The Olympics are supposed to be about the mastery of sport at its highest level. The world's best amateur athletes can inspire and uplift you as they go for the gold. But when Olympic organizers take harsh political stances that run counter to a rising tide of popular opinion, it can mar the majesty of Olympic sport, unless enough of us speak out in opposition.
This year's Winter Olympics, held in the Russian resort town of Sochi, have been wracked by controversy since a Russian law was passed last year that made it illegal to even talk about gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender rights. Pro-LGBT groups have protested the Sochi Olympics as Russian officials, all the way up to President Vladimir Putin, have made statements and issued orders that threaten gay attendees with arrest or worse. This firestorm has only intensified as the games get under way -- and now, big businesses are taking a stand as well. Here are some of the Olympics advertisers that have already stood up in support of LGBT rights at the Sochi Olympics:
Telecom giant AT&T (NYSE: T ) was the first major corporation to voice its support for LGBT rights at Sochi, when it released a blog post titled "A Time for Pride and Equality." AT&T, a longtime sponsor of Team USA, responded to a Human Rights Watch request to support LGBT rights by saying:
We support LGBT equality globally and we condemn violence, discrimination, and harassment targeted against LGBT individuals everywhere. Russia's law is harmful to LGBT individuals and families, and it's harmful to a diverse society. ... 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.
The blog post concluded with the hashtag #ItsOurTime, the motto of AT&T's Olympic campaign, and which now can be read with meanings in the wake of AT&T's public LGBT support.
The world's largest search engine also got out in front of the Olympic opening ceremony with a Google (NASDAQ: GOOG ) doodle on its homepage that featured the LGBT "rainbow alliance" colors highlighting several Winter Olympic sports. Beneath the search box, Google included a rare bit of text for explanation, in the form of the Olympic Charter:
The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity, and fair play.
Google isn't the first to point out a contravention of the Olympic spirit of openness at the Games. Human Rights Watch, which is currently helping lead the gay-rights response to Russia's crackdown, accused Saudi Arabia of violating the charter in the lead-up to the London Olympics in 2012. Saudi Arabia, a strongly Islamic nation, has a long history of barring female participation in athletic competitions.
Educate yourself on LGBT rights -- for-profit college chain and Team USA sponsor DeVry Education (NYSE: DV ) did when it released the following statement:
As a USOC sponsor, DeVry University, and its parent organization DeVry Education Group, supports the diversity of our US Olympic & Paralympic athletes, as well as our DeVry Group colleagues around the world. We are against Russia's anti-LGBT law & support efforts to improve LGBT equality.
Controversial clothing brand American Apparel (NYSEMKT: APP ) is stepping into the thick of things again with its clothing -- but this time, it's for the message rather than the presentation. The company isn't an Olympic sponsor, but it's nevertheless released a new line called P6, or Principle 6, which is named after the sixth Fundamental Principle of Olympism: "Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender, or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement."
This isn't American Apparel's first pro-gay effort, as it promoted a "Legalize Gay" campaign during the lead-up to voting on California's Proposition 8, the same-sex marriage-ban amendment. Although American Apparel clearly intends that P6 be used to protest Russian discrimination, it's also using the "otherwise" in part of that principle to give wearers leeway to avoid running afoul of the ban on political speech in effect at the Olympics. Australian snowboarder Belle Brockhoff, one of the seven openly gay Olympic athletes at Sochi, will likely wear P6 clothes at some point during her Olympic stay.
Greek yogurt can have a global cause, too. Pivately held Chobani, a Team USA sponsor, issued a statement straight from the top when CEO Hamdi Ulukaya told the press: "It's disappointing that in 2014 this is still an issue. We are against all laws and practices that discriminate in any way, whether it be where you come from or who you love -- for that reason, we oppose Russia's anti-LGBT law." The company has since followed up with a pro-gay campaign that included the rainbow-cups image to the right as part of a tweet that has now been favorited or shared more than 4,000 times.
Chobani is currently embroiled in an import spat with Russian authorities, who have refused to allow a shipment of yogurt cups meant for Olympic athletes (high-protein Greek yogurt is a good snack for fitness freaks) to reach Sochi. The reasons for Russia's refusal of this one particular shipment remain unknown.
General Motors' (NYSE: GM ) Chevrolet brand stepped up during the opening ceremonies with two commercials that highlight the changing face of America -- and, tellingly, both of them feature gay couples among their imagery. Here's one of the ads, with a husband and husband as part of "the new love":
This ad tastefully underscores the similarities that bind different people's experiences together, and it's the first GM ad to feature a married gay couple. Chevy will air eight different ads during the Olympics, so there may be more opportunities for the brand to display its LGBT support before the last medals are awarded. While GM and Chevy have not explicitly publicized their opposition to Russia's LGBT crackdown, these ads are perhaps the most visible pro-gay signal of the Olympics, with the possible exception of Google's rainbow doodle.
Fight for your (human) rights
The issue of LGBT rights isn't going to go away during the Sochi Olympics, no matter how much Russian authorities might try to sweep their crackdown efforts under the rug. However, it may be some time before Russia allows its same-sex couples equal rights -- but the United States is already well on its way to providing LGBT individuals with the same protections afforded their straight brethren. Same-sex marriages are already legal in 14 American states, and a record 54% of American adults now believe that these marriages should be granted the same rights as marriage between a man and a woman.
No matter where you stand on this issue, you're bound to have an opinion, so please let us know what you think by leaving a respectful comment below.
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