Homophobic Russian Olympics: Boycott or Be Gay & Visible?

New York, N.Y.  The 1936 Summer Olympics held by the Nazis — the Games of the XI Olympiad — were held in Berlin two years before the pogrom Kristallnacht against Jews throughout Nazi Germany.

Hitler saw the Games as an opportunity to promote his government and ideals of racial supremacy and the official Nazi party paper wrote in the strongest terms that Jews and Black people should not be allowed to participate in the Games.

When threatened with a boycott of the Games by other nations, Hitler relented and allowed Blacks and Jews to participate.

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U.S. News & World Report: Don’t Boycott the Sochi Olympics Over Russia Anti-Gay Law.
Photo: U.S. News & World Report.

Seventy-eight years later, another despot named Putin wishes to gay-bash on a global stage.  Queer athletes can compete, but if they kiss they’re toast.  Visitors found guilty of breaking Russia’s staggeringly homophobic laws face fines of up to $3,000, fifteen days of jail time – and deportation.  What was the International Olympic Committee thinking when they chose Russia, I ponder (they say they were lied to – whatever).

Many commentators, such as Pat Garofalo writing for U.S. News & World Report and Frida Ghitis commenting for CNN, have made the point that every gay and lesbian of good conscious should, ACT Up-like, “Fly the Rainbow Flag in Sochi.”  As romantically appealing as that idea sounds, the downside is imprisonment and deportation.

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Protesters call for Russia to repeal its anti-gay laws before the
2014 Winter Olympics on Wednesday in New York. Photo: CNN.

Frida writes for CNN:

The perverse anti-gay legislation is inflaming an atmosphere of persistent intimidation and at times deadly violence against Russian gays and lesbians.  The question now is: What should the rest of the world do?

The world has an opportunity to let Putin — who signed all the laws — and the politicians he dominates know just how repulsive their actions are. There is a chance of helping Russia LGBT activists persuade the government to reverse the most offensive legislation.


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Jesse Owens in the Nazi Olympics. Photo: Wikipedia.

As Pat notes in U.S. News & World Report:

Russia’s sports minister this week confirmed that the virulently anti-gay law his nation passed earlier this year will, in fact, be enforced during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

“An athlete of nontraditional sexual orientation isn’t banned from coming to Sochi,” the minister said.  “But if he goes out into the streets and starts to propagandize, then of course he will be held accountable.”

Feisty Harvey Fierstein has called for a boycott.  Pat disagrees, writing in U.S. News & World Report:

Color me skeptical that a boycott would do any good.  What, exactly, did the dueling Cold War boycotts of the 1980 and 1984 Olympics, skipped by the U.S. and U.S.S.R., respectively, achieve?  Would skipping the 1936 Olympics, rather than having Jesse Owens run circles around the Germans in Berlin, have done anything to harm the Nazi regime?

But the Nazis were not arresting and imprisoning Blacks outside the stadium.  Pat goes on to wax poetical on the African-American John Carlos who raised a black-gloved first on the medal stand at the 1968 Olympics became one of the people responsible for perhaps the most iconic sports protest of all time.  John is against Olympic boycotts: “If you stay home, your message stays home with you.”

I agree with Pat that the entity in the best position to pressure Russia is, unfortunately, the International Olympic Committee.  So far, the Committee, feigning naiveté, has proven more than useless.

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John Carlos
in the Los Angeles Olympics.

Frida writes inspiringly for CNN:

Let’s turn the Winter Games into the gayest games in history.  Let the Russian police, if they want, arrest every athlete, every coach from Europe, North American, Australia and other forward-looking countries — that includes you, Uruguay, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa.

The teams should march during the opening ceremonies brandishing rainbow flags, holding hands, proclaiming that every one of them supports equal rights for gay and lesbians — in Russia and everywhere else.

Make it an “I am Spartacus” moment for the world.  Let Putin arrest them all.

If everyone was gay, I would go.  But I don’t want to be the only one arrested.  LBJ federalized national guards in the South to attempt to protect Rev. King’s demonstrators during the Civil Rights era from dogs and bombs.  But Barack Obama would be able to do little for me if I kissed my partner in the Moscow Airport and was arrested on the spot.

As amazing as recent Supreme Court decisions and Papal pronouncements have been, we cannot lose sight that homosexuality as a human right does not exist in much of the world controlled by Orthodoxy or Islam.

As an American allowed by my government to marry the man of my dreams, why should we be intimidated?  Yet, Putin’s puppets claims if I touch my man on Russian soil, I will get locked up.  I won’t go until I am guaranteed protection.

Democratic U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon plans to introduce a resolution calling on the IOC “both to oppose the law itself and to receive a guarantee that athletes and spectators will not be discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity at the Sochi Winter Olympic.”  That’s a start.

I grew up hearing of the urban myth that the King of Denmark was ordered by the Nazis to pin a yellow star on every Danish Jew.  He pinned one on himself, I understood, and every Dane followed.

I call for every Olympic team, every Olympic visitor to wear the Rainbow Flag in a global display of solidarity.  I call on the Olympic sponsors — NBC, Visa, Coca-Cola, Panasonic, Procter & Gamble – to advertise, globally,  ‘We Are All Gay.’  The Russians can’t lock up everyone.  In union there is strength.

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About Jim Luce: Thought Leaders & Global Citizens

View all posts by Jim Luce: Thought Leaders & Global Citizens
Jim Luce: Thought Leaders & Global Citizens
Jim Luce (www.lucefoundation.org) writes and speaks on Thought Leaders and Global Citizens. Bringing 26 years management experience within both investment banking and the non-profit sector, Jim has worked for Daiwa Bank, Merrill Lynch, a spin-off of Lazard Freres, and two not-for profit organizations and a foundation he founded. As Founder & CEO of Orphans International Worldwide (www.oiww.org), he is working with a strong network of committed professionals to build interfaith, interracial, Internet-connected orphanages in Haiti and Indonesia, and creating a new, family-care model for orphans in Sri Lanka and Tanzania.

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