The Olympics are and have always been political. They have lent legitimacy to repressive states like China and the former USSR and made a mockery of freedom in Mexico. The Nazis used the 1936 Olympics to present an image of a peaceful and tolerant Germany. Now, 77 years later, there is an ominous parallel with the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

In less than three months, the Winter Olympics will begin, but I won’t be watching because of the anti-gay laws passed by the Putin regime. These laws ban “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations.” Even among the Russians, it’s unclear what this exactly means, but people could be arrested for giving pro-gay speeches, discussing homosexuality or even holding the hand of a same sex friend. (I suspect this posting also breaks the law.) Violators face fines, imprisonment, and deportation. Already Russia’s crackdown on gays has seen it ban gay pride parades, arrest hundreds of people protesting the laws, and outlaw adoptions by same-sex couples. 

In effect, Russia has given the green light for hate, bigotry, and aggression of the country’s LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) community. In recent months, there have been attacks and even violent murders against gays, including 23-year-old Vladislav Tornovoi, whose killers raped him with beer bottles and then killed him by smashing his head.

At a time when most western countries are recognizing the rights of gay people, Russia is taking a giant step backward. A civilized world cannot tolerate Russia’s behavior and should condemn it for denying its citizens basic human dignity. Moreover, Olympic sponsors and broadcasting networks share in Russia’s culpability. Sitting back idly is tacit acceptance of Russia’s actions and can lead to more repression and persecution of gay people in the future. If Russia’s laws today were targeted against the Jews, as the Nazis did in Germany, would we support the Olympics?