THE GROWING CONTROVERSY OVER THE 2014 WINTER OLYMPICS ISN’T MERELY EXPOSING RUSSIA’S INTOLERANCE AND THE INTERNATIONAL
OLYMPIC COMMITTEE’S INDIFFERENCE, IT’S ALSO REVEALING HOW MANY BIGOTS STILL CALL THE WEST HOME
Make no mistake, there was nothing coincidental about Russia passing it’s globally renown “anti-gay propaganda” law last June. Vladimir Putin and company knew full well that their new legal homophobia would cause a backlash and calls for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics hosted this February in Sochi, but they also knew full well that with only nine months or so until the Olympic torch was lit February 7th to open the Games, it would be virtually impossible to move them to another venue. And that’s assuming that the International Olympic Committee cared enough to move the Games, which it doesn’t (despite all the wonderful sounding hyperbole in it’s charter, the IOC cares nothing about human rights and is more worried about how the growing uproar may affect the Games’ ratings, and therefore the value of future television deals). But while Russia’s growing appetite for persecuting gay and lesbians reflect that country’s intolerance and bigotry as well as the IOC’s profit-first-last-and-only philosophy, it’s also allowing those of us in the West a grim glimpse into just how much homophobic prejudice is still alive in the Free World.
Calls for a boycott of the 2014 Olympic Games are currently being championed by actors and equality activists across North America and Europe. George Takei is currently the most visual, using his extensive social media presence to get his message across (Takei also spent time in a Japanese-American internment camp as a boy, so he knows a thing or two about persecution). US President Barack Obama has labeled the laws unacceptable and he cancelled a face to face meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin scheduled to take place at the G20 summit next month (though that probably has more to do with Russia granting asylum to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden). Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird also called Russia out for their draconian laws, a stance that has been supported by media on both the left and the right of the Canadian political spectrum. British Actor/model Tilda Swinton flew a gay pride flag in Red square, in full view of both the Kremlin and Moscow police (there’s a good chance that, had she not been accompanied by a photographer she’d be cooling her heels in a Russian jail cell right now). And rest assured, as the Games draw closer, voices of disgust and contempt will grow louder, evolving into a chorus demanding action. Unfortunately, so will the voices of homophobic intolerance here at home.
As stories on this issue grow more frequent and in-depth, feedback is also guaranteed to become more and more venomous towards the homosexual community. Some of the feedback on online magazines, forums and message boards borders on hate speech, and it isn’t uncommon to read comments ranging from the casually dismissive “If you don’t like it, don’t go,” and “we shouldn’t tell other countries what to do,” to the more offensive “they (gays) bring it on themselves,” to the morally indignant “it serves them right for living a deviant lifestyle.” And you don’t have to wait too long until you come across the always fashionable “gay agenda” argument. In some cases, the owners of such enlightened statements, safely hiding behind the anonymity of the Internet with their amusing little online handles to protect their identities, may be able to claim ignorance about how vicious and Nazi-ish Russia’s anti-gay laws are. But the majority of the cases can be attributed to pure, unadulterated prejudice and bigotry, the kind that willingly and knowingly looked the other way when a short, paranoid little man named Adolph Hitler lead Germany on a genocidal march across Europe. Yes, it could very well be that bad.
Signed into law by Russian President-For-Life Vladimir Putin on June 30, Russia has dismissed accusations that the law, whose title was revised to “Anti Propaganda of Non-Traditional Sexual Relations” is anti-gay, painting it as an economic measure that also protects children. The law states that distributing any literature that promotes or even discusses homosexuality is punishable by a fine and jail time. Organizations found in violation of the law, such as Russia’s rare independent media outlets, face stringent fines and a mandatory shut down of business for a minimum of ninety days (more than enough time to spell the end of a news or political web site that depends on the daily presence of advertising dollars). Tourists guilty of violating the Motherland’s new law are also subject to fine and immediate deportation (how much you want to bet they threw that last measure in there just for the Olympics?). Gay marriage isn’t even discussed and The Russian Orthodox Church supports the law one hundred percent. Russia’s logic behind these measures are to protect children from being swayed or “converted” by gay “propaganda,” exploiting the myth that homosexuality is a choice, and to promote the continued growth of Russia’s population through a robust birth rate, which cannot be contributed to by same-sex couples (although the law clearly states that it will not target heterosexual couples who cannot or choose not to reproduce). But the most disturbing aspect is the culture that has led to this law.
This isn’t some ideological measure passed by a small group and opposed by a large portion of the population. While civilized countries move forward on gay rights, Russia has thrown itself firmly in reverse on the issue. In 2005, fifty-one percent of Russians supported equal marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples. That number has since fallen to below forty percent and popular opinion continues to erode. The law was passed by a unanimous vote of 468-0 in the State Duma, the lower house of Russia’s Parliament. Violence against gay men in Russia is on the rise, much of it committed by Russia’s growing neo-Nazi community. It has become common sport among Russia’s thug crowd to use social media to lure young gay men into traps, where they are beaten and humiliated, their ordeal recorded and posted on the internet. The assailants make no attempt to conceal their identity because Russian police and lawmakers willingly look the other way. Dmitrey Kiselev, one of the most watched political pundits on one of Russia’s state run television channels, said that Russia’s laws do not go far enough. In front of an approving audience, he skated up to the edge of inciting further violence against Russia’s gay population and said that no gay man should ever be allowed to donate blood or sperm and that their organs should be buried or burned following their deaths. Russia has even begun re-writing its history, erasing the fact that some of its greatest historical and artistic figures were gay. Russia seems to be happily travelling the same road as Uganda, a country that began passing censorship laws and legal barriers that made homosexuals second tier citizens years ago. Now, they’re passing laws that actually make being gay illegal and punishable with jail time. And death. While the Vatican has condemned Uganda’s laws, Uganda’s Catholic diocese enthusiastically supports them, much like Russia’s Orthodox Church applauds the Motherland’s current “anti-gay propaganda” law. History has shown what happens when a state or a government silences a people while persecuting them. Make no mistake, that’s what Russia’s law is all about. It isn’t about banning a Pride Parade, the way many online trolls are convinced. Putin and his cronies have made it illegal to offer counseling to a gay youth struggling with their identity, possibly even considering suicide. If a gay couple, or even heterosexual friends of the same-sex, hold hands in public it could be sen as breaking the law. And consider this, if a lawmaker in Russia were to propose a law tomorrow that prevents gay athletes from playing professional sports, any gay organizations protesting would be in violation of this law. Ask your favorite history teacher one day how that kind of situation usually turns out.
(Warning, the following video clip is graphic in nature but it depicts the decaying situation in Russia, not just for gays but for immigrants as well).
There are signs of larger resistance, in both Russia and the world. Recently, the Belgian government painted the cross walks outside of the Russian embassy with rainbow pride colours and raised gay pride flags at all government and state-run buildings in advance of a visit by Mr. Putin. TV news anchor Anton Krasovsky came out on live Russian television while criticizing the law (and was promptly fired), and perhaps the most visible defiance of the law came just days ago when Russian female track stars Kseniya Rhyzhova and Tatyana Firov shared a kiss on the winners podium at the World Athletics Championship in Moscow. While the pair have claimed there was no political motives behind the move, that particular smooch was caught by thousands of cameras and has made a few viral laps of the planet since. And New Zealand’s openly gay speed skater Blake Skjellerup has already declared that he will wear a gay pride pin whenever competing (or accepting a medal).
This will bear much further watching. Signals about how much Olympic athletes need fear this law change on a daily basis. Russia has said athletes need not fear any repercussion, then they have to obey it and then they’re back to claiming athletes will have immunity. Odds are they’re going to play this game right up until the opening ceremonies. The IOC’s message has been equally murky and last week a spokesman for the American Olympic Committee instructed athletes to follow the law. The truth is, no one knows exactly how much athletes will have to fear until the Games themselves, and what sort of diplomatic gymnastics will be involved if things hit the proverbial fan. But make no mistake, Russia loves this and is proudly wearing this defiance like a badge of honour. And don’t forget, the law has its supporters on this side of the pond as well. American radio juggernaut Rush Limbaugh, always a pillar of tolerance and equality, supports it and when John Baird slammed the law, he got an earful of brimstone from REAL Women, an organization no one had ever heard of before this (and has been forgotten again by most since). And Uganda’s heinous laws were helped along by a number of western evangelicals, namely Scott Lively, who brags that he’s the father of Uganda’s “kill the gays” law and is now facing crimes against humanity charges.
But as for the homophobes and the bigots gleefully rubbing their hands over any chance to give voice to their venom, you should keep this in mind, when it comes to this issue, you’re choosing to be on the same page as Russia’s neo-nazis. Maybe it’s time to start thinking about the ideological company you keep.
- Russia ‘gives anti-gay law assurance’ (bbc.co.uk)
- George Takei: ‘Move the 2014 Winter Olympics out of Russia’ (tv.msnbc.com)
- Reporter kicked off state-funded Russian TV station for gay rights speech (metro.co.uk)
- Will Olympics in Russia be a second ‘Nazi Games’? (timesofisrael.com)