Every two years the United Nations adopts an Olympic Truce. The aim is to use the Olympics to build "a peaceful and better world through sport." It's little more than a symbolic gesture with no real teeth. But rather than being a symbol of peace, the latest truce -- tailor-made for the Russians -- will be a symbol of the second-class citizenship of LGBT people.
According to The New York Times, an early draft of the truce offered a promise of inclusion for "people of different age, sex, physical capacity, religion, race and social status." When Russia was asked by several countries to include sexual orientation, they balked. The entire clause was then replaced by a generic promise to "promote social inclusion without discrimination of any kind."
Over the weekend some celebrated this change as a step forward, as though removing everyone so as not to support anyone in particular was a step forward. Sadly, it's two steps back. The big winners here are anti-gay forces aiming to make LGBT people invisible. They managed not just to sweep our issues under the carpet but to toss away issues of race, gender and religion as well, all while claiming to be against discrimination. This has Vladimir Putin's fingerprints all over it.
It's far better to be excluded than to be made invisible. It's important to show that nations like Russia have no problem offering supportive statements for women and racial minorities but will blow the whole thing up over the gays. That's the statement that the Olympic Truce should send, because that's reality. But instead, by allowing Russia to replace the specific language with a broad, general statement, the UN has given them cover to claim a position against discrimination when we all know that that position is deeply false. In case you hadn't heard, Russia is wholeheartedly committed to discrimination and human-rights violations.
Russia: 3. Gays: 0.
Defenders of the insipid policy will point to London's Olympic Truce, which didn't mention sexual orientation either. What a difference two years make. LGBT rights and gay visibility in sports have transformed since the London policy was adopted in 2011. While a case could be made for inclusion two years ago, a case would need to be made for exclusion today. Sadly, the UN found for persecution.
We've seen this tactic before in sports. According to Pat Griffin's book Strong Women, Deep Closets, the NCAA was considering a nondiscrimination principle that included gender, race and religion in 1993. When the NCAA's then-council Patty Viverito suggested the inclusion of sexual orientation, a pro forma vote became a heated discussion. From Griffin's book:
According to Viverito, "It was appalling. To my dismay, the motion failed, but they realized it would look bad to specifically exclude sexual orientation so they deleted all categories entirely." Instead, the NCAA adopted a bland and meaningless principle of nondiscrimination that reads, "The association will promote an atmosphere of respect for and sensitivity to the dignity of every person."
When Joe Paterno was criticized for not allowing a female sports reporter into his locker room in the 1980s, he came up with an "equal" solution: Instead of allowing women reporters into the locker room, he removed all reporters. That way, every reporter equally had no access.
Some opponents of marriage equality have talked about following Paterno's model: Instead of granting everyone the right to marry, let's eliminate civil marriage altogether. Better to not have marriage at all than to let the gays walk down the aisle.
This is all the same philosophy that the United Nations is following with its Olympic Truce: If you can't solve the problem, then bury your head in the sand.
"It's not a step forward at all, in terms of addressing discrimination based on sexual orientation," Griffin told me. "It's a way for an organization to dodge an issue that they don't want to deal with. If anything, it's a step backward from any meaningful protection against discrimination.
"It's a crock."
Why is Russia cool with the new, toothless nondiscrimination language? Because they know it's meaningless. They know that general policies lack the impact that specific language creates. Russia and other anti-LGBT nations are cool with it because they know the policy remains, at its core, anti-LGBT.
The United Nations should return to the language that specifically excludes LGBT people. Masking over the discrimination that we face and giving cover to governments like Russia only make us invisible and set back our advancement toward true equality.