As I hear about the barbaric attacks and see the disturbing photos that are surfacing in the newly minted, “Gays Not Welcome,” country of Russia, I can’t help but to think about the Holocaust and the millions of innocent victims, including gay people that were tortured and murdered because they didn’t fit into the mold Hitler had set out to create.
Over 70 years after the Holocaust was conceived to create a “perfect society,” Russian President Vladimir Putin has been pushing through his own “perfect society” legislation that practically makes even uttering the word “gay” illegal. I can’t fathom the pain and torture the LGBT community in Russia now experiences. Anti-gay citizens in Russia are using Vladimir Putin’s push for treating gay citizens as less than human as an excuse to brutally attack them. As gays and lesbians are being brutally beaten, they find themselves the ones that are being arrested instead of the perpetrators that attacked them because of Putin’s ant-gay laws.
As Russia begins its reversion back to the Soviet Union by passing draconian laws and straining international relations, the International Olympic Committee is moving in to oversee the preparations of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. In just over seven months, Olympians from around the world will be closing in on Sochi, Russia to compete in the Olympics that begin on February 7, 2014. As the beginning of the Olympics looms, LGBT advocates are urging athletes, countries and people to boycott the Olympics. I don’t believe this is the action we should take. Boycotts are notoriously unsuccessful and will only divert attention from homosexuality in Russia instead of embracing the Russian LGBT community.
Olympic speed skater, Blake Skjellerup recently talked about the proposed boycott in an interview with CNN. He said that visibility will be key to bringing awareness to the conditions in Russia. Skjellerup goes on to say that his presence alone as an openly gay athelete (and the presence of other gay athletes and their sympathizers) can make a strong statement to the Russian government, and to those that are suffering the most under these archaic laws. Today is a time when the LGBT community in Russia must see we are here with them and will stand with them in solidarity. Performing at the Olympics is the biggest way we can show Russians that we are here with them and will not be deterred because of Russia’s irrational fear of the LGBT community.
In order to raise awareness to the LGBT struggle in Russia, Olympians ought to take a page out of one of the most visible protests in Olympic history. As Americans were fighting for equality for African-Americans, three men stood for human rights during the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. African-American track and field runners Tommie Smith and John Carlos won first and third place in their competitions. During the awards ceremony, these Smith, Carlos and Australian silver medalist Peter Norman wore human rights badges to the podium. While the Star Spangled Banner was being played, Tommie and John put their heads down and a fist in the air. Carlos and Smith kept their shoes off and only wore black socks up to the podium to signify black poverty. Their actions likely brought hope to all those people that were suffering from the inequalities in America. That moment has become a significant moment in the history of the American Civil Rights Movement.
Today, gays, lesbians and their supporters can create these subtle but powerful protests to raise awareness to the inequalities and violence that gay Russians are experiencing. It’s easy to become jaded about the world when we think we’re alone in what we’re fighting for. We can instill a sense of hope and inspiration for the Russian LGBT community. Those olympians that want to make a more visible protest can wear bracelets, or scarves, or whatever creative idea they can come up with to show solidarity with the gay community in Russia, just as Tommie Smith and John Carlos did during the 1968 Olympics. Russians need to be supported and not ignored. We have an obligation to make a statement against the Russian government and any other country that may be considering these sorts of laws. An inevitably unsuccessful boycott would only be turning a blind eye to the Russian atrocities. We have an obligation to rise up and raise awareness for our LGBT brothers and sisters in Russia.
NBC Sports has vowed to not push the tragedies that are occurring in Russia under the rug. I hope they stick by their words and use their broadcasts as a springboard to reveal the anti-gay attitude and violence harbored in Russia. To drive home the point I am trying to make here, I yield the floor to Patrick Burke founder of the You Can Play organization.
To send the strongest possible message of support to the LGBT community, we must send our athletes — those who are LGBT, those who are LGBT-supportive, those with LGBT family members or friends. Let them show that champions stand strong with their teammates and training partners. Send our openly LGBT and “publicly pro-gay” athletes and let them compete. Let them win. Show the world that there are elite LGBT athletes who are not afraid to be themselves, on and off the playing field. That the majority of the world’s finest athletes support their LGBT teammates, coaches, and opponents by treating them as equals in competition.
Maybe some of the individuals who go will feel compelled to take a stand — for themselves, for their family, for their friends, for the Russian people. Maybe some of those individuals will force the world to witness the strength of diversity and the impact one person can make. Maybe they’ll remind us of the power of pure, unadulterated sport to compel change. We’ll know only if we show up.
To read the entire article by Patrick Burke, click here.