On August 7 social media icon George Takei, he of Star Trek fame, plans to make an appearance on “The Last Word” with Lawrence O’Donnell. The below image has begun circulating in anticipation citing an blog post Takei wrote calling for the International Olympic Committee to move the Winter Olympics out of Russia. On my personal page I too shared the viral image quoting the piece and it sparked a friendly debate between a high school graduate of mine. He made a comment that caught my attention and sparked the discussion:
‘I wasn’t aware that he was Russian. Americans have no business in Russian policies.
The Olympics is a world event. The only say we have is whether or not we participate.’
As misguided as I felt his comments were, and I would go on to point that out, it made a good point that I feel Americans and citizens across the globe set to participate in the Winter Olympics are not realizing. Russia is of our concern. Their policies are of our concern. This specifically should be of great concern to America.
First let’s lay down some history. In Russia a law was recently passed that is as straightforward as it is scary. The gist of what the law means is that You’re not allowed to engage in any propaganda for the LGBT community. Can’t talk to children about gay issues. Can’t hold gay events, can’t defend gay rights, can’t attempt to equate homosexuals to heterosexuals. Can’t, quite simply, be gay. The law applies to Russians. It applies to foreigners. It applies to everyone. Normally the reaction you would expect from the world would be one of denouncing the law followed by inaction on the part of the UN and leading nations. However this case is of particular importance because the law will apply to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Basically, if you’re gay or talk about being gay or say that being gay is anything but disgusting and immoral, you could be arrested and prosecuted.
Now initially Russia wasn’t backing down. The law started gaining international attention when the country’s sports minister Vitaly Mutko said that they would be enforcing the law even against the Winter Olympic athletes. After some persistent questions arose Mutko tried to clarify that the law wasn’t designed to punish anyone for being gay or lesbian rather it would only punish people for propaganda. The muddying of the water comes with the ambiguous definition of the term ‘propaganda.’ Facing some intense pressure in a very public way the Russian government then announced that they would be backing off the laws when the Olympics roll in.
“The Olympics is a major international event. Our task is to be as politically correct and tolerant as we can be. That’s why we made the decision not to raise this issue during the Games,” – said Igor Ananskikh, the head of the Russian Duma Committee on physical training, sports and youth.
Okay so no problem right? Russia is backing off the issue. Equal Rights groups, and George Takei, can all take their seats and the Olympics can go ahead as planned without a hitch. Wrongo. Russia has basically said they’re going to hold off on destroying the civil rights of gays for a few weeks just long enough until the world stops watching. That’s shameful. Consider the parallels to the 1935 Summer Olympics in Berlin. Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party did not want blacks or Jews participating and only relented their insistence as such when international pressure grew. So the Olympics went on. But the international press at the time was laudatory of the Nazis and their ‘hospitality.’ A headline from the New York Times, August 16, 1936 read: “Visitors to Olympics Carrying Away Highly Favorable Impression of Reich; GERMANY REALIZED HOPES IN OLYMPICS Propaganda Aimed at Creating Pleasing Impression of Reich Successful. CITIZENS AIDED WILLINGLY Courtesy and Hospitality Met Visitors — Cleanliness of Berlin Keen Memory.”
The world can ill afford to sit back and allow Russia’s government to ban homosexuality. International pressure is needed to get them to reconsider their stance. It doesn’t matter if you, I or George Takei is Russian or not. When Russia carries out their laws and policies, especially pertaining to the Olympics, they will be directly affecting American and other international representatives. When you’re staging a world event that millions of people will be watching and hundreds participating in everyone deserves to be treated fairly and equally. Both athletes and fans. The solution isn’t as simple as telling the gay participants and spectators to lie about their sexuality for a few weeks. How would you feel if other people thought something you did, something that came as naturally to you as taking a breath and that didn’t hurt another soul, was a criminal act? It’s not like it’s a conscious choice to be gay. You can’t turn it on and off. To ask others to suppress who they are diminishes the quality and purity of an event like the Olympics.
And if you think being gay is a choice, I have a YouTube video for you to see. It’s a guy asking people if being gay is a choice. People say yes. He then asks these same people when they “chose” to be straight.
Stephen Fry, who Gawker describes as a living legend (rightfully so in my opinion), penned a moving letter to the IOC warning them of repeating the mistakes of the past. He goes on in stunning detail the comparisons between what Russia is doing now led by Vladimir Putin, and what Adolf Hitler did in 1936.
“The Olympic movement at that time paid precisely no attention to this evil and proceeded with the notorious Berlin Olympiad, which provided a stage for a gleeful Führer and only increased his status at home and abroad. It gave him confidence. All historians are agreed on that. What he did with that confidence we all know.
Putin is eerily repeating this insane crime, only this time against LGBT Russians. Beatings, murders and humiliations are ignored by the police. Any defence or sane discussion of homosexuality is against the law.”
As citizens of the same earth we all share a common obligation. Though we may come from different areas and different walks of life we owe it to each other to afford the same rights to our gay brothers and sisters. We will never be an ‘advanced’ people if we don’t start acting as such. The idea that we’re still caring what two consensual adults do in their bedroom in the year 2013 is absolutely disgusting. As a species we should be ashamed of ourselves. To stand idly by while innocent gay athletes and spectators are arrested, fined and deported for simply showing their love through public displays of affection or even just displaying signs demonstrating support is an atrocity.
‘Nations are not judged merely on their might, but also by how they treat their most vulnerable. Russia’s cynical and deplorable actions against the LGBT community have given license to hate groups within its borders to act with violence and impunity against a group, based solely on whom they were born to love. It now seeks to spread that hate abroad through its tainted Olympics. If Russia hopes to stand with the International Community, it must accept and adopt international principles of equality and non-discrimination.’ – George Takei
Please. Do your part by not just signing and sharing this petition but by pushing on your leaders whoever they are to stand up for good kind people, regardless of their sexual orientation race or religion.