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    Russian Open Games aims to push positive image of LGBT folks

    5:09 PM, Feb 9, 2014   |    comments
    (Photo: Doug Stanglin/USA TODAY)
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    National/World News:

    MOSCOW - In the face of mounting anti-gay pressures, the Russian LGBT Sport Federation will host a gay-friendly sport event in Moscow later this month to boost gay pride and provide a positive image of LGBT Russians.

    Konstantin Yablotsky, a 30-year-old high school chemistry teacher and male co-president of the federation, says the Russian Open Games, planned from Feb. 26 to March 2, will include 200 participants from seven countries _ Russia, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Britain, the United States and Canada _ during the break between the Olympics and Paralympics.

    Yablotsky, a medal-winning ice skater at an LGBT Olympics in Cologne, Germany in 2010, says the event is not meant to be a confrontational alternative Olympics.

    "We will use the opportunity to get maximum attention of the media," he said, "to break the negative stereotype of the LGBT community in the mind of Russian people."

    The LGBT Sport Federation officially was registered in August 2011 in St. Petersburg and has 900 members in 50 regions. Yablotsky said he's particularly pleased that LGBT is part of the group's official name, which shows "the authorities recognize us as a social group."

    "We want to change the attitude of Russian authorities to the LGBT community and do it through sports, because sports forms a friendly image," he said.

    Because of the anti-gay propaganda law, the federation is having to adjust to the new realities in hosting the Russian Open Games (http://www.russianopengames.ru/events-programme/), including a warning on the event's website noting that the information "is intended only for the use of those ages 18 and over."

    Yablotsky said he saw the first signs of a tightening on its activities last year after the federation's successful hosting of a lesbian soccer tournament that drew 10 teams from three countries. The operators of the venue, he said, told them afterward they could not host the contest in 2013 because of pressure from authorities who threatened to shut down the facilities.

    Therefore, the group is very aware of its surroundings. In the privately owned rinks, the federation will fly the LGBT rainbow banner, host press events and interviews. But in state-owned venues, which have been rented by individuals not the federation, they will keep a lower profile.

    Yablotsky called the recent anti-gay moves by the government political maneuvering to play to a nationalistic audience using the "morality card," diverting attention from pressing social issues such as health care, pensions and education.

    At the same time, he acknowledged that police have protected the LGBT community from thugs and troublemakers at gay clubs or during public events. Usually, he said, the authorities prefer to avoid any potential clashes by pressuring local venues to cancel his group's activities outright.

    Though he appreciates the support shown Russia's gay community by Westerners -- and called the inclusion of gay athletes in the U.S. delegation "brilliant" -- he has mixed feeling about the public outcry in the West. He worries that it will produce a counter-reaction from Russian authorities. Then again, "without it, it would be worse."

    In the end, Yablotsky said he loves his country and has no desire to leave it, only change it: "The only way to change Russia is by coming out at our jobs and with colleagues, and showing that we are normal."

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