Imagine yourself in this scenario: You are with your friends are at a restaurant, there is a gay couple at the door and the hostess refuses them entry. You ask the waiter why they were turned away and he replies that gay people are not allowed to eat at the restaurant. What would you do? I, personally, would leave that restaurant. Never go back and tell my friends to do the same. It would be no question. Now, this sounds obvious and ridiculous, but isn’t it exactly what we are doing with the Olympics?
For those of you who don’t know, this year’s Olympics are being held in Sochi, Russia, where it is currently illegal to distribute propaganda of sexual relations that are not heteronormative. Basically, this means that it is illegal to suggest that any relationships that are not heterosexual are okay. This means that gay rights activists have been arrested and this has encouraged a lot of hate-crimes against the LGBTQ+ community and individuals all across Russia. For example, there are literally Russian gangs, such as “Parents of Russia”, who hunt gays for sport. There is case after case of gay people being injured, threatened, or harassed and no one is doing anything about it because it is illegal to advocate on behalf of LGBTQ+ rights. The International Olympic Committee has promised that athletes and visitors will not be targeted by Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law, but I think we’re just going to have to wait and see how this plays out.
This is a very controversial issue but I think that it is so incredibly important that something is done. I have seen videos of gay people being beaten and heard news stories of horrendous things happening to the LGBTQ+ community in Russia. This law was intended to protect children (as the Russian laws equate homosexuality with pedophilia), but is harming LGBTQ+ youth by cutting them off from any support. This is a huge issue and it needs to be dealt with in a big way. So, here comes my suggestion. Don’t watch the Olympics. Boycott it, don’t take part in any celebration of these games, and send the message that what is going on is not okay. I think that the games should not even be taking place in Russia. They should have been moved somewhere safer to send the message that we don’t support what Russia is doing to its citizens. But, since that didn’t happen, I think that a message needs to be sent to the Russian government that we do not and will not stand by as they discriminate against people. By watching the Olympics, the message some are sending is that sports are more important that the safety of our fellow human beings who are being persecuted.
Unfortunately, this is not a new situation for the Olympic games. In 1936, the games were held in Berlin, Germany and I’m sure that many are aware that Hitler was in power by that time. There was a proposed boycott because the Western world was aware of the problems that were going on, but it was rejected. I’m in no way suggesting that if people boycotted the 1936 games the Holocaust would not have happened, but there was an opportunity for international resistance and disapproval that could have put some pressure on the Nazi regime. The other controversy with the 1936 Olympics was the racism that Hitler portrayed. Jesse Owens, an African-American track and field Olympian, won four gold medals, but Hitler refused to shake the hands of medallist, leading several to believe Owens’ race was the reasoning. This sort of action would not be tolerated today, but isn’t it just the same thing that we are putting up with in Sochi, just instead of racism, it’s homophobia?
Here’s what we need to do, as a community of people who believe that everyone should have equal rights and freedoms. First of all, we need to not watch the Olympics, or buy any of those cute mittens, or anything that supports the games. Second of all, we need to start conversations about why we are boycotting the Olympics. Third, we need to put pressure on large corporations not to support the Olympics to send the message that they are not okay with this either. Coke and McDonald’s have both commented that they do not support the law, but they want to support the games. AT&T came out with a blog post stating, “Russia’s law is harmful to LGBT individuals and families and it’s harmful to a diverse society”. They are not a sponsor of the games, but they have sponsored the United States Olympic Committee. They are urging Olympic advertisers to act and I am urging you to act as well. Let’s start putting people ahead of sports traditions and you can start by not watching the Olympics with me.
As stated in the Olympic Charter, “The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.”