Speed Skater and Gold Medal Winner Ireen Wust Boasted in Media Reports of Embracing Vladimir Putin
By Melanie Nathan, February 11, 2014.
New York, NY (February 10, 2014) — Members of the gay activist group Queer Nation have condemned Dutch speed skater Ireen Wust for having a “cuddle” with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.
“The Olympic athletes have said that they will not make political statements during the Games yet that is exactly what Ireen Wust did,” said Duncan Osborne, a member of Queer Nation. “By embracing Vladimir Putin, a man who has trampled on the human rights of LGBT Russians, political dissidents, artists, undocumented immigrants, and others in Russia, Wust has endorsed his fascist agenda.”
Citing a report from Dutch television network NOS,ABC News reported on February 10 that Wust met Putin at a party in her honor after she won gold in the 3,000 meter event on February 9.
“I got a cuddle from him,” said Wust, who has been identified in published reports as an out lesbian, according to ABC News. “He congratulated me and asked if everything was OK in Russia and I congratulated him on (Russian speed skater) Olga Graf, of course, for her third place (in the 3,000 meters). He was happy to see me, but then he had to leave again. But I cuddled him.”
As the Olympics opened in Russia, over 60 activists, including LGBT activists, were arrested in several Russian cities while protesting over a number of issues.
“LGBT Russians and political dissidents are showing us what courage and commitment look like,” said Osborne. “Embracing Vladimir Putin is a betrayal of that courage and commitment. Wust should be ashamed of herself. Every athlete in Sochi should understand that the whole world is watching. We cannot make the athletes show the sort of courage that LGBT Russians display, but we will not be silent and we will not forget if the athletes embrace Putin.”
Last June, the Russian government enacted legislation that effectively bans any pro-LGBT statement in public or private and on the Internet. In July, a law banning adoptions of Russian children by people from any jurisdiction that allows same sex marriage took effect.
Last year, the Russian parliament considered legislation that would allow the government to remove children from a household headed by a gay or lesbian parent. While that legislation has been withdrawn ahead of the Olympics, activists believe the parliament will reintroduce it after the Games are over.
That legislation’s passage has been followed by unprecedented, effectively state-sanctioned violence against LGBT people, who have been harassed, arrested, beaten, raped, tortured, and killed. Activists had called for a boycott of Sochi and for the Games to be moved from Russia, citing its abysmal human rights record, including its attacks on LGBT Russians.
Queer Nation and other LGBT activists around the world conducted a series of high-profile protests dating back to July 2013. They include a February 6 protest at the Russian consulate in New York City, December 12 actions at two NBC employee Christmas parties and earlier confrontations with Moscow government officials at meetings promoting US investment in Russia. The group has also targeted supporters of Putin performing at the Metropolitan Opera and Carnegie Hall as well as “Russia Day” at the New York Stock Exchange. Members of PCI Justice and Gays without Borders conducted protests at the San Francisco Opera with famed Opera couple Patricia Racette and Beth Clayton who supported the LGBT vigil for Russia expressing their solidarity.
Activists have also targeted corporate sponsors of the Olympics, most notably Coca-Cola and McDonalds, through pointed, successful social media campaigns.Queer Nation is a direct action group dedicated to ending discrimination, violence and repression against the LGBT community.