To Russia With Love

The Olympics are a time for peace. Nations come together in a wonderful spectacle and international divisions seemingly melt away. They are a time for world celebration, when the people of Earth can exclaim in joy, cry in disappointment, and whoop for their favorite victories. This February, the world has again gathered, hoping to establish this international peace at the XXII Olympic Winter Games, in Sochi, Russia.

The Russian government, with its increasingly autocratic tendencies, will try to convince foreigners that everything is perfect in Russia, but let’s get one thing clear: Everything is not.

To gay people, the Games in Russia are beginning to look strikingly close to the 1936 Berlin Olympics, in which the Nazi regime attempted–and succeeded–in showing the world what a “nice” place Germany was. Do not be fooled by the sparkling stadiums and the cute mascots. These Games are just a show, a point the Russian government will use in demonstrating how “sophisticated” it is.

In June of this year (yep, 2013, the 21st century), the Russian government unanimously passed an “anti-propaganda law” about sexual minorities. Under said law, one can be arrested, fined, or deported (if a foreigner) if they are caught talking to children about homosexuality. The law is so broad that it means the media cannot talk about anything having to do with homosexuality either. Since June, the law has created quite the international backlash, but that seems to be doing nothing for LGBT people in Russia. Violence is everywhere. While I was writing this piece, shots were fired in a Moscow gay nightclub, with the shooters yelling homophobic slurs.

In May, a young man in Volgograd was horrifically beaten and tortured. He was sexually abused. His attackers left him naked in a park, and he died of his wounds. In an internet video, the attackers said it was because he was gay. You don’t have to search hard to find stories about the horrible way gay people are treated in Russia.

This first week of February, Human Rights Watch released a graphic and grounding video of the abuses LGBT people face. In the video LGBT people can be seen being beaten by groups of men. Some are beaten for how they dress, others are beaten for being open about who they are. In some of the most evil cases, some gay people are lured out thinking they are going on a date, when really a para-military group is waiting to torture them with cameras on and online audiences waiting.

The Olympics are one of my favorite things in this world. For two weeks, I watch every moment, and save them until the next four years roll by. This time is different. In the United States alone, NBC spent $4.38 billion for the broadcasting rights to the Olympics from 2014 through 2020. While I absolutely love the Olympics and want to convince myself so badly that watching them isn’t helping the Russian government–isn’t helping to support a system of human rights abuses–I cannot in good faith watch these games. I will be staging a one man boycott of the games, and if you care to join me hopefully we can expand that number. If you still want to know about results and such, medal counts and what not, I hope you go to wikipedia. Wikipedia doesn’t give any money to anybody, so it doesn’t aid the Russian government.

LGBT people, whatever you think of them, are human beings. Some are your friends, or neighbors, or classmates. Some are the cashier at Target, or the CEO of a company. Some are your family: sisters/brothers, aunts/uncles, mothers/fathers. They are there, whether you know it or not. The things they would have to face in Russia if they had the misfortune to be born gay there, are unimaginable.

Support LGBT people. Support the teacher, or the 10th grader, or the nurse. Support people who are exactly like everyone else. Support humanity. The best thing you can do is to know what’s going on in Russia. The next time you reach to buy a Russian product, or maybe take the remote to watch the Winter Games, just say “no.” Let your anger at these abuses be known to those who can do a lot about it. Government, corporations, anyone. Money makes the world go round, and corporations will get the message if hit on the head with it long enough.

The Olympics are amazing — and right now I’m hoping for an Olympic-sized miracle for LGBT people in Russia.