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The Blindness of Privilege in a Time of Oppression

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Lesbian ski jumper, Daniela Iraschko-Stolz of Austria, has been downplaying the severity of anti-gay measures in Russia.

She claims oppression of gay people is blown out of proportion. How does she know this? "I had a very good welcome like every other athlete. There were absolutely no problems."

She told the media she doesn't want to talk about it; she wants to focus on her ski jumping, which previously wasn't an event for women. She sued organizers of 2010 games to be allowed to compete, she has a lot invested in wanting to jump, and that appears to mean she dismisses anti-gay measures in Russia because she had "absolutely no problems."

No one suggested gay athletes would be harmed by the laws -- on the contrary, the Russian government would make sure privileged athletes are protected from anti-gay vigilantes. Given that Iraschko-Stolz is unwilling to challenge those laws -- medals are more important to her -- it is unlikely she will be bothered in any way.

While Iraschko-Stolz is talking about how fine things are for her, gay people were arrested for showing the rainbow flag. Associated Press noted "Russian police on Friday arrested several gay rights advocates protesting in St. Petersburg and Moscow."

She has a ring of steel -- as Putin put it -- to protect her and the other athletes. Gay athletes aren't the ones who have to worry about being kidnapped and tortured by anti-gay gangs, with videos of the crimes put online to share with other bigots.

Iraschko-Stolz speaks from a unique position of privilege, one denied to actual victims -- namely LGBT citizens of Russia.

If she thinks her treatment in the Olympic village is indicative of how LGBT people are treated in Russia, then she should test her claim by leaving the village, going to Moscow without identifying herself as an Olympic athlete and unroll a rainbow flag near the Kremlin. Let's see how quickly she discovers she is talking pure nonsense.

Of course, even then she would get better treatment if she identified herself as an Austrian citizen. The Putin regime doesn't want to create an international incident -- so their actions are mainly directed against Russian citizens. Foreigners who creating problems by using free speech are deported.

Four Dutch citizens were arrested for attending a Human Rights Camp and discussing rights of gay people. They were arrested while making a documentary on human rights in Putin's Russia, were interrogated for hours by police, fined and then interrogated all over again. They were accused of being spies and called anti-gay names. Police ordered them to appear at a particular address the next day, but the Dutch government warned them to leave the country immediately for their own safety.

This lack of perspective is similar to Rachel Maddow whining about gays wanting to marry and how it will harm "gay culture." She said she felt no urgency to marry. But, as I wrote at The Huffington Post, "Maddow's wealth and position insulates her from many of the worst injustices of marriage inequality."

A lot of the problems created by the second-class status of gays can be mitigated if you are wealthy enough. Maddow is, and then foolishly acted as if all LGBT people were in her position. Maddow's special financial situation means she can protect herself in ways that other people cannot. She looked at things from a position of privilege and falsely assumed everyone else had the same status.

Iraschko-Stolz is doing precisely the same thing. While "privilege" is often used to describe the position of straight, white men, that is not entirely accurate. Many people -- even lesbian athletes -- can have privileges that others do not, some by circumstance, some as the result of government policy.

Iraschko-Stolz holds her privilege as the result of Russian governmental policy. Russian authorities know mistreating her, or allowing others to do so, would attract a great deal of unfavorable attention. They will ignore her unless she does something obvious -- which she won't. She wants her time in the sun and doesn't appear particularly concerned about what happens to Russian LGBT people.

She is safe because of her position, and because she is sufficiently apathetic as to not even want to talk about it. "I don't want to talk too much about it," she told Reuters. She gushed: "Living in the Olympic village is much better than I'd ever imagined. At the moment I'm living like a fairy tale because as a child I always wanted to take part in the Olympics Games."

Not all LGBT Russians have the privilege of "living like a fairy tale." Certainly not those left bloodied and bruised by vigilante gangs, nor the many arrested merely for unfurling the rainbow flag, nor even the gay club in Moscow repeatedly attacked by gangs, but refused police protection. Daniela is a privileged princess living a "fairy tale" life in a corrupt system with privileges denied to others.

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