As shared in a previous Huffington Post blog when the 2012 Summer Olympics were taking place, you, like I am, are probably very excited about the Winter Games taking place in Sochi. The games, the athletes and the competition are remarkable with many moving, inspirational and even aspirational stories to be told. And while there is much excitement, anxiety has been building about the security and ultimate safety of the athletes and those attending the games.
Despite all concerns, the 2014 Sochi Olympics opened Friday, February 7th amidst very real terrorism threats which naturally led to concern for the safety of our athletes, their families and all Americans on Russian soil.
But terrorism and security issues are not the only controversy surrounding these Olympic Games. Russia's President, Validmir Putin, and his administration have had many human rights violation including passing and implementing laws against the gay community and their supports. As part of the response, the United States is departing from tradition and will not be including someone from the families of the President or Vice President in the US delegation. The US has instead chosen activists such as tennis great Billie Jean King, an out-and-proud two-time Olympic hockey player Caitlin Cahow as well as 1988 gold medal winning figure skater Brian Boitano to lead and represent the delegation.
The State Department has issued warning to Americans to be on guard and wary of common criminal activity, which most of us know usually increases at large gatherings of people around the world. What is interesting is that the alert also advises lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans to review the State Department's LGBT travel information page if they plan to visit Sochi for the Games, noting that Russia has in place a law that bans the "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" to minors. While authorities have been vague about defining "propaganda", the law applies to foreigners and a conviction on the charge could result in a fine, a jail term and even deportation.
So, you might ask, how can you or anyone make a difference in light of these difficult challenges associated with the Sochi Games? You might think to yourself that all you want to do is watch the games and cheer on Team USA.; but there is a way to be Making A Difference.
Since 1894 the US Olympic Committee (www.teamusa.org) provides financial support and special programs for athletes as well as coaching education programs in support of the American Olympic and Paralympic teams. Let's not stop now when some, including myself, might say it is more important than ever to be united with those that are gay and in need of our open support.
Here are my top five recommendations of ways to be supportive of athletes and Russians who are gay and dealing with this law and its challenges at the Sochi Games:
1. First, be supportive of the Principle 6 Campaign
a. The Olympic Charter's principle six states, "...any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement." This includes discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. More than 35 Olympians and professional athletes are participating in the movement, including Australian snowboarder Belle Brockhoff and Canadian Alpine skier Mike Janyk. "By openly supporting Principle 6 at the Winter Games in Sochi, everyone can help uphold and promote the Olympic values of non-discrimination and stand in solidarity with lesbian, gay, bi and trans people in Russia and around the world," said Anastasia Smirnova, spokesperson for a leading coalition of Russian LGBT groups.
b. You can support Principle 6 by purchasing clothing with the logo and information available at American Apparel stores or the Principle 6 Campaign website.
2. Learn about a father's love for his son through the You Can Play Project
a. Longtime National Hockey League Executive Brian Burke is the director of player personnel for the US Olympic hockey team. He became an LGBT advocate after his own son Brendan came out of the closet. When Brendan died in a car accident Brian started the You Can Play Project, aimed at making sports a safe space for LGBT athletes. "You don't have to be gay to care about this. You don't have to have a gay son or daughter to recognize an organized effort by a government to target and destroy a minority group. History has taught us that left unchecked, this sort of bigotry will only escalate. The rest of the world cannot bear silent witness....So, Olympians, when you pack your skates, pack a rainbow pin. When you practice your Russian, learn how to say, 'I am pro-gay." You Can Play is providing complementary You Can Play merchandise to any Olympic athlete.
b. Be supportive during the Olympics and wear your rainbow pin.
3. Join Olympians and support the Athlete Ally/All Out Campaign
a. With more than 15 Olympians in support, demands continue for the repeal of Russia's anti-LGBT legislation ahead of the Sochi Games. Openly gay New Zealand Olympic speed skater Blake Skjellerup joined the effort sharing that, "I want to stand in solidarity with Athlete Ally and the rest of the LGBT community to show that Russia's policies are archaic and a violation of human rights everywhere," he said. "This issue is much bigger than athletics, but if I can help change minds and open doors through the platform of sport, that is what I will do."
b. You, too, can stand and be Making a Difference ® by talking about the need for this law to be repealed.
4. Add your name to the It Gets Better Petition Campaign
a. It Gets Better Project launched an international campaign aimed at Russia's LGBT youths. The new video initiative aims to bring messages of hope and support--in Russian and English--to the estimated 2.5 million gay youths in that country. "We want every gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individual to know they are beautiful, valued and important, and that their friends and allies in the international community are keeping a close eye on their situation while working to end such injustice," Executive Director Ted Farley said in a statement.
b. Consider joining the campaign and adding your name add their name to the project and submit videos of their own to be shared around the world.
a. The HRC is calling on the top sponsors of the International Olympics Committee--including Coca-Cola, General Electric and Samsung Electronics--to condemn and take action against Russia's draconian anti-LGBT law banning "homosexual propaganda." The June 2013 law states that people who share information contributing to a "distorted understanding" that gay relationships are equally acceptable--or just as normal--as straight relationships can be fined or thrown in jail. Gay or pro-LGBT foreigners can be detained and deported as well. The HRC's "Love Conquers Hate" campaign stands in solidarity with members of the Russian LGBT community as well as LGBT advocates in that country.
b. Consider participating by purchasing a product from the Love Conquers Hate Collection which can be done online; 100 percent of net proceeds from the Russian-language T-shirt benefit LGBT supporters in Russia.
The Olympic games are a standard of excellence that is made even worthier of acclaim by recognizing - and being part of - the great work athletes do in supporting people and organizations that need their help. You can, in your way, be part of the Olympic movement; just start Making A Difference (M.A.D.) today by implementing one of the ideas in this blog - or one of your own. You are sure to be M.A.D.!