From calls for boycotts to the dumping of vodka in the streets, there is no shortage of reactions to Russia's anti-gay legislation. In this sense, President Vladimir Putin has likely succeeded in accomplishing what he wanted: temporarily diverting attention away from other failed policies and the pervasive corruption present within his government. But boycotts and vodka wasting (somewhere an alcoholic is crying) are not the answers to what is in fact a very real problem with deep roots and consequences impacting far more than two weeks of games in February.
It is foolish to expect that athletes who have dedicated their entire lives to participating in the Olympic Games would willingly relinquish the possibility of achieving a dream in order to take a stand against the ruling of some bigoted, self-interested politico. In fact, it would be tragic if they did. Why should a person who has already sacrificed so much, physically, emotionally, financially, spiritually, and socially, also have to sacrifice his or her dream simply for the sake of righting a bigot's wrong? In the spirit of the Old Testament's "eye for an eye" credo, it should be the bigot made to feel pain, not those upon whom he is imposing his distorted dogma.
However, as someone who does not subscribe to the philosophy of conjuring equivalent pain for gain, I am reasonably sure that there is a more effective way to respond. (Not to get too philosophical here, but really, the end result of suffering plus suffering is only more suffering.) Ultimately, dictators and democratic politicians alike will make choices that best support the perpetuation of their of power. Power is given, not taken.
There's an old adage that bears repeating: Stick to what you know. I know sports. I'm in the business of watching sports, discussing sports, and loving sports. The modern Olympic Games are among the largest sporting events in the world, and they are big business. What I know is that in the business of sports, the fans matter. These fans, like the constituents of a nation, maintain the existence of any given professional, for-profit league within any given sport. The business of sports is fun, because the fans and the players are (generally) having fun. The fun is evident in the event itself, which includes fan participation, from raucous crowds singing at English Premier League matches to people painted yellow and green, standing half-naked in the cold air while wearing nothing but foam cheese hats in the dead of winter in Green Bay, Wis.
Among sports fans there is a tradition of camaraderie, outspokenness, and displaying love and support for a team in the most brazenly flamboyant ways. The epitome of this is the superfan. Everybody knows one.
A solution for Sochi lies in the superfan. My suggestion to you, dear readers, is to become loud, outrageous superfans of equality. In doing so, you'll abet the participating Olympic athletes in feeling more charged, empowered, loved, and supported. Additionally, because Sochi is a world stage (a huge opportunity for the fame seekers out there), you'll have the chance to show an audience of over 200 million people the importance of tolerance, healing, and accepting every human on this Earth as your equal brother or sister, because really, that is the direction in which global thinking is headed.
The racist-bigot ethos is so 20th century. Pretty passé. Those still wallowing in that decrepit mindset are being left behind in the digital dust to rot in an analog junkyard, mostly because there is no place left for them to hide. Traditionally, the bigoted minority has been able to retreat into its fetid shell anytime it needed to take shelter from the growing wrath of public awareness. It's not easy to gather a million people into an angry mob via telegraph or a letter sent by post (older folks tell me that people used to send letters with the frequency of emails, and as I am no longer capable of exhibiting any physical dexterity in my writing hand, I remain amazed by this fact).
Thanks to the reign of the Internet's royal baby, social media, it's easy to solicit reaction to a shameful stance and spread it like wildfire. Just ask Anthony Weiner, or anyone who has ever uploaded his own wiener into the digital vortex.
So what, you ask? So what if we all paint muddy rainbows on our faces and wear tiaras, make signs and chant, yell and dance? A few generations back they did that while tripping on bell-bottom hems and too much acid, and what good did it accomplish? Actually, quite a lot, but that's the subject of another discussion. Dancing and chanting alone is not what makes the difference; getting more and more dancers to join the party and refuse to stop flailing their limbs is what effects change.
What will ultimately be exposed is that the bigoted minority is simply that: a minority. An overwhelming, outrageous expression of support for tolerance will prevail. It will always prevail. The human condition predicts it. From the moment we are born, we constantly seek one thing: to be loved and accepted. The minority that insists on denying love and acceptance to some group they have illogically deemed "flawed" for arbitrary reasons such as sexual orientation ultimately just highlight the "flaws" within themselves: hatred, fear, and ignorance.
In his New York Times op-ed, actor Harvey Fierstein reminded readers that in 1936, the world attended the Olympics in Germany while Hitler's Nazi campaign against the Jews was already underway. There was no boycotting, no mass display of protest, no colorful face painting or ironic poster waving. Shortly thereafter, 11 million human beings were slaughtered. This is not an attempt to compare or equate Vladimir Putin's homophobic policy with one of the worst mass genocides in recorded history but a way to highlight the fact that silence in the face of injustice never results in a positive outcome. The world has an opportunity to diminish injustice at Sochi, with more tools at its collective social disposal than ever.
Running away from hate by relocating the games to a city governed by more tolerant minds does little to address the systemic issue of intolerance. Standing strong, en masse, in front of hate itself has generally proven to be a far more effective position to assume, though not one without risk. There will be consequences either way.
Yes, appropriate caution should be exercised in the face of a legitimate threat. The Russian Interior Ministry has confirmed that their anti-gay laws will be enforced during the Olympics. As the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has yet to sufficiently clarify how exactly it plans to deal with such a hateful threat, this remains a volatile issue. There is always the possibility that Russia might recant, but the precedent has been set. Regardless, in the spirit of the Olympic Games, which, for all intents and purposes, is supposed to be a fun and unified event, it only seems appropriate to approach this issue in a way that yields positive results without resorting to darkness.
So, if only for two weeks in February 2014, become a superfan, whether you're gay, straight, in between, or something else entirely, and whether you're watching from a dorm room, on an iPhone, or in the city of Sochi itself. Support the athletes, regardless of whom they sleep with, what nation they hail from, or what god they worship. For the sake of equality, civility, and in the name of tolerance, be seen and be heard. Every person reading these words has benefitted from someone else's raised voice in the past. Pay it forward. Wearing a ribbon and silently signing an online petition is not enough. Get rowdy. Make noise. Invite everyone. Start the dance party, and keep people moving. Let the old, outdated bigots call in noise complaints and make threats as they become increasingly uncomfortable. It is only through discomfort that they will grow. Create the tipping point.
This is not a gay issue. It is a humanity issue. A dignity issue. A respect issue. A tolerance issue. A love issue.
As the race-barrier-breaking, record-setting Olympian Jesse Owens said, "Find the good. It's all around you. Find it, showcase it and you'll start believing it."
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