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AT&T Becomes First Major Advertiser to Protest Russia’s Antigay Law

The Olympic Cauldron is tested by fire crews at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Park in the Costal Cluster on January 27, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.
Getty Images
The Olympic Cauldron is tested by fire crews at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Park in the Costal Cluster on January 27, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.

AT&T has become the first major advertiser to come out against a measure outlawing "homosexual propaganda" that has led to protests aimed at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, as well as the first to urge "others involved with the Olympic Games" to do the same.

AT&T's decision, expressed in strong, unequivocal language, was made known on Tuesday through a post on a company blog. "We stand against Russia's anti-L.G.B.T. law," the post said, using shorthand for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. "Russia's law is harmful to L.G.B.T. individuals and families, and it's harmful to a diverse society."

While a notable first, it is not the milestone that the protesters had sought. They have been targeting 10 giant sponsors of the International Olympic Committee to join them in condemning the law. Those sponsors, which pay for the rights to affiliate with the Olympics around the world, include Coca-Cola, General Electric, McDonald's, Procter & Gamble, Samsung and Visa — but not AT&T, which is a sponsor of the United States Olympic Committee.

AT&T acknowledged that in its post, then stated that as a sponsor of the United States Olympic movement since 1984, the company had "showcased American athletes and celebrated their diversity all around the world."


"AT&T has a long and proud history of support for the L.G.B.T. community in the United States and everywhere around the world where we do business," the statement said. "We support L.G.B.T. equality globally and we condemn violence, discrimination and harassment targeted against L.G.B.T. individuals everywhere."

AT&T's statement of support was welcomed by HRC, a gay rights organization in Washington that has been pressing the 10 top I.O.C. sponsors to speak out against the Russian law.

"Today, AT&T courageously recommitted itself to fairness, equality and basic human rights," said Chad Griffin, president of HRC. "AT&T should be recognized for showing true leadership in opposing this hateful Russian law, and other sponsors that have failed to lead should take corrective action immediately."

(Read more: These Olympians compete for love, not money)

Activists have been pressuring the top sponsors through efforts that include appropriating promotional messages that the sponsors have been posting on social media platforms like Twitter and selling a line of protest merchandise made by American Apparel and endorsed by athletes, actors and other celebrities.

Demonstrations in London, Paris, New York and 16 other cities are being scheduled for Wednesday by All Out, an organization that has been active in leaning on the big Olympic sponsors. The demonstrations are to take place in locations with significance to those sponsors, like at McDonald's restaurants in Times Square.

Also, an organization named Athlete Ally is asking supporters to change their avatars on Twitter and Facebook before the Winter Games begin on Friday, and include images related to Principle 6 of the Olympic charter, which condemns discrimination.

—By Stuart Elliott of The New York Times