Sunday, February 9, 2014

Olympic Apathy

I'm not following the Olympics this year but I am following the stories billowing out of the catastrophe in motion that is Sochi. I consider it poetic justice that Russia is blowing their chance to gather the positive PR that typically comes with hosting the Games because they were too busy enacting ridiculous bigoted legislation to complete construction. Their Olympic venue won't be finished until months after the Games if it's finished at all. The water is toxic. The accommodations are potentially deadly and the country is the butt of a continuing string of internet jokes.

One story had me shaking my head rather than snickering over my coffee. It wasn't about the more than sixty protesters arrested within the first day of the games. To be honest, I expected that. Russia has never tolerated protests, just ask Pussy Riot. Letting people go with a beating and a warning is quite lenient for them when they tend to choose death or long-term imprisonment. Believe it or not, this is Russia on their best behavior.

The story that stopped my snickering was about recent comments by Austrian Olympic athlete Daniela Iraschko-Stolz. I understand her not wanting to use the Olympics as a political platform. There's enough stress involved in just competing. Why add to it by wading into an issue about which she apparently feels no particular affinity. That's her choice but her statement that she thinks no one else cares about it either is naive at best. That nonchalant attitude is what makes it possible for countries like Russia to get away with such bad behavior.  

Russia's new law makes it illegal for anyone to discuss LGBT sexuality including teens coming out to their friends, as one girl has already discovered. It will keep them isolated and alone and we all know what that does to a person. Their government has labeled them freaks and criminals and anyone unwilling to accept that label in silence will be punished. This is their home and they're trapped in it until the law changes. This isn't a battle they can win on their own and just because the punishment isn't execution doesn't mean it's not potentially deadly.

Daniela isn't the only one who thinks Russia's law isn't that bad. Many self-appointed experts within the LGBT Nation are saying the same thing. The press is making more of it than there is. It's not worth all of this drama. We have no right to tell Russia how to run their country. 

I've been at this activist thing long enough to know how difficult it is to explain to people who have it easy why it's important to protest on behalf of those who don't. Why should people in the U.S. care what's happening to strangers in Russia? Why should Daniela? All I can say is the struggle to bring gay teens the right to acknowledge and celebrate who they are is not "a waste of time" as she claims. Daniela is privileged to live in a place where she can openly admit who she is. The idea that everyone has the same right is as ignorant as the idea that gays don't deserve rights in the first place. Assuming "no one cares" because she doesn't care herself isn't accurate either.

It's too bad she's not willing to lend her voice to the cause even with a silent protest when the cameras are on. Nevertheless, the protests will continue and when the Games are over she's free to return to her homeland and pretend none of the ugliness exists.














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