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February 2, 2014

Human rights and the Olympics, part 3: Sochi 2014 and LGBT rights


Use this lesson to explain the human rights debate around LGBT rights and the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Students will analyze the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and determine whether or not LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people are protected under the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Finally, students will evaluate and argue the merits of extending or not extending provisions of the UDHR for the LGBT community. This is part 1 of a 2 part lesson.


Social studies, human rights, geography, politics

Estimated Time

60 Minutes

Grade Level

Middle and high school


Warm Up Activity

LGBT Rights and Sochi Olympics: 15 min

Ask students about what they’ve heard about this year’s Olympic Games in regards to human rights. Guide students to an understanding that this year’s focus on human rights has come from concern over a law passed by the Russian Parliament banning homosexual propaganda in the presence of minors.

Watch “Russian Parliament Passes Gay Propaganda Law” hosted on Gooru and discuss the intent of the law. Use the following questions to guide discussion:

  • What, exactly, does the law ban?
  • If you can’t discuss homosexuality in front of minors, does that include in public?
  • What implications would this law have for the Olympic games, as the athletes must abide by the laws of the host country?

Main Activities

LGBT Rights and the UDHR: 20 min

Divide students into small groups and provide each group with a copy of theUDHR. Ask students to answer the following questions in their groups:

  • Is sexual orientation covered either explicitly or implicitly in the UDHR?
  • Should LGBT individuals participating in the Olympics be required to change their normal behavior (i.e., kissing a spouse in public) in order to abide by the Russian law? Is this a violation of their human rights?
  • Does the UDHR “trump” the Russian law, if it protects someone’s human rights at an international event, or should athletes abide by the laws of the host country?
  • Should sexual orientation be covered in the UDHR if you believe it is not now?

When student groups have discussed for 10-15 min, come back together as a whole class and discuss the given questions.

Introduce the Structured Academic Controversy: 15 min

Tell students that they will now examine one of those case studies in greater depth.
Distribute the SAC handout and summarize the purpose and procedure of a SAC
Divide students into groups of 4 and then split each group into two pairs of students. Assign each pair a pro or con side on the controversial question: “Should the UDHR protect LGBT Olympics attendees?”

Distribute the LGBT Rights and Sochi Olympics documents and note-taking chart to each student and suggest that in addition to taking notes on their specific side, that they also annotate the readings. Students can use any comfortable note-taking system, but we suggest Cornell notes and have provided a copy.

Tell students that they will have the first ten minutes of class tomorrow to meet with their partner to plan out the main points of their argument before they debate the issue with those of the opposing viewpoint.

Explain to students that they should be making their argument as a legal recommendation, as the UDHR is an international legal document. As such, their arguments cannot be centered entirely around opinion or religious argument, but must extend to reason for all members of the participating countries of the United Nations, and by extension, the world.

Exit Ticket: 5 min

Ask students to respond to the question, “In your opinion, based on the evidence presented, do you believe that the UDHR provides adequate human rights protection for LGBT people attending or competing in the Olympics?” Students should provide their opinion while backing it up by facts and evidence.

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