By Jason Menard
How can anyone who supports gay rights support this year’s Olympics in Sochi? It’s easy – it comes down to remembering the lessons taught by one man:
In its soul, the Olympic Games is a celebration of excellence. It is a pure competition where greatness has a global stage upon which to shine.
Sure, in its black heart, the Olympics is as corrupt and political as it comes. Back-room deals, kickbacks, posturing, and graft are legendary. The country that pays gets to play – and the poor citizens, left with expensive, and generally useless, remnants of a two-week party are the ones holding the tab.
From dog killing to terrorist threats to half-finished (and questionably safe) accommodations, the Sochi Olympics is already off to a rocky start. But what bothers most right-thinking people is Russia’s stance on homosexuality and its crackdown threats.
First, let me qualify that statement by saying, the Russian government’s stance on homosexuality. But while I’d like to believe that the average Russian citizen is accepting of love in all its forms, a recent Pew Research Centre survey suggests otherwise, with 74 per cent saying that society shouldn’t accept homosexuality.
Starting in June, Russia’s government banned dissemination of what they termed pro-gay propaganda – an intentionally vague term that could encompass everything from a rainbow flag to hand-holding. Since then, the Russian government has continued to target homosexuals through legislation and enforcement.
So why should we support a corporate event in an increasingly intolerant country? Again: Jesse Owens.
In 1936, the Olympics were held in another hotbed of intolerance – Nazi-led Germany. Adolf Hitler intended the Games to be a showcase upon which his professions of Aryan superiority could be proven.
Needless to say, the glow of Owens’ four gold medals forced some light into those dark areas of intolerance and racism. (Though it’s interesting to note that while many Americans claim this moment as a point of pride, in Germany Owens was allowed to stay in the same hotels as his white colleagues – a right he was not afforded in many states back home.)
Intolerance flourishes in ignorance. People left with no exposure to those different than them can develop prejudices, hold ill-informed misconceptions, and — at worst — develop hate. The key to countering that is not avoidance or boycott, keeping people in the dark. Instead it’s shining a light on truth and letting it seep in to those bastions of intolerance. People fear what they don’t understand. So make them understand.
There are currently six openly gay athletes competing in Russia, including Canadian Anastasia Bucsis. And while my thoughts on celebrating Olympic victories is clear (here and here), I guarantee I’ll break those rules for Ms. Bucsis.
And with 6,000 athletes from 85 countries participating, it’s probably safe to say that there are more than six at the games.
In truth, the Olympics should never be about politics. The boycotts of the 80s had little effect other than to further the cause of intolerance amongst the average citizens of the world. Back then, all we knew was that Russians were evil – but we didn’t know them. But absence certainly didn’t make the heart grow fonder.
Recently, I have read Facebook and Twitter updates from gay friends saying that they will be boycotting the Olympics. That’s their right and I would never presume to tell them how they should feel, think, or act. And I understand it.
But they just might be miss out on the potential of seeing something great.
The old adage states that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. I can only hope that’s the case for the intolerant and ignorant few who hold tight to these thoughts.
If it means that Sochi brings us a Jesse Owens moment, then I’m all for it. And it won’t just be a moment for the gay community – it would be a moment for all people who believe in compassion, community, and love.