Gaily Forward to the Sochi Olympics

There is an awesome amount of attention being drawn to the horrific events that are resulting from Russia’s most recent anti-LGBT legislation.  Publicized as protecting children, it is providing cover and government approval for persecution of gays of all ages.  The government has gone so far as to make clear that international travelers are not above prosecution under the new draconian legislation.

Fortunately, in our modern world, unique and interesting methods are being used to keep the discussion in the forefront of western news.  Dan Savage and others called for a boycott of Russian vodka.  The nitty gritty details of Stoli’s non-Russian current existence is less important than the fact that bars dumping Russian vodka creates images that are newsworthy which is the point of a boycott.  It’s clear to all that this kind of action isn’t going to cause change in Russia directly, but the more high profile our outrage, the more likely our politicians will be forced to engage in the discussion – boycotts are about attention – and the more we have, the longer we have it, the more likely concrete results will happen in as much as we can exert outside pressure on Russia as a member of the world community.

The Sochi Olympics are causing a great deal of back and forth with some calling for a boycott and others defending the athletes who have spent a lifetime preparing and will be caught in the crossfire.  The Olympics have been boycotted before, to no avail, because they are not, and are not meant to be, political events.  The entire point in the modern era of the Olympics is that they exist outside of political issues and bring an enormous amount of the world together to cheer individual achievement.  I understand the reasoning that Russia will make enormous amounts of money off of the event, but I believe there are better and smarter ways to handle the Olympics problem that allow for continuing to create newsworthy moments without dampening the competitive opportunity for athletes from all over the world.  Not to mention, we did not boycott the Chinese Olympics – and they have been committing genocide against Tibetans, treating women like pack mules and property and generally violating all aspects of individual freedom since, you know, forever – so as upset as we are, the Olympics are meant to be outside of all of those things.

The Russian government appeared to give essentially a free pass to LGBT travelers for the Olympics (gee, thanks so much) and then immediately other government speakers said they did not have the authority to do that.  So the theoretical consequences for those who seem to violate the new laws while in attendance for the games are still up in the air.

This is where there is opportunity.  Rather than running from the Olympics and boycotting, the LGBT community and its allies from all over the world should run gaily forward at the Olympics.  Outside of the horrifying videos coming out of Russia, one of the most impactful images is that of Tilda Swinton standing with the rainbow flag in Moscow.  With travelers, team members and athletes from all over the world converging and billions of home viewers, the opportunities for similar displays will be endless.  Brave individuals willing to make similar or stronger stands are a far more impactful way to protest.  Then we must all hold NBC accountable to ensure that this aspect of the events surrounding Sochi is covered and broadcast around the world.  Gays willing to hold hands and walk through the Olympic Village.  Men kissing men and women kissing women at the entrance to every Olympic event venue.  Despite what they may say now, Russia will have a hard time punishing international attendees with the whole world watching.  And if they do?  Imagine the outrage from many countries and their delegates and representatives if two American or Norwegian or French men were jailed for holding hands or kissing in Sochi?

Now, what will this do for Russian LGBT individuals following the games?  We can’t know that.  However, as we work to support them, the louder we scream and the more we create news opportunities with Russia as the focus, the easier it will be to call on our politicians to address these issues with the Russian government.  It’s not an easy road to saving the LGBT youth who are the most in danger from the Russian government’s actions, but doing everything we can do to keep it in the news is a step to ensuring they are not alone in defending themselves and changing their country as we continue to work to change ours.

So let’s head to Sochi and make a big enough scene that the Russian LGBT communities that risk their lives to have unapproved pride parades know that we are standing with them in any way we can think of. Bedecked in rainbows and bedazzled to within an inch of our lives, let’s ensure that no matter how hard they try, they will not be able to pretend that we are not there.

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