AT&T Joins the Protest Against Russia’s Anti-Gay Law


Coca-Cola Co. (NYSE:KO) and other Sochi Olympic sponsors have yet to stand up to Russia for the country’s anti-gay law that bans any homosexual “propaganda,” but AT&T (NYSE:T) has no problem doing it. Bloomberg reported Wednesday that the U.S. wireless carrier said in a blog post on Tuesday that the company supports the Human Rights Campaign’s request to International Olympic Committee sponsors to protest Russia’s current ban.

AT&T is not a sponsor of the games, but the Dallas-based company wrote this week: “As the games begin, we’re here to support and inspire American athletes who’ve worked hard and sacrificed much to achieve their dreams. We also want to be on record with our support for the LGBT community, and we hope that others involved with the Olympics games will do the same.”

Although AT&T’s support is a major victory for gay rights activists and Olympic athletes, the company is not a sponsor of the games, like Coke, McDonald’s (NYSE:MCD), and Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG), which have continued to stand their ground in refusing to withdraw sponsorships to the games.

According to Bloomberg, Coke, Dow Chemical (NYSE:DOW), General Electric (NYSE:GE), Panasonic (PCRFY.PK) and Samsung (SSNLF.PK) are all expected to continue their sponsorship of the Olympics regardless of Russia’s ban. Their justification is that they’ve already raised the issue with the IOC and don’t expect athletes and spectators to be deterred from competition because of their sexual orientation.

Coke has came under increased scrutiny recently for its unwillingness to withdraw sponsorship to the games, but gay rights activists’ issues with the company have been brewing for months. In October, Bloomberg reported that All Out, a New York-based gay rights group with 1.9 million members, hired trucks to circle Coca-Cola’s headquarters with billboards urging the company to call on Russia to repeal the law signed by President Vladimir Putin in June.

Thus far, Coke executives have resisted. McDonald’s and Procter & Gamble, two other high-profile companies, have also faced significant pushback for their continued willingness to sponsor the Sochi Winter Olympics despite Russia’s controversial law, but all three companies continue to maintain the belief that athletes won’t be discriminated against this month in Sochi.

Other parties aren’t so sure, and some — even athletes — are willing to take a stand, even if it means possibly compromising their participation in the games. According to Bloomberg,in November, Athlete Ally was in the midst of negotiating deals with Australian snowboarder Belle Brockhoff and Canadian alpine skier Mike Janyk, along with two other athletes, about wearing logos referring to the Olympic charter, which bans forms of discrimination in its sixth principle.

Drawing attention to the IOC’s own mission statement would show the athletes’ disapproval of the law without putting them at risk for facing violation of legislation or the Olympic ban against political actions, but it’s still unclear whether those deals went through.