THE BLOG

Anti-Gay Laws Are Symbols of Russian Decline

08/07/2013 07:05 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016
  • Brian Stone LGBT advocate, U.S. Navy Veteran and Dearborn, Mich. resident
VASILY MAXIMOV/AFP/Getty Images

In 2010 my old ship, USS Blue Ridge, pulled into the East Russian port of Vladivostok. Considering that our ship was built during the Vietnam War, I expected to be outdone. I expected to see mighty Russian warships, but instead I witnessed a small flotilla of rusting metal hulks, hardly seaworthy, with equipment that looked like it hadn't been touched since 1980. It was as clear then as it is now: Russia is on a long decline.

The Soviet Union and all dreams of Russian empire have long faded. The hopes and dreams of the Russian people are utterly defunct, and the leading cause of death in Russia is reportedly drinking too much alcohol.

If we look at the Russian crisis of anti-gay laws, the rise of anti-gay fascist groups and the killing of political opponents, it becomes very clear that Russia is on the verge of collapse. Putin is also trying to revive Cold War tensions with the Snowden affair and is bullying LGBT citizens as if this had any chance of resuscitating the flaccid Russian economy. These are the symptoms of Russia's sickly infant, her dying democracy.

Despite the dismal state of Russia, we still hear cries from athletes, even gay athletes like Johnny Weir, pleading with us to allow them to go to the Olympics and act like nothing is happening. Nowadays, apologists like Frank Bruni don't even try to claim that the Olympics promote human rights, instead inventing imaginary situations where American athletes display rainbow flags in Sochi (and don't get arrested). It raises the question of what exactly the Beijing Olympics did for China's human rights: squat.

The situation reminds me of a poem written by Martin Niemöller, a Lutheran pastor, about the Nazi regime and how people looked the other way when it didn't affect them:

First they came for the communists,

and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.

Then they came for the socialists,

and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,

and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for me,

and there was no one left to speak for me.

We have a moral obligation to speak up against Russia's anti-gay laws. Anti-gay laws are the canary in the coal mine for a nation ready to collapse. Just as Hitler began searching for scapegoats for the state of Germany in the 1930s, Putin is now blaming gays for Russian decline. It's a political move intended to gain trust while taking control over a weak nation. If we don't boycott the Olympics, we're going to be watching NBC's beautiful landscapes of the Russian countryside while gays and lesbians are beaten to death in the dark streets of St. Petersburg and Moscow.

Are we going to allow a repeat of 1936, when the Nazi regime used the Berlin Summer Olympics as a propaganda front? No. We must mobilize, and we need to be clear that corporate sponsors will be penalized.

Real leaders on LGBT issues like George Takei, President Barack Obama and Olympic gold medalist Matthew Mitcham are already speaking out. We need to tell the world that any products advertised during the Olympic games in Sochi are going to be boycotted indefinitely. Corporations have no right to our business, nor to our family and friend's business, if they are going to try to sell products during a Russian propaganda festival.

Russia and the Russians have made their choice, and they've chosen a homophobic dictatorship. It's past time we stopped rewarding them for it.