Given the late hour and overall conservative body of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) – it is unlikely a boycott will materialize and that the Sochi Winter Olympic Games will go forward as planned early next year. But the glare of the international lens planted squarely on Russia brings the unique opportunity to highlight the injustice going on there.
Sadly, the IOC has hinted it plans to stop any athlete from showing support for LGBT Russians at the Sochi Winter Games. Rule 50 of the IOC’s charter states “no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”
But I say screw the code of conduct. I hope to see all LGBT athletes and allies making a statement in front of the eyes of the world (from the safety of Olympic ground – be smart about it). Are they going to disqualify, punish or jail hundreds or thousands of athletes, coaches and spectators? How is this different from someone praising God after a victory from the medal stand or Cathy Freeman circling the track with the Aboriginal flag following her win? These are political/cultural and religious statements. Push the boundaries. Expose the bigotry.
As a gay American, I am keenly aware of how lucky I have it. Yes – it’s been a generational struggle for equality, but we’re getting there most assuredly. Still, I’m mindful that even when full equality is written into law, our role as activists and watchdogs must continue. I recently revisited the dynamic December 2011 speech by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in which she declared in Geneva that LGBT rights are human rights:
“I am talking about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, human beings born free and given bestowed equality and dignity, who have a right to claim that, which is now one of the remaining human rights challenges of our time. I speak about this subject knowing that my own country’s record on human rights for gay people is far from perfect. Until 2003, it was still a crime in parts of our country. Many LGBT Americans have endured violence and harassment in their own lives, and for some, including many young people, bullying and exclusion are daily experiences. So we, like all nations, have more work to do to protect human rights at home…”
“This recognition did not occur all at once. It evolved over time. And as it did, we understood that we were honoring rights that people always had, rather than creating new or special rights for them. Like being a woman, like being a racial, religious, tribal, or ethnic minority, being LGBT does not make you less human. And that is why gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights…”
“And finally, to LGBT men and women worldwide, let me say this: Wherever you live and whatever the circumstances of your life, whether you are connected to a network of support or feel isolated and vulnerable, please know that you are not alone. People around the globe are working hard to support you and to bring an end to the injustices and dangers you face. That is certainly true for my country. And you have an ally in the United States of America and you have millions of friends among the American people.”
Championing the rights of our sisters and brothers across the globe will be the charge of the next generation of LGBT Americans. What’s more, we must be vigilant here at home. For a wave of anti-LGBT sentiment can flare up at any time to ride the political winds.
Russia’s archaic anti-gay law affirmed by Vladimir Putin earlier this year barring “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” is nothing short of state-sponsored hatred. Russian police and elected officials turn a blind eye to the increasing harassment and in some cases, murder of their LGBT citizens. The law imposes fines and prison sentences on individuals and media organizations that provide information about the LGBT community to minors – pride events are illegal and so is speaking out in defense of LGBT equality.
As British comedian and activist Stephen Fry pointed out in an open letter to Prime Minister David Cameron and the IOC, we’ve seen this movie before.
“I write in the earnest hope that all those with a love of sport and the Olympic spirit will consider the stain on the Five Rings that occurred when the 1936 Berlin Olympics proceeded under the exultant aegis of a tyrant who had passed into law, two years earlier, an act which singled out for special persecution a minority whose only crime was the accident of their birth. In his case he banned Jews from academic tenure or public office, he made sure that the police turned a blind eye to any beatings, thefts or humiliations inflicted on them, he burned and banned books written by them. He claimed they “polluted” the purity and tradition of what it was to be German, that they were a threat to the state, to the children and the future of the Reich. He blamed them simultaneously for the mutually exclusive crimes of Communism and for the controlling of international capital and banks. He blamed them for ruining the culture with their liberalism and difference. The Olympic movement at that time paid precisely no attention to this evil and proceeded with the notorious Berlin Olympiad, which provided a stage for a gleeful Führer and only increased his status at home and abroad. It gave him confidence. All historians are agreed on that. What he did with that confidence we all know.”
The advancement of LGBT rights in America is moving swiftly as we join the ranks of kindred, equality-minded countries. But there are nations and nation states where time stands still – or worse, where all-out war on LGBT citizens is being declared. It is the duty of our community to stand firm and broaden our gaze to the goings on across the globe. For as Martin Luther King, Jr. once eloquently said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”