AT&T Inc. took a stand against Russia’s anti-gay law, joining athletes and activists who’ve condemned it, just before the start of the Sochi Olympic Games.
The second-largest U.S. wireless carrier is supporting the Human Rights Campaign request to International Olympic Committee sponsors to protest Russia’s ban against homosexual “propaganda,” AT&T said in a blog post yesterday. The Dallas-based company isn’t a sponsor of the games.
“As the games begin, we’re here to support and inspire American athletes who’ve worked hard and sacrificed much to achieve their dreams,” AT&T said. “We also want to be on record with our support for the LGBT community, and we hope that others involved with the Olympic Games will do the same.”
Gay rights activists and athletes have been pressuring sponsors, including Coca-Cola Co., McDonald’s Corp. and Procter & Gamble, to protest the law. Coca-Cola, Atos, Dow Chemical Co., General Electric Co., Panasonic Corp. and Samsung Electronics Co., have said they’ve raised the issue with the IOC and expect all athletes and spectators to be welcome regardless of their sexual orientation.
Coca-Cola, the world’s largest beverage company, has said it won’t withdraw sponsorship to avoid undermining gay athletes who’ve spent years preparing for the competition. The company, along with McDonald’s and Procter & Gamble, has been the target of protests in the U.S. over their sponsorship of the games.
All Out, a New York-based gay rights group with 1.9 million members around the world, hired trucks in October to circle Coca-Cola’s headquarters in Atlanta with billboards urging the drink maker to call on Russia to repeal the law signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in June.
Hudson Taylor, founder and executive director of Athlete Ally, based in New York, said in November the company was in talks with Australian snowboarder Belle Brockhoff and Canadian Alpine skier Mike Janyk as well as two other athletes about wearing logos referring to the Olympic charter, which bans all forms of discrimination in its sixth principle.
By calling attention to the IOC’s own mission statement, athletes will be able to show their disdain for the law without violating either that legislation or an Olympic ban on political actions, according to Taylor.
Russian Sports Minister Vitaliy Mutko said in August that athletes and spectators attending the Feb. 7-23 event would face arrest, fines and deportation if they violate the law, which officials say is intended to protect children. The maximum punishment for foreigners is 15 days in prison. Putin said later that he’ll prohibit any discrimination based on race, gender or sexuality at the games.
Civil rights campaigners in Russia say that the law is so vague that it could apply to any open display of homosexuality and that it encourages violence against gays.