Russia's Anti-Gay Laws & the 2014 Olympics: How to Respond?

January 30, 2014

In this critical thinking activity, students research how different constituencies (such as U.S. athletes or corporate sponsors) have responded to the controversy over Russia's anti-gay laws, evaluate those responses, and propose how they would respond if they were in that role. 

To the teacher

In June 2014, the Russian government passed a law that denies gay people the right to openly be themselves. The law has raised an international uproar, particularly now, with the 2014 Winter Olympics approaching. The games are to be held in Sochi, Russia, from February 7-23, 2014. Around the world, human rights activists have expressed concern about the fact that such a prestigious international event will be taking place in a country with this and other anti-gay laws.
 
The law makes it illegal to spread what it calls "propaganda of homosexuality" to minors. Gay-rights advocates argue that the law defines "propaganda" very broadly, in effect making it a crime to be openly gay or to support gay rights. The law sees acceptance of gay men and lesbians as "promot[ing] homosexual[ity] as a behavioral norm," and says that such acceptance endangers children, who are too young to protect themselves. It is up to the government, the law asserts, to shield these children from information that might suggest that homosexuality is normal. You can read a translation of the law here.
 
Some people have argued that the Olympics are not about political issues and that Russia's anti-gay laws aren't relevant to the games. Others have called for a boycott of the Olympics to protest Russia's policies. (Some also note that Russia engages in other human rights violations that should also be an issue.) 
 
This lesson provides an opportunity for students to engage in critical thinking about this important issue. They will research how different constituencies (such as U.S. athletes or corporate sponsors) have responded to the controversy, evaluate those responses, and propose how they would respond if they were in that role.  
 

Goals

Students will:

  • describe responses to the controversy about the Olympics and Russia's anti-gay laws
  • evaluate the responses of different constituencies on this issue
  • make decisions as if they were members of a particular constituency


Materials:

A chart, on the board or chart paper, that all students will be able to add to and see. See below

 



Activity

1.  Ask students what they know about the controversy surrounding the 2014 Sochi Olympics in light of Russia's anti-gay laws. Have them share what, if anything, they know, writing information on the board. Fill in any gaps in their basic understanding. Explain to students that in this lesson they are going to explore the Olympics controversy in more depth.

2.  Show students the chart you have created, which lists six different constituencies, or groups:

  • U.S. athletes
  • U.S. government
  • International Olympic Committee (IOC)
  • Corporate sponsors
  • Viewers/fans
  • Media outlets

Explain to students that each of the six groups on the list is involved in some way in the controversy about gay rights and the Sochi Olympics. They will begin this activity by researching what these groups have and have not done in response to this issue.
 
Divide the class into six teams, with at least three people on each team. (Do use the word "team" for the students to avoid confusion, since you will be referring to the six constituencies as "groups.") Assign each of the six teams one of the groups to represent. (If you don't have enough students to divide the class this way, have three teams and assign each team two groups.) Explain that students will be taking on the role of their group.
 
3. Ask each team to find out whether the group they are representing has responded to the Olympics controversy, and if so, how they have responded. They can use sources, with links, provided below to read relevant articles. They can also find their own materials. Explain that they should be prepared to share what they have learned with the rest of the class.
 
4. Choose a member of each team to report to the rest of the class. Each reporter should explain what the group they represent did in response to the controversy and how they justified their action. Have another team member fill in the appropriate place in the left-hand column of the chart. (What the group did goes in the top part of the box; why the group did it goes in the bottom part.)

 

  Who

  What did this group do?

  What would YOU do?

  Why did they do this?

  Why would you do this?

  U.S. Athletes
 
 
 
 

 
 
 

 

 
 
 

 

  U.S. Government
 
 
 
 

 
 
 

 

 
 
 

 

  International Olympic
  Committee

 
 
 
 

 
 
 

 

 

 

  Corporate Sponsors
 
 
 
 
 

 
 
 

 

 

 

  Viewers/Fans
 
 
 
 
 

 
 
 

 

 

 

  Media Outlets
 
 
 
 
 

 
 
 

 

 

 

 
5. Invite students to reflect on what they see in the completed part of the chart. A few questions to get them started might be:

  • What information in the chart surprises you? Why?
  • Which group's actions do you most agree with? Why?
  • Which group's actions do you most disagree with? Why?
  • What patterns, if any, do you see? What do you think those patterns suggest?

 
6.  Have students meet again with their teams. Now that they have had a chance to learn more about different responses to the controversy, ask them to focus on what they think their assigned group should have done or should do now. In other words, if they were the group they're representing, how would they respond? Have teams discuss options, drawing, if they want, on ideas they got from other teams, as well as any others they come up with.
 
7. Have students share their group's decisions, having different students from each group act as spokespeople and scribes. Again, have students explain why they would have their group respond in a particular way. Give other students a chance to ask them questions about their decisions.

Once the chart is complete, ask students to reflect on what they are seeing. Here are a few guiding questions:

  • In which instances did your classmates choose the action that their group actually took? Do you agree with their choice? If not, what would you have done instead? Why?
  • Which of the class's choices do you agree with? Why? Which do you disagree with? Why?
  • What patterns do you see? What do you think those patterns suggest?

 
8.  As a concluding activity, ask students to draft a comment that they will post online in response to one of the articles they read. For the post, have them write a well-thought-out statement evaluating what the group in question has or hasn't done, along with their determination of what they could or should do, and why. Ask students to submit their comments to you before they post. Have students revise their comments if necessary, and be sure they are appropriate for the website.

 


 

Sources

IOC
Looking Out: Olympic Committee says Russia's Anti-Gay laws won't affect Games
Gay Rights Remain Controversial for 2014 Sochi Olympics
5 Ways to Show Your Support for LGBT Rights at Sochi Olympics
 
Athletes
Anti-Gay Olympic Policies Spur a Backlash Among Athletes
Sochi Trip Secured, U.S. Figure Skating Champion Sounds Off on Russia's Anti-LGBT Laws
U.S. Olympics Head Draws Criticism for Warning Athletes Against Protests at Sochi
Anti-gay law confuses Sochi-bound athletes
 
United States Government
Obama Selects Gay Athletes for Sochi Olympic Delegation
Gay Athletes to Represent U.S.
 
Corporate Sponsors
5 Ways to Show Your Support for LGBT Rights at Sochi Olympics
Gay Rights Activists Confront Corporations on Sochi Olympic Sponsorship
Sochi 2014: Activists step up pressure on Olympic sponsors to speak out against Russia's anti-gay law
Russia: Olympic Sponsors Muted on Sochi Abuses
 
Viewers/Fans
5 Ways to Show Your Support for LGBT Rights at Sochi Olympics
Sochi 2014: Activists step up pressure on Olympic sponsors to speak out against Russia's anti-gay law
 
Media Outlets
How Will NBC Cover Gay Issues During Sochi Olympics?