There is a feverish debate raging over the 2014 Winter Olympic games, scheduled to start early next year in Russia. There are a variety of reasons for this (including Putin’s recent decision to allow Edward Snowden to leave the Moscow airport), but the main argument is over Russia’s recent draconian laws against gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgendered and other queer people. The debate is almost entirely on the left, since the right in this country has a position similar to the Russian leader’s.
There are intelligent arguments to be made on both sides of the question as to whether or not to boycott. On the one hand, why should our money (for broadcast rights, tourism, etc.) support a regime that denies its people basic human rights? Why should LGBT athletes risk jail for the chance to get a medal?
On the other hand, there are those, such as our President, who think the best way to protest Russia’s laws is for LGBT athletes and their allies to compete in the games and proudly win, as Jesse Owens did in 1936.
I like a protest with symbolism, the possibility that an image will ripple through the public’s consciousness. Jesse Owens, African American, winning a gold medal in Hitler’s Aryan Germany was a powerful event. For better or worse, LGBT people are not as visually distinctive from straight people. Any photo op that would be useful would require the winners to identify themselves, either by speaking or wearing something that shows who they are.
And the law in Russia considers that to be a crime. Apparently, so does the Olympic Committee.
In other words, the IOC is no better than Vladmir Putin in the way it values and protects LGBT people.
Now, I’m not that much of a sports fan. I watch very little of the Olympics, and never with the sound on, because I find the talking heads to be maddening. If you enjoy it, I’m happy for you. When I’m with friends who want to watch, I pull out my knitting, because that’s the sociable thing to do. I can boycott this Olympics with no problem whatsoever, just as I can boycott Russian vodka, and borscht, if it comes to that.
I wasn’t around in 1936, but I remember 1968. I remember how two men electrified a nation — a world — with a simple gesture of solidarity. It’s an image that even now, 45 years later, gives me goosebumps.
LGBT people deserve the opportunity to make a similar statement to Putin, to the world. If the Olympic Committee won’t allow it, perhaps the Olympics Committee deserves a boycott.
Martha Thomases, Media Goddess, swears she wasn’t drinking Russian vodka when she found this, and, in fact, finds it a reasonable substitute.