The IOC's recent announcement that it plans to crack down on all forms of pro-LGBT protest and activism has obviously sparked strong reactions from members of the international LGBT community. Some athletes still plan on making statements, regardless of the consequences. Pride House, an international coalition of LGBT sport and human rights groups, has a new solution to offer, one that encourages participation from LGBT athletes as well as their straight allies. It's also relatively simple, and requires no special equipment, wardrobe, or paraphernalia.
The group is proposing the "Same Sex Hand Holding Initiative, which encourages all Olympic participants: athletes, coaches, spectators, staff, media, regardless of their orientation or background, to hold hands with as many members of the same sex as possible as often as possible. That's it.
Lou Englefield, Director of Pride Sports UK and PHI coordinator, talked about the genesis of the idea with Pink News:
“The very first thing the members of the Pride House International coalition did was to ask our Russian counterparts for their leadership on our campaign. Any response, no matter how well-meaning, would be inappropriate without the input of LGBT sportspeople in Russia."
One such Russian sportsperson was Konstanin Yablotskiy from the Russian LGBT Sports Federation, who was among those responsible for coming up with the concept:
"The Same-Sex Hand-Holding Initiative enables everyone to get involved with a simple yet iconic gesture. We know from gestures like Usain Bolt’s lightning stance the impact of such images that are simple, replicable, and identifiable."
Les Johnson of the Federation of Gay Games also weighed in:
"There are extreme restrictions on the uniforms and other items worn by athletes at any Olympic Games. Flags, badges, or pins are not allowed without IOC approval, a near-impossibility, and wearing something as seemingly innocuous as pink socks or shoelaces is very difficult for athletes to do, and complex to organise for other participants and spectators. But everyone can hold hands with their neighbour. Indeed, raising your rivals’ hands in camaraderie is an image we see on every podium at every sporting event."
Johnson raises a very interesting point. Since the initiative encourages participation from all those in attendance at the games, not just LGBT people, the gesture could theoretically pass by Russian authorities as purely innocuous. Nevertheless, Pride House still encourages those participating in the Same Sex Hand Holding Initiative to do so in a public place where there are plenty of spectators (and potentially press).
For those still wishing to make statement with actual concrete materials such as posters, shirts, pins, and so on, Pride House has also announced that it will be making those materials available starting in October on its official website.