Two masters of the art come face to face and have a battle of wits, brawn, and skill to win their meet and emerge victorious. While that could be a description of an instance at the Olympic Games, it is really an observation of the game of chicken being played out now between Russia and the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Who will blink first and cave to the other's will?
On one side you have the Russians, with team leader Putin. Their goal is clear: They want it all. They want to oppress LGBT people into nonexistence and have the rest of the world complacently back off as they do so. On the other side you have the IOC, who seem to recognize the need to protect and honor human rights, or at the very least understand that trying to adhere to Russian oppression of their population of outspoken athletes would be dangerous. Celebrities from Stephen Fry to Harvey Fierstein, Madonna to Lady Gaga -- all with visibility but no power -- have decried Putin and described his actions as reminiscent of an early Hitler before the world knew that it had the opportunity to stop him and didn't.
Then there are those who do have power. President Obama stated on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno that he has "no patience" for Russia's anti-gay laws. Olympic officials C. K. Wu and Richard Carrion have declared being "cross" and having "ire" toward Russia, respectively. Both condemn discrimination on the part of host cities and vow to make sure that it ceases -- sometime in the future.
Despite pressure from the IOC, Russia's Interior Ministry has promised to enforce the law during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. The minister claims that people who "do not commit such acts [to promote homosexuality to minors], do not conduct any kind of provocation and take part in the Olympics peacefully" are not at risk for arrest. The minister did not address the fact that the law allows the police to arrest tourists and foreign nationals whom they suspect of "promoting" homosexuality and detaining them for up to 14 days.
When asked about the Interior Ministry's stance this past week, different anonymous IOC spokespeople seemed to retreat. Rather than find the best solution, they looked to find one that could be rationalized within the Olympic Charter. References were made to Rule 50, which states that the venues of the Olympic Games are not places for proactive political or religious demonstrations. There were implications that pro-gay dress and some affection in protected Olympic areas "might" not be at risk for arrest, but to do so in Sochi itself would be.
Did you see that? The IOC just blinked. Game over. Win for the Russian regime.
As a gay dad, I want to deal with issues that affect my sons' world, and this one does so in a huge way. There are parents just like me in Russia, who are having to flee their country to survive. If I did not speak up, I would be heinously remiss. Here is my open letter to the IOC.
Dear International Olympic Committee,
First, I want to say that I appreciate the difficulty of your position. Pulling off an event the magnitude of the Olympics is nothing short of a miracle. For it to start, continue, and end, even in a suboptimal way, is in itself an "Olympic" feat. There are more logistics, finances, and organization required than most of us can imagine, and we, the fans, are the beneficiaries of your hard work.
That said, we need to talk about one core fact. You and I are both parents. I am the fortunate father of 11- and 10-year-old sons. You are a parent to thousands and thousands of aspiring champions. I give my sons guidance, nurturance, love, and principles and strive to help them grow up to be the best that they can be. You do the same for the enormous population in your charge.
My sons are starting at a new school in the fall. I'm a bit nervous. They will be encountering new people, strangers. These people may not welcome who they are. They may bully them when they find out the kind of family they come from. I have decisions to make in terms of protecting my children and preparing them as to appropriate ways to react.
Your children will be starting at a new venue in February. You have more information on your situation than I do on mine. You already know that any of your children who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or pro-LGBT are at risk. (That is a very, very, very big number of human beings.) A big, bad Russian bully has made it clear that he has it out for them. The question is: What are you going to do about it?As I see it, there are three basic parenting principles in play here:
As a dad, I love my sons more than life itself. I will go to any lengths to protect them, make them proud of who they are, and encourage them to live up to the principles that will give them the highest possible sense of honor. I am a mere mortal. You are named for the gods and should have infinitely more moral fortitude than I have. Start behaving like it.
- Don't run away from your problems: Running away never solves the issue; if anything, it gives fuel to the thing wishing to do you harm. Bullies must be confronted, and wrongs must be made right. Just because you find a loophole to exploit does not mean you should. If you think there are Olympic principles worth caring about, fight for them. Otherwise, they are not worth the Hallmark cards or pop music CDs you market to publicize them.
- Be fair: If you are tempted to ask LGBT athletes, fans, and staff to hide who they are and conceal their romantic and sexual identities, then do so for everyone. Heterosexual wedding bands and engagement rings must also be hidden from view at all times. Heterosexual hand holding, kissing, and affection must be also categorized as "propaganda" and a "political statement" violating Rule 50. Any establishment in which budding heterosexual activity is encouraged must be forbidden. It is going to be a cold Saturday night in Sochi that week.
- Above all, keep your children safe: Losing patience? Feeling cross, with pangs of ire? None of those emotions cuts it when you are a parent and your children are threatened. You do not negotiate with the bully, especially when he keeps jerking you around. You do not have wiggle room when it comes to those in your care, those who have entrusted their lives to your protection and your sphere of guidance. You have a duty. You have a responsibility. You have a calling. You are a global parent on whom millions rely. Right now, you are a negligent parent, derelict in your duties. If there were a Child Protective Services agency big enough in this universe, I would call them on you. Unfortunately, there is not.
In short, quit acting like the irresponsible victim. And move the damned games. Now.
One gay dad (on behalf of all the other parents who care about the children of the world)