NEW YORK CITY — Visa is in the crosshairs of two progressive groups — Courage Campaign and Democracy for America — for failing to take a harder line against Russia's anti-LGBT laws ahead of the planned Winter Olympics in Sochi.
The groups, which say they have a combined 1.75 million members, are petitioning the credit card company to "step out from behind" the International Olympic Committee and speak out in favor of LGBT rights, according to a statement today. They referenced General Electric's comments to BuzzFeed last week — where a GE spokesperson states that it expects the IOC "to uphold human rights in every aspect of the Games" — as an example of the kind of statement Visa should be making.
Visa declined to comment beyond the statement it gave BuzzFeed last week, in which a spokesman had said: "As an Olympic TOP Partner, we believe in the spirit of the Games and its unique ability to unite the world in a way that is positive and inspirational. We are engaged with the IOC on this important topic and support its recent statement that sport is a human right and the Games should be open to all, spectators, officials, media, and athletes, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation." The company also pointed to more information as being available on the Olympics' website.
Courage Campaign and Democracy for America highlighted Visa's past support for the LGBT groups — including its offering of the Rainbow Platinum Plus Card, which funds grants for the global LGBT community — as an example of why the company should act.
"This is an opportunity for Visa to prove that they are a real ally of the LGBT community, not a fair-weather friend merely willing to pay lip service to LGBT rights when it aids the bottom line," said Jim Dean, chair of Democracy for America. "As a major sponsor of the Olympics, until it vocally rejects the rulings, Visa's silence can and should be seen as approval of the International Olympic Committee's feckless support of Russia's anti-LGBT laws."
The IOC said last month that it has received assurances from the Russian government that anti-LGBT legislation recently passed in Russia "will not affect those attending or taking part in the Games" — although questions remain about what that means for the games.
BuzzFeed inquired with all 10 of the Olympic Games' marquee sponsors last week, as well as several other sponsors, about their response to current questions about the anti-LGBT environment in Russia. Most companies, like Visa, have been deferring to the IOC and backing the committee's position that the legislation won't affect visitors.
Still, the petitions may portend what's to come for other corporate sponsors of the Olympics as debate rages around whether athletes and attendees at the games will be prosecuted for speaking out for LGBT rights, how the IOC itself will react to such actions, and whether the games should be held there at all.