Britain's homophobia needs to be tackled before we turn to Russia's

Finding out the truth is not always easy. There is not only one truth but many. This is the dilemma that I have as the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi loom ever nearer.

There has been much press coverage of the new anti-gay laws in Russia imposed by President Vladimir Putin. Stephen Fry called for the games to be moved but has now changed his take on this. Visible protest would be a better option but what are we protesting for?
There seems to be some confusion over what the anti-gay laws in Russia actually comprise so the Human Dignity Trust haa commissioned an unofficial translation. It is from this that I have managed to highlight some of the clauses that cause the most concern.
The act says: “It is essential to put in place measures which provide for the intellectual, moral and mental wellbeing of children, including a ban on any activities aimed at popularising homosexuality…including instilling distorted
ideas that society places an equal value on traditional and non-traditional sexual relations.
“However, it would not be an offence to be a person of homosexual orientation but only to promote homosexuality to minors”.
Scarily this law reads very much like Section 28 brought in by Margaret Thatcher 25 years ago and removed by Tony Blair’s government.
So what does this mean? How does it affect Russians today? How will it affect athletes and broadcasters attending the Sochi games and what do Russian gay activists want? This is where the real problems begin. I met an inspiring Russian ex pat this week. Jana Bakunina was born in Ekaterinburg and grew up in one of the largest cities outside Moscow. She is adamant that as a child she was never aware of homophobia but now her views have changed. Jana goes back to visit her family every year and has recently been horrified by the homophobic attitudes she has encountered.
Whist trekking with a mixed group of people in their twenties and thirties, the subject of gay rights came up around the camp fire. A young man immediately declared that he felt all gays should be burnt to death. There was no opposition
to this view apart from Jana and she received no support from the others present.
Jana has since asked friends back in Russia if the situation has got worse and they are telling her that homophobia has been endemic throughout history but that today’s degree of violence and aggression is a new phenomenon. On several
occasions this year security forces failed to prevent assaults on gay rights activists by rival protesters but accurate reports from Russia are hard to come by. What is life actually like for Russian gays and lesbians? What fears do they
To try to gauge the situation in Russia I started to follow Nikolai Alexeyev on Twitter. He is a well-known gay activist and tweets in Russian and English but his position is far from clear. It seems he was unhappy with the editing of an interview that he gave to Western media and over the last week he has been on what can only be described as a rant leading LGBT activists in Europe and America to wonder if his account has been hacked.
He has been accusing the Western media of lying and looking for sensations: “It’s becoming more and more disgusting to deal with Western media which is only looking for LGBT sensations and lies in everything about Russia.”
He has also tweeted: “No to Sochi Olympics boycott…yes to Sochi gay pride.”
There are so many unanswered questions all brought to a head by the Winter Olympics. One wonders if this issue or Russian act would be getting any media attention otherwise.
Olympic venues are of course no stranger to controversy. The International Olympic Committee generally ignores human rights when considering the awarding of venues. Can we do the same? If we do make a protest, what form should that
protest take? Will the law be quietly ignored while the country is under the international spotlight?
Meanwhile before we get up in arms about this we need to look in our own backyard. I like to think while talking to Jana, that the attitude to homosexuality in this country is different. Indeed the law is different but that doesn’t mean that attitudes are. Sadly I am not yet confident that in certain circles a discussion about homosexuality in the UK wouldn’t also lead people to say that we should all be burnt. I only have to look at the Twitter feeds of some young (mostly) males to have my view confirmed.
It has now been discovered that more than 40 schools in Britain stress in their sex-education guidelines that governors will not allow teachers to ‘promote’ homosexuality. A spokesman for the Department of Education said that what the schools have done is unacceptable but the sudden reappearance of language used under Section 28 arouses horrible feelings of déjà vu.
Before we get vexed about the murky situation in Russia, we need to put our own house in order. We need to exert pressure on our sport’s governing bodies to ensure that our gay and lesbian athletes feel safe and supported. The same goes
for our broadcasters. We need to be visible. We need to demonstrate our equality in law to all other countries, not just Russia and we need the support of straight people to do this.
The way we do this is still an open question and if I get any closer to the truth in Russia, I’ll let you know.