UN Secretary General criticizes discrimination in speech to IOC

BY Bridget Bowman  February 6, 2014 at 3:30 PM EST
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks to the media in April 2012. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon addressed the International Olympic Committee in Sochi Thursday, emphasizing the importance of supporting the gay community in the face of discrimination.

“Many professional athletes, gay and straight, are speaking out against prejudice,” said Ban. “We must all raise our voices against attacks on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex people. We must oppose the arrests, imprisonments and discriminatory restrictions they face.”

Although Ban did not specifically refer to Russia’s controversial laws banning the expression of homosexual identity, the remarks come at a time when Russia is facing an international backlash for its policies.

The Secretary General stood in front of the IOC, which earlier this week discouraged political protests at the Olympic Games. “Have the courage to address your disagreements in a peaceful, direct political dialogue,” Thomas Bach, president of the IOC, told protesters, “and not on the backs of the athletes.”

Yet Ban Ki-Moon told the committee that “the Olympics show the power of sport to bring together individuals regardless of age, race, class, religion, ability, sex, sexual orientation or gender identity” and reminded them that the theme of this past Human Rights Day was “sport comes out against homophobia.”

Ban spoke with reporters following his address and was asked about Russia’s laws. “I know there has been some controversy over this issue,” he said. “At the same time I appreciate the assurances of President Putin that there will be no discrimination and that people with different sexual orientation are welcome to compete and enjoy this Olympic Games.”

While the Secretary General commended Putin, the Olympic Games in Sochi have placed a spotlight on Russia’s policies, igniting a debate about the international gay rights movement.

Brian Moulton of the Human Rights Campaign told PBS NewsHour that the state of gay rights in Russia is “a very serious problem.”

“We both have the law that was passed last fall that really restricts the ability of LGBT people to be public about who they are, to speak out in favor of equality at the risk of fines,” Moulton said. “And then there’s just a culture, a growing culture of harassment and violence against LGBT people.”

However, Andranik Migranyan of the Institute for Democracy and Cooperation said the portrayal of Russian policies as discriminatory is “grossly exaggerated.” He told the NewsHour that Russian society is “consolidating around conservative and traditional values, which, you know, includes respect to family values, to the church, to state, valuing very highly patriotism and other conservative values.”

According to 2013 Pew Research Center survey, 72 percent of Russians believe homosexuality is morally unacceptable. The Pew survey found that a disdain towards homosexuality is consistent across age brackets, levels of education, and gender.

Watch U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s full address to the IOC below: