In the last few weeks I have used my column to discuss the upcoming Olympics and its impact on gay rights in Russia in hopes of opening people’s minds on a variety of issues that I believe in and that I believe are of some validity in trying to explain to people my somewhat biased opinions.
Since I last wrote, I’ve had the honor and pleasure of explaining my views and beliefs in a slew of interviews from CNN to BBC and even to Al Jazeera. My experience as a gay Olympian with a Russophile’s past has given me quite a platform on which to stand and preach in my way. This week I want to discuss how my thoughts and I have been received and what, if any, change I believe I can accomplish.
My opinion is definitely not the popular choice it seems. While many people have echoed my sentiments that the show must go on next February in Sochi and that a strong Western presence in Russia will only help the LGBT movement within Russia, many others have taken to hurling insults and hate my way.
On one program I was joined by an “out” Olympian from New Zealand, Blake Skjellerup, who will compete in Sochi and who will do it proudly. He agreed that the greatest thing we can do as athletes representing our respective nations and not the minority group we come from, is compete and do it well. Our proud presence and fearlessness upon arriving in a place whose government is hostile to us and doing our thing as best we can will be a stronger statement that not going to the Olympics and remaining on the sidelines. The name Jesse Owens comes to mind as he competed in Nazi Germany’s 1936 games and, as an African-American, was segregated in his own country and hated in the host nation. Yet, he scored four gold medals and was applauded by neither Hitler nor FDR. But his statement was world class.
The power of the human spirit will prevail against all odds.
I have been asked on repeat if I should qualify for the Olympics and win a medal, would I wave a rainbow flag or do something special in honor of the gay community. My answer, which has been deemed disgusting as well as full of selfishness among other comments of a more colorful nature, is “No.”
To me, waving a rainbow flag in victory or defeat would be the same as waving a flag that celebrated my skin color, ethnic origin or eye color– the things I’ve been born with. It is one thing to be proud, and quite another to make a scene. I want people to accept my community with open arms as normal, because we are normal. Competing on behalf of the United States and waving any flag other than the American one would be disrespectful.
As Olympians, we compete for the entire nation and all those who live within it. I am not a politician, a protester or someone who believes that being gay is the root of all good things in my life. Being gay is something I was born into, just like my LGBT fans. And to my anti-fans, it’s the same way we are born into skin color. While being loud and forceful may seem like the right move in acceptance, I believe in quiet normalcy and drawing attention by merits, not by yelling.
Through all of this pro-Olympic rhetoric, I am firmly committed to helping the LGBT community of Russia in any way I can and am following the steps I believe will have the most impact. My beliefs are my beliefs and no amount of yelling or telling me I’m inept will change that.
I believe that our presence, not just at the Olympics, but in Russia is valuable. Our prayers are valuable. Showing the world that we are equal by showing and not telling is valuable. We are our own greatest weapons and I hope everyone can rise up in some small way — whatever way you believe in– and show the world your own personal excellence and ability to have compassion. The one thing that joins all of us on the pro-gay side of Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law is that we all want to help, and as a group we can.
I urge everyone to stop hating and start loving as it is the only way we can truly help.