The 2018 FIFA World Cup will be held this summer in Russia, a country with a history of anti-LGBT discrimination and oppression, but LGBT attendees will have at least one oasis of safety.
Despite the nation’s anti-LGBT policies, prominent Russian LGBT leaders will set up a Pride House in host city St. Petersburg, USA Today reports. While seen as one of Russia’s most cosmopolitan cities, St. Petersburg has been particularly inhospitable to LGBT rights.
According to Russian news service Fontanka, LGBT visitors to the soccer championship will be able to “find shelter” at the St. Petersburg site, organized with international support but without official backing from Russia’s government.
The Pride House will stand in defiance of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s controversial anti-gay legislation, including the so-called “gay propaganda” law banning the promotion of “nontraditional relationships” to minors. While same-sex relationships in Russia aren’t criminalized outright, homophobic violence is commonplace and often un-investigated.
A recent survey found that 39% of Russians believe it is “likely or highly likely” that LGBT foreigners will be targeted for attacks during the tournament, and about 13% of Russians are “irritated” by the presence of LGBT foreigners.
FARE, Europe’s leading anti-discrimination soccer network, is also preparing a guide that “will advise gay people to be cautious in any place which is not seen to be welcoming to the LGBT community.”
LGBT fans attending the World Cup in Russia were warned last year that it is not safe for same-sex couples to hold hands there in public.
After athletes and activists criticized FIFA for choosing Russia and Qatar to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, the international soccer world’s governing body has increased efforts to address discrimination. FIFA’s bidding guidelines now explicitly state host countries must guarantee “there is no discrimination of any nature.”
FIFA, which has levied fines against several countries after fans chanted anti-gay slurs, also banned about 300 members of far-right extremist groups from attending the Russian championships.
Similar concerns about Russia’s homophobia arose at the 2014 Olympic Summer Games in Sochi, even after Putin insisted LGBT attendees could feel “at ease” as long as they “leave the children in peace.” The Russian government rejected official applications to set up a Pride House in Sochi’s Olympic Village.
The World Cup tournament begins June 14 with matches in 11 different cities. The finals take place July 15 at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium.