To no one's surprise I plan on watching some form of coverage of the Winter Olympics. I enjoy events such as the bobsled, luge, speed skating, hockey, and if I happen to be up late at night, some curling. I plan on cheering on Team USA to victory in various events and also posting the results on Watts News (Facebook, Twitter) before NBC airs it on their primetime coverage like I did for the 2012 Summer Games.
I am aware of the draconian laws that Russia passed towards their LGBT citizens and some of the crimes committed. The Advocate has shared a British documentary highlighting these crimes. Tablet, a Jewish publication, stated why they aren't covering the Olympic Games. The editors stated this:
Alone among developed nations, Russia continues its consistent campaign against all vestiges of civil society. The abuses are too many to recount and include muzzling all independent media, severely limiting the ability of nongovernmental organizations to operate safely and successfully, and locking up political dissenters on trumped-up charges. These assaults on liberty are troubling in and of themselves, but they pale in comparison with the Russian government’s unprecedented campaign against its own gay and lesbian citizens, who are persecuted for no reason other than being who they are.
I know some people who are not watching the Olympics because of these human rights violations and they are well within their right to express their views. Much like Tablet these people are "turning off our TVs, we’ll be sending an unmistakable message that we wish to have no part in the Kremlin’s glories."
In my recent semester at North Texas I took a class on American Foreign Policy. One of the books we read was Foreign Policy Begins At Home: The Case for Putting America's House in Order by Richard N. Haass. The point of the book was America has to get its own house in order before embarking on another foreign policy adventure. The last third of the book was dedicated towards issues such as addressing the debt and deficit, energy, education, infrastructure, immigration, economic growth, and politics. The politics section to me was very important and it hammers the point home.
One of the justifications for our foreign engagements into Afghanistan and then later Iraq was the exportation of democracy around the world. The problem with that idea is that the United States is probably not the best example of democracy. In the last presidential election, turnout was 58%. Other industrialized nations have turnout in the 60s, 70s, and even greater than 80%.
That does not exactly rally others to our cause when our own election turnout is one of the lowest among industrialized countries.
The point I am making is this: We have to get our own house in order before we start trying to change the world.
Though the United States has made significant leaps considering LGBT rights and advocacy since the start of the millennium, there is still a lot to be done.
Right now 17 states plus DC will recognize the marriages of same-sex couples. Two, Utah and Oklahoma, had their same-sex marriage bans ruled unconstitutional by district level courts but are currently being challenged by in the 10th circuit court of appeals. At this time, same-sex marriages that were preformed prior to Utah challenging the federal court ruling will be recognized by the federal government. Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, and Wisconsin have varying levels of recognitions and benefits for same-sex couples (such as Colorado's civil unions) but have bans on same-sex marriages due to state laws.
It is legal to fire workers just for being gay in 29 states. Efforts to pass the Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) have stalled due to as I mentioned in a previous post due to the political stars have not aligned just right. Barack Obama is president and his party controls the Senate, but Republicans control the House. President Obama, who has an outstanding record when it comes to LGBT issues as president, authored this op-ed to the Huffington Post urging Congress to pass ENDA.
Eight states, including Texas, have laws similar to Russia's anti-gay propaganda law. These laws are nothing but fear and have backing by religious right leaning organizations. These groups are recognizing that attitudes towards LGBT persons are changing in this country and feel they have no place here anymore. Instead they are turning their attention internationally such as Russia and Uganda.
There are some folks calling for us to boycott the Olympics similar to when we did it when Moscow last held an Olympics in 1980 due to the then-Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. On Friday's NBC Nightly News, there was a piece about the US Olympic Team that did not go to the games due to the boycott. In a commentary opening his program in September 2013, Keith Olbermann talked about the various issues surrounding the Sochi Winter Olympics and the talks of boycotts from different groups, specifically from advertisers. Olbermann later in the same program interviewed former US Olympic skater Johnny Weir on the topic of a boycott and how openly gay and lesbian athletes plan to attend the games knowing the draconian laws recently passed in the host country.
On the topic of boycotting, I echo the writings of one Ms. Monica Roberts of Houston, TX. In July 2013, Ms. Roberts authored this piece when there were talks of a possible boycott.
Directly from her piece:
So with the Winter Olympics coming to Sochi, why repeat the mistake? It's interesting to note that these boycotts are always proposed by people who have never spent one day in their lives training to be the person standing at the top step of an Olympic platform, getting the gold medal and hearing their national anthem played as they watch their flag rise.
They propose them because it's not their lifelong dream that's being dashed.
The proposed Sochi Olympic boycott is not going to get Russian President Vladimir Putin or their legislature to repeal the anti-LGBT law. But you can continue to point out for the world to see what the Russian government is doing to their own people.
You can call for people to not attend the Sochi Games, not watch it on television, buy Sochi Olympic themed merchandise and give the athletes the choice of deciding whether or not they will compete there instead of having the decision forced upon them by their governments.
Olympic boycotts simply do not work as political tools, only hurt the athletes and historically haven't accomplished the political policy goal they are trying to achieve.
There is also another. Ms. Roberts is a passionate supporter of Houston area sports. In another piece, she writes about how she enjoys writing about sports and what it can to bring people together.
She and I see eye-to-eye on many issues, but one thing we don't agree on is Houston area teams vs. Dallas based teams. I may have moved to Colorado, but I will maintain my anti-Houston sports biases. Again, it is in good fun. And I look forward to another season to picking football games with her and anyone else that wishes to join us in the quest to be the best at picking NFL games in 2014.
This is very true. I can count of my hands the number of LGBT folks I know that are fans of various sports and are very knowledgeable about the athletes and teams they follow. As I mentioned in some of my football pick posts, my aunt's wife is a Broncos fan (though she will probably will not admit it right now).
I think the words from the Olympic Charter must hold true during these games:
"The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play."
– Olympic Charter
I don't think closing off Russia from the rest of the world is the answer. I also believe that we need to do a better job at taking care of our own LGBT brothers and sisters here at home.
The one thing I hope that out of these games is that Russia sees the error of their ways and hopefully their citizens can put in politicians that can reverse the damage that it has done to their own citizens. The opening ceremony showcased a Russia returning to the global stage. My hope is that these games foster a constructive conversation on how we treat other people who might be a tad different than other people and that in order to be part of that global community there is a shift in policies.
The only way to highlight injustice is to shine a light on it. The flame of the Olympics is certainly doing that right now given the treatment of Russia's LGBT population.