What Are Folks Really Protesting?
Let me start by saying that I dig Burt’s post on digging the doodle. But as I read it, it brought some thoughts that had been percolating in the back of my mind for some time to the forefront. In all honesty, I’m a little confused by the intensity of the response to Russia’s hosting of the 2014 Winter Olympics, especially within certain circles. Something didn’t feel quite right about it when I thought about it within the broader context of our own country’s progress on LGBTQ rights. So I looked a little deeper into the issue…
Some Googling and Wikipedia-ing tells me the following about the status of the rights of LGBTQ people in Russia:
– same-sex sexual activity between consenting adults in private was decriminalized in 1993
– there are no laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression
– households headed by same-sex couples are ineligible for protections offered opposite-sex couples
– in 2013, Russia enacted a law that bans the distribution of “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” to minors, which effectively makes it illegal to suggest that gay relationships are equal to heterosexual relationships or to distribute material on gay rights
– the age of consent for same-sex relations is the same as that for opposite-sex couples as of 2003
– homosexuality was declassified as a mental illness in 1999
– transexuals could legally change their gender as of 1997
– gays can serve openly in the military though are encouraged to hide their sexual orientation
– there are no restrictions on the right of single people to adopt related to sexual orientation though the country does ban same-sex couples from foreign countries where same-sex marriage is legal from adopting Russian children (as of 2013)
– some areas have local laws that go further in banning “propaganda”
While I don’t want to deny the reality of the discrimination that LGBTQ folk face in Russia, are they really that much further behind us as a country?
Looking at America…
– the last of the anti-sodomy laws were struck down in 2003
– gays could not serve openly in the military until 2011 (and there may still exist pressures — formal or otherwise — for them to conceal their sexual orientation)
– only 17 of 50 states give the full and equal status to same-sex marriage that they do to opposite-sex marriage
– while no laws go as far as the 2013 legislation, 8 US states (Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah) have laws banning the promotion of homosexuality in schools while 2 (Missouri and South Dakota) have laws banning the creation of anti-bullying policies
I’m not trying to create a false equivalency between US and Russia when it comes to gay rights. Were I a gay person, I would absolutely prefer to live in America than Russia. But I still can’t help but think that some of the outcry over Russia hosting the games has more to do with anti-Russian sentiment than it does genuine and honest support of our gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender brothers and sisters.
The last time the US hosted an Olympic games, it did so in the state of Utah in 2002. At the time, Utah did not recognize same-sex marriages formulated in other states, did not offer non-discrimination protection to LGBTQ folks, and had anti-sodomy laws on the books. A few years after the games, some residents of Provo sought to block the formation of a gay-straight alliance at the local high school; their efforts were unsuccessful (largely due to federal laws) but they were able to require that students attain signed permission from a parent before participating. With regards to the rights of LGBTQ people, Utah in 2002 was not all that different from Russia in 2014. What do you think the collective American response would have been had other nation’s boycotted our games over such matters? Thankfully, things have improved — in both Utah and the country as a whole — from that time, though much of Utah’s “progress” has been required by changes in federal law.
So while I applaud and stand beside those who genuinely and sincerely support equal rights for gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender people and, really, any and everyone regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity, excuse me if I look a little side-eyed at people who were eerily silent on the matter until such time that a convenient bogey man presented itself. And I don’t care whether or not you excuse me for getting in the face of people who actively promote similar laws in America while taking potshots at Russia. Even amongst those who are genuine and sincere in their efforts and support, I might want to have a brief talk with those of you who have meandered from being pro-LGBTQ rights to anti-Russia.
The answer to hate is not more hate. Let us embrace our fellow man and woman regardless of his or her sexual orientation, gender identity, or nationality. Yes, even the Russians. And when these games are over and the furor over the status of LGBTQ people in Russia passes, let’s continue to fight to ensure that each and every one of us has our basic humanity recognized and honored regardless of sexual orientation, regardless of gender identity, and regardless of which side of the old Iron Curtain they might find themselves on.
(Photo copyright held by Associated Press, reproduced under claim of fair use.)