Gay Protester Detained for Unveiling Rainbow Flag at Olympic Torch Relay

Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistJanuary 18, 2014

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 07:  Russian president Vladimir Putin speaks during the 'Sochi 2014 - One Year To Go' ceremony at Bolshoi Ice Dome on February 7, 2013 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Oleg Nikishin/Getty Images)
Oleg Nikishin/Getty Images

Things may be nearing a tipping point in Russia, as a gay protester was detained on Saturday, Jan. 18, after unveiling a rainbow flag in the town of Voronezh during the Olympic torch relay.

Per the Associated Press (via

Photos uploaded by his friends show Pavel Lebedev pulling out the flag and then being detained by Olympic security personnel, who wrestle him to the snow as they wait for police to arrive. Lebedev, reached by The Associated Press on the phone, said he was still in the police station and undergoing questioning.

"Hosting the Games here contradicts the basic principles of the Olympics, which is to cultivate tolerance," Lebedev said, citing growing homophobia in Russia as the main reason for his protest.

The news of Lebedev's detainment comes shortly after Russian President Vladimir Putin came under fire for the law that bans gay propaganda throughout the country, per the AP (via He did elaborate that the ban wasn't on homosexual behavior, but rather what would be considered outward displays of homosexual behavior or in support of it.

"We have no ban on nontraditional sexual relations," Putin said. "We have a ban on propaganda of homosexuality and pedophilia. I want to underline that, on propaganda among minors."

Vitaly Mutko, Russia's sports minister, tried to allay any fans and journalists' fears, per the AP (via, saying "I can say once again that the freedoms of Russian and foreign athletes and guests who come to Sochi will be absolutely protected."

The AP report notes what is one of the biggest problems with the anti-gay propaganda laws—understanding them:

However, the law reflects widespread animosity toward homosexuals in Russian society and its vagueness troubles many. The law penalizes anyone who distributes information aimed at persuading minors that "nontraditional" relationships are normal or attractive, but does not define what would be considered information or distribution.

It appears possible that anyone wearing a rainbow flag on the street or writing about gay relationships on Facebook, for instance, could be accused of "propagandizing."

Business Insider's Josh Barro pointed out that the anti-gay protests cover up the other human rights issues ongoing in Russia:

The Olympics are no stranger to politics intermingling with sport. Throughout history, the event has often been used to further a country's agenda, whether it was the boycotts used by the United States and Soviet Union in 1980 and 1984, respectively, or Nazi Germany using the 1936 edition to portray a much different picture of the country than was the case.

Perhaps the continuing negative press will force Putin's hand, which will result in a pulling back of the propaganda laws.

No matter what Putin does, there's little doubt that this issue will continue to be one of the biggest stories of this year's Games.