Aaron R. Davis
I’ve been reading quite a bit this last week or two about the 2014 Winter Olympics being held in Sochi, Russia.
I don’t even want to speculate right now about what’s going on with Russia politically. I was born in 1976, and lately the news has been giving me Cold War flashbacks. But one of the things they’re doing in Russia right now is legislating hate against gay people. So now you can be arrested, beaten in the street and even killed for “distributing pro-gay propaganda” (a.k.a. being openly gay in public), and no authority will bat an eye or trouble themselves with such outdated concepts as “justice.” (And by the way, this story hasn’t quite gotten the same attention, but it’s happening in Russia with Jews, too.) Apparently someone (I don’t even want to say that professional Bond villain’s name) and his criminal super gang have decided that what Russia was really missing was all of that quasi-fascism of the Glorious Revolution. At least this time they’re not even pretending to wrap it in the name of equality.
So, of course, there’s been a lot of talk from Internet pundits, politicians and even President Obama about what we must do on the international scale. Do we protest the Olympics? Boycott? Do we petition the International Olympics Committee to move the site? With less than a year to go, is there even time to do something like that? I mean … we can’t just go and participate in a country that has actual laws on the books endorsing hate crimes, can we? What kind of message does that send?
The IOC assured everyone that they had received assurances that the anti-gay law, as it has been and should be called, would not be applied to athletes and guests at the Olympics, but that honestly made me queasy. I mean, what does that say about us? “Well, okay, as long as we’re above your hate laws, I guess that makes it okay. We’re special; it shouldn’t apply to us, anyway.” I think that’s totally the wrong message, but it’s unsurprising that for some people that would make it okay. Personally, I wouldn’t even want to be in a place that has that kind of law on the books. I wouldn’t be comfortable with what it says about me that, well, I’m comfortable only being somewhere if special rules apply to me while others can be brutally assaulted or — and by all that’s dear, I despise the world for even having this term — “correctively raped” in the street without the police doing one damn thing about it.
So, yeah, the IOC said, “We have assurances that this law will not apply to visiting competitors,” and the Russian government said, “Nope.” No, they’ll be applying that law to everyone. So the IOC responded with bravery, boldly declaring for the world to hear: “Well, don’t act so gay while you’re in Russia, please.”
Is this really the state of leadership in 2013? No one wants to make a stand for human rights because it’s financially inconvenient to do so? I really don’t understand how some people sleep at night knowing that not only does this happen in a part of the world that’s ostensibly civilized, but that they’re giving them a gigantic influx into their economy. But then I remember that it’s twenty-fucking-thirteen and we’re still debating in America whether gay people are actually people who deserve all the same rights as people.
So what do we do? Do we boycott the Olympics or do we make a show of going and using it to bring attention to this shameful law?
Olympic figure skater Johnny Weir, who is openly gay, has said he would compete in the Olympics no matter where they were held, because it’s what he’s been trained to do. He’s been very upfront about how he feels boycotting the Olympics would hurt the careers of the athletes whose lives are about training for the Olympics. He then said, in a statement much more brave than anything the IOC has had to say, “If it takes me getting arrested for people to pay attention and for people to lobby against this law, then I’m willing to take it.”
I think that’s very courageous, but I also hope that no one takes him up on that offer, because even to bring light to inhumanity, I don’t want to see people suffer.
Personally, I’m more in line with Stephen Fry’s way of thinking. Very eloquently, in a way that somehow only Stephen Fry has mastered, he has said that “At all costs Putin cannot be seen to have the approval of the civilized world.”
And that’s honestly what I’m feeling right now. Unfortunately, the IOC has made it clear that they will not move the location of the Olympics, even to somewhere that already has the capacity for it, such as a past Olympics host. Maybe it’s just too financially difficult to do it. And Weir’s right that not having the Olympics, or boycotting them, is damaging to the people who have worked so hard to compete.
But I think Fry’s right. Holding these Olympics legitimizes a criminal government that is making scapegoats and victims of LGBT people. I don’t think that’s appropriate. Not boycotting it would be another step towards making that coolly evil man appear to the world as though he can get anything he wants over the broken and decimated bodies of whomever he pleases.
If a boycott is what it takes, maybe we should really consider it. I think what we need right now is for Putin to suffer an embarrassing loss and a light shone on this evil law, rather than athletes martyring themselves, even for a good cause.
Or everyone in the world could just grow the fuck up and stop being idiots about how people are gay, but that’s just magical thinking, sadly.
Aaron R. Davis lives in a cave at the bottom of the ocean with his eyes shut tight and his fingers in his ears. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.