Since Russian President Vladimir Putin recently signed into law a ban on "homosexual propaganda," there have been calls for the United States to boycott the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Russia's gay ban imposes fines and prison sentences for any speech or behavior that could be seen as advocating "non-traditional sexual relations" to minors. Despite this blatant act of hostility, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) issued a statement assuring openly LGBT athletes that they will be safe at the Games and not subject to the Russian law. NBC, which has the broadcast rights to the Games, says it will do everything possible to keep its lesbian and gay employees safe during their time in Russia. For the athletes and their families, these promises may offer little comfort, and would-be spectators will be left to fend for themselves.
As shocking as Russia's position may seem to some, this is not the first time attacks on lesbian and gays have made their way into the Olympic arena. Before we retch at the thought of Putin passing judgment on anyone given his personal shortcomings, we should look inward and examine our own Olympic history, specifically the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta.
In 1993 Metro Atlanta had its own Russian moment when the elected officials of Cobb County, Ga., passed an anti-gay "family values" resolution. The goal was to exclaim boldly that "lifestyles advocated by the gay community ... are incompatible with the standards to which this community subscribes." Good to know.
Gay rights activists responded with protests, demonstrations, and a call for the IOC to take action. They did. Cobb County was stripped of the privilege of hosting Olympic volleyball, and even the running of the Olympic torch was rerouted to avoid the county altogether. As a resident of Metro Atlanta, I vowed after that experience never to live in Cobb County, and I have stuck to that promise.
The distinction is that Russia actually passed a law with actual penalties, and it applies to the entire country. There is no way to go to the Olympics in Russia and avoid the bigoted part of town. So what is the answer? I do not believe that our athletes, who have sacrificed everything for the Olympic dream, should be cheated out of the opportunity to participate in the Games because of the ignorance of Russia, but I do believe that retaliation against Russia is deserved. And like every boxer will tell you, if you want to strike a real blow, you have to hit 'em where it hurts -- in this case, their wallets.
So while our athletes go to Russia to fulfill their dreams and make us proud, I will be cheering from home. I refuse to give my American dollars to a country that diminishes free speech and basic humanity. So while I hope that the field of competition is fuller than ever, I also hope that the stadium is emptier, the profits at hotels and restaurants smaller, and the lines to buy souvenirs shorter. Let the IOC and NBC flourish as they strive to protect the athletes and the employees who are there to cover the event. But as for Russia, let's show them our disapproval by speaking in the one language every country understands: money.