SOCHI, Russia (AP) — An Italian activist shouting “It’s OK to be gay” and dressed in a rainbow-colored outfit and large headdress was detained Monday as she entered an arena to watch an Olympic hockey game.
Vladimir Luxuria, a former Communist lawmaker in the Italian parliament who has become a prominent transgender rights crusader and television personality, was stopped by four men and then driven away by police in a car with Olympic markings.
Luxuria later told The Associated Press she was kept in the car for about 10 minutes, then released in the countryside after the men had taken away her Olympic spectator pass. She eventually made it back to her hotel and said she was leaving Russia on Tuesday morning.
“They don’t say anything. They just were people who had to do this and they did it,” Luxuria said.
Earlier Monday, Luxuria walked around the Olympic Park in Sochi for about two hours. She was shouting “Gay is OK” and “It’s OK to be gay” in both English and Russian.
As she was being led away from Shayba Arena, she was shouting “I have a ticket.”
Luxuria said she was detained on Sunday evening by Russian police who told her she should not wear clothes with slogans supporting gay rights. Police denied detaining her.
The Italian activist walked around the Olympic Park on Monday with a group of journalists, attracting onlookers. Some Russian fans stopped to pose for photos with her.
Luxuria and her colorful outfit did not attract much negative reaction except for a group of young Russian men who shouted to television cameras in broken English: “Trans not good.”
Luxuria arrived at a ticket inspection barrier at the hockey arena just before an evening game was due to begin. She passed through the barrier and was being given directions to her seat when four men who were not wearing any identification surrounded her and started shouting “take her away.” They then led her out of the venue and to the parking lot.
“I was very, very afraid this time because the first time they said, ‘It’s OK for the first time, don’t do it again for the second time.’ So, this time I was a little bit afraid,” Luxuria said. “But they just left me outside, in the country, there, outside and that’s it.”
Before she went to the stadium, Luxuria said she did not want to be arrested.
“It’s not nice to be all alone in a room with a neon light not knowing what’s going on,” she said Monday afternoon, but then added it was important for her “to stand up for the rights of lesbian, gay and transgender people all over the world.”
It was not immediately clear why Luxuria was detained.
Last year, the Russian parliament passed a law banning “propaganda” of non-traditional sexual relations among minors.
Russian organizers had set up a protest zone leading to the Olympics, but no major protests had taken place. On Monday, however, a handful of small protests were reported:
—A Russian environmentalist group said a jailed activist who has protested the impact of the Olympics has gone on hunger strike and is complaining about poor jail conditions. Yevgeny Vitishko was sentenced last week to three years in prison for spray-painting a fence in an area where construction is banned.
IOC spokesman Mark Adams said Russian authorities assured the Olympic body that Vitishko’s punishment was “not games-related.” The Environmental Watch of the North Caucasus group said it posted a video in which Vitishko complains the jail is cold and crowded with sick inmates.
—In central Sochi, David Khakim held a one-man picket outside the city administration when two police officers took him away. Khakim, who later posted pictures of his arrest on Twitter, was protesting Vitishko’s sentence.
—Activists say a community leader of the Circassian ethnic group has also been detained. The Adyge Khase community group, which is native to the Sochi region and opposes the Olympics on their ancestors’ land, said Monday that leader Asker Sokht was held Friday near the city of Maikop under unclear circumstances. Police in Maikop would not comment.
AP Sports Writer Stephen Wilson contributed to this report.