest gay rights organisations has stepped up its campaign to force Russia to repeal its gay hate laws ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics and Paralympics in Sochi, although they are so far not calling for a boycott of the Games.

All Out, a global organisation which boasts 1.7 million members, has joined together with athletes, Governments, coaches and fans to "speak out and not sit out" in stepping up protests against the Russians with Sochi 2014 just six months away.

In particular the movement will target legislation banning the "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations"  introduced into the Duma - the lower house of Russia's Parliament - in June 2013.

The legislation banned gay pride events as well as the providing of children with negative information about homosexuality.

russian rainbow protestGay pride protests in Russia, such as this one in St Petersburg in June 2013, have been outlawed under new laws introduced by President Vladimir Putin

It also included provisions allowing the Government to detain foreigners for 14 days before possible expulsion for "crimes" including a journalist covering the laws' impact, and this creates ramifications for all international figures planning to attend Sochi, it is claimed.

At this stage however calls for a general boycott of the Games are still considered premature.

"We understand the anger and the call for a boycott, but right now it's more important for the international community to speak out than walk out," said Andre Banks, All Out's Executive Director.

"Olympians are world-class athletes and some of them are gay and many have family and friends who are gay.

"No athlete should have to sacrifice their passion for sport to secure their safety, freedom and dignity at the Olympic Games.

"Staging the Games in Russia with these laws in place is like holding the Olympics in Johannesburg at the height of apartheid.

"President [Vladimir] Putin will risk his country's international reputation if these Games go ahead with laws in place that are in fundamental opposition to Olympic values."

The announcement of the partnership comes in a week where protesters throughout America have launched a boycott of Russian vodka to raise attention to the gay-laws and increase pressure on Putin.

vodka protestsStolichnaya is one of the popular brands of Russian vodka targeted by the proposed boycotts

Male homosexuality was legalised in Russia in 1993 and removed from the official state list of mental illnesses in 1999, yet long-held prejudices remain.

A recent survey conducted by the Levada Centre discovered, after polling 1,600 residents from 130 Russian cities, that 50 per cent of the population felt "irritated and disgusted" by the gay community and 22 per cent wanted "compulsory treatment for homosexuals".

In recent years there has been an increasing clampdown on gay rights, with numerous reported homophobic assaults and disruption to - now banned - gay pride events.

All of this contravenes the International Olympic Committee (IOC) charter which opposes discrimination of any sort in its aim to promote worldwide equality, protesters claim.

The IOC has claimed that it had "received assurances from the highest level of Government in Russia" that the new legislation would "not affect those attending or taking part in the Games."

putin in 2013Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the bill into law in July 2013

Yet many remain sceptical over these reassurances particularly as it has already been announced that Olympic Pride Houses celebrating lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender (LGBT) athletes seen at both the Vancouver 2010 and London 2012, will not be permitted in Sochi.

This is unlikely to put off many athletes however, with gay American figure skater Johnny Weir, who has not ruled out an attempt to compete at Sochi, describing the repression as "heart-breaking".

This is despite opposing a boycott and insisting that "there isn't a police officer or a Government that, should I qualify, could keep me from competing."

New Zealand speed skater Blake Skjellerup, who came out in 2010, took a similar stance when revealing plans to wear a rainbow pin at the Olympics, and said that "if that gets me in trouble, then so be it."

"I have no interest in going back into the closet in Sochi," he added.

"This is not about defiance; this is me standing up for what I believe in."

Blake Skjellerup New Zealnd Speed Skater in 2010Gay athlete, New Zealand speed skater Blake Skjellerup, in action at Vancouver 2010

More than 200,000 All Out members have already called on President Putin in the last month to repeal the national gay hate law.

All Out will work in partnership with Athlete Ally, the growing community of athletes, coaches and allies committed to making sport inclusive for everyone.

The group has already been in contact with current and former Olympians ready to speak out ahead of Sochi 2014.

"We have an opportunity with Sochi to build a global army of allies in the fight for LGBT equality and inclusion in sports," said Brian Ellner, the Athlete Ally Board member and global LGBT rights strategist.

"We also hope to build critical momentum and pressure to overturn Russia's anti-gay legislation in advance of the Games."

Contact the writer of this story at n[email protected]

Related stories
July 2013:
 US Olympic Committee dismisses Senator's call for Sochi 2014 boycott
March 2012: Judge bans Sochi 2014 gay Pride House claiming it would offend "public morality"