Okay readers, I'm doing something on this blog that I very rarely do. I'm going political. If you cannot handle that or do not support the human and civil rights of others, I suggest you turn away now. If an athletic event means more to you than the rights of your fellow men and women, then you probably do not care to read what I have to say. You have been warned. If you DO care about the rights of others, please continue reading.
Before I get in too deep, I suppose I should give you a bit of background so you understand where I'm coming from. I am a straight woman who is married, and have been married for eight years. I am also a woman with a rare, hereditary spinal cord disorder. It's not out of the question that at some point in my life I will be (or have already been) discriminated against. I was born and raised in Minnesota where as of August 1st of this year, I am proud to say that marriage equality has been realized. I attended public schools, including Minnesota's Public Arts High School. I studied music at a Minnesota college affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the same denomination that I was raised in. In fact, it was in Minneapolis in 2009, that the ELCA voted as a national assembly to allow for the ordination of Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) clergy. My own mother was a voting delegate, voted in favor of such a measure at that national assembly. So needless to say, I come from a background and tradition that does not discriminate.
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Also, before I go after Russia for its policies, I also need to state that I am well aware of the fact that people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. The United States has/is not always (been) the gold standard for civil rights. We have a long, dark history of limiting the rights of people within our nation's borders. As a woman, it's been less than one hundred years that I and women before me have had the right to vote nationally. We have a history of slavery, denying the right to vote based on the color of one's skin, forcefully taking land of the original citizens of this continent and forcing them to live on certain bits of land (well until we discovered gold, silver, or uranium on it), interning citizens because of their heritage during both World War I and World War II. It's been less than fifty years that the United Status Supreme Court said that interracial marriage is protected by the Constitution. And slowly but surely, the rights of our LGBT citizens are being realized, in that they can marry the person that they love. The United States is not perfect, but I still believe that little by little we learn from our mistakes, and that someday the words of our Founding Fathers will be realized by all:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. ~ Declaration of Independence (1776)
This winter, the Olympic Games will be held in Sochi, Russia. Under normal situations, it seems only right that the Winter Games would return to Russia. However the lack of rights of some of its citizens possess goes against everything that the Olympic Games should stand for. Currently in Russia, you cannot hold a Gay Pride parade. You cannot distribute information about homosexuality to minors. Now I can understand how some will view such materials as "recruitment" but usually such materials for minors are more in line with who to contact if you're being harrassed for being gay, who to contact if you're comtemplating suicide because you're gay, etc. In my own homestate of Minnesota, the Anoka-Hennepin school district had come under fire for their "neutrality" policy to homosexuality. The school board passed a measure that teachers were not allowed to discuss homosexuality with students, even when initiated by students or students made claims of bullying because of their sexuality. In this environment, in a less than two year period, six students committed suicide for being gay or being perceived as gay. Just this summer, the district settled a lawsuit over this policy. When you're not allowed to discuss the subject, more people get hurt, and often it's teenagers. Puberty and adolesence is hard enough as it is if you're straight, but it's much, much worse if you're gay or questionining your sexuality.
However, it goes beyond "protecting" minors from supposed recruitment. As I mentioned before, you cannot hold a Gay Pride or a gay rights parade in Russia. In fact, a Russian law that was recently passed, bans such parades is for 100 years. On top of that, you cannot speak publically on gay rights or even display or wear a rainbow flag. Imagine in this country if the First Amendment was limited to only those people we liked. I'm the first to admit, I cannot stand hate groups. I have to remind myself that they don't like what I have to say on issues such as these. If I have the right to say what I want in a forum such as this, I cannot limit their rights either, as distasteful as I find them to be. You also are not allowed to equate homosexual marraige to heterosexual marriage. If you do any of these things, you can face fines upwards of $31,000. When Russian president Vladimir Putin signed this into law, he had only recently announced his own divorce on television. So much for family values and the sanctity of marriage.
With the Olympics heading to Russia, it seems homosexual athletes and fans could also be at risk for arrest and deportation. It is now against the law to hold hands, kiss your partner, etc. in public. How convenient would it be for the Russian "sex police" to case the Olympic Village looking for athletes from other countries violating their anti-gay laws, especially in events where Russia pretty must win gold. Will American and Canadian male figure skaters be targets to watch for displays of affection in order to "guarantee" a Russian gold medal? At the 2010 Games in Vancouver, American Evan Lysacek won the gold in men's figure skating over Russian Evgeni Plushenko. While Lysacek is straight, imagine if he was out like fellow American, Johnny Weir in Russia. Even in macho sports like ice hockey, straight male athletes will hug each other after a goal. Will that be used by Russia to deport the likes of Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos because they celebrated on the ice during a game? Will hugs and swats on the butt be viewed by the conservatives of Russia as promoting sexuality to minors, as the games will be televised across Russia? Personally, I hope if the United States and Canada do participate in the Sochi Games, that the hockey teams (both men's and women's) push the boudaries of "acceptable behavior" on the ice. The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) and the United States State Department has been involved in conversations with the Russian government to make sure its athletes will be safe during the games. At best, the USOC is "cautiously optimistic" that their athletes will be safe. As a small display of rebellion, a speed skater from New Zealand, has promised to wear a rainbow pin during the games.
Should these players fear deportation from the Olympics for celebrating a goal?
But this gets to my point. I actually would like to see the United States, Canada and the European hockey powerhouses say 'no' to the 2014 games. The United States boycotted the Moscow Summer Olympic Games in 1980, over the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. In those days, it was a definite game of Cold War politics. Now if a boycott were to happen, it would be for the rights of the Russian citizens. If you can take away the rights of a small group of citizens, it becomes easier and easier to take away the rights of more people. Russia's track record for civil rights is actually worse than ours. Let Russia have easy gold medals. If major countries boycott, they'll simply have asterisks after their gold medals. A country should be judged by the rights of minorities. When the rights of the few are trampled on, it lessens the rights of the many.
If the individual nations choose not to boycott, at the very least, it would be nice if the individual teams for what is essentially the premier team sport of the Games say no. That premier event would be men's hockey. This is where the National Hockey League and the National Hockey League Players' Association could (and should) step in and choose to step out. While no player has come out yet and said "I am gay" we would be foolish to sit back and believe there are no gay players in professional hockey. Jason Collins of the National Basketball Association proved the point that just because you're a professional male athlete you're automatically heterosexual. It's only a matter of time that more male athletes will feel comfortable enough to come out. The NHL sponsors their own "Hockey Is for Everyone" program. I can only hope they mean that hockey is for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation. Eventually, the NHL and NHLPA will have to address their own Jason Collins situation. By saying 'no' to Sochi, the league and the players' association would say to their players, all we care about is whether or not you can play hockey, not what a player does behind their own closed door. However, since the Sochi games were a sticking point in the most recent (and annoying) Collective Bargaining Agreement, I don't see the NHL or NHLPA stepping up to the plate either.
In response to Russia's laws, other European countries are taunting their fellow European neighbor. I have found these pictures thanks to George Takei's Facebook page. Some of you know Takei as the Star Trek character of Lt. Hikaru Sulu. Others know him as an advocate for Japanese-Americans like himself that were interned during World War II. However, most of us know him as a gay rights activist. He uses humor and pop culture to make his point, often quite effectively. The first picture comes from Amsterdam:
I'm not normally a fan of the Dutch, especially their Olympic swim team. However in this case, I love the Dutch. The second comes from those crazy Swedes. Not only is the picture taken in front of the Russian Embassy in Stockholm, it kind of channels one of my favorite all-time Beatles Albums:
I am a realist, and know that it is highly unlikely that any country will boycott the games over Russia's anti-gay policies. There are too many dollars at stake for major corporations that sponsor the games and teams. Plus, there's too much machismo and competition involved to say nothing of the poltical tension it would certainly create. You add those things with the chance to take on Mother Russia, there's no chance that anyone will boycott. And that is the sad, pathetic truth of the matter. Money, politics and sports will trump the rights of the few that most of us will never meet.