Thursday, August 1, 2013
In a capitalistic society – where we put our money is a powerful weapon in effecting corporate change. The changes in South Africa in the 1990’s
came as a direct result of investors pulling their money out of companies that were doing business in the country – essentially supporting apartheid. Less successful efforts include the annual rash of boycotts from ‘family friendly’ groups against television shows something they don’t like. Sports is not immune from outside influences – with the US boycott of Russia in 1980 after the country invaded Afghanistan which was mirrored by the Russians in 1984 against the US for the summer Olympics. Now many politicians are calling for a boycott of the Russian Olympics in 2014.
Edward Snowden released documents that showed the U.S. government gathers information on its citizens phone calls, emails and other correspondences. The revelations also showed that foreign allies were also having their communications monitored. Nearly every politician tripped over themselves to welcome the “dialogue” about national security while condemning the individual – without any recognition that the discussion wouldn’t be occurring without the revelations. Many have called for Snowden to be executed. My preference is for him to be tried in a court of law before his punishment is decided, but, then again I’m a stickler for that Rule of Law thing. The U.S. government (without a trial or filing any formal charges) found him guilty, rescinded his passport and now he’s in meandering through the Moscow airport like Tom Hanks in The Terminal. That is the basis for the calls for a boycott.
Russian President Vladamir Putin earlier this month signed into law the “gay propaganda” bill that punishes anybody from promoting or discussing anything gay. Punishment ranges from million-ruble fines to three years in prison. At the same time he also signed a law that prevents gays from other countries from adopting Russian children.
Hundreds of people have been arrested protesting the new laws. Reports are also surfacing that gay athletes who participate in the 2014 Olympics in Russia could face arrest. In fact last week 4 tourists were arrested for talking about gay issues.
I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to visit Russia three times. First as a college student right after President Gorbachev took power, then as a producer/director of the documentary of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles’ groundbreaking 1999 tour of the country and then as a tourist a few years back. Each time I found the Russian people to be a welcoming, generous and giving people. It is devastating to see a country that was once a leader on LGBT issues revert to homophobia, fear and intolerance.
President Obama has rightfully been heralded as the first “gay President” thanks to the elimination of President Clinton’s anti-gay policies. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) was rescinded by the U.S. Senate and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. There’s still much to do, but President Obama has been rhetorically passionate and inclusive of LGBT issues. Let the White House know that LGBT Russians should be eligible for US asylum by signing the petition.
Tying politics to sports is fraught with difficulty. It’s ultimately unfair to the athletes who have spent their lives working towards competing on the global stage. The Olympics are supposed to be where the world comes together. The quick boycott of Stoli vodka may provide a feel good moment, but won't impact policy as the company isn't Russian, though it does employ Russians and uses Russian ingredients.
If the United States is going to be talking about a boycott – it should be as a stance against the intolerance and inhumanity of Russia’s new anti-gay policies, not because they have provided safe haven to somebody who made public a program that many in Congress said they didn’t know about. The issue is urgent – the 2014 Olympics are too far away. President Obama must not attend the G20 in St. Petersburg this October (2013) and he must speak out about the atrocities now. That's what a President should do, gay or not.