National Commentary

Gay Movement’s Major New Voice

nfbentonpicWhile it appears that two-time Olympian and three-time U.S. national mens figure skating champion Johnny Weir ended his competitive skating career this month by allowing a Sept. 1 filing deadline to pass, this new development has come just as Weir shot to forefront among leading LGBT voices with his powerful intervention against an ill-conceived effort to launch an Olympic boycott. In so doing, he’s drawn the angry, jealous ire, including cascades of remarkably shrill online insults, of many who’ve claimed such standing in the gay movement but who lack Weir’s high profile.

In fact, Weir’s withdrawal from competition at this point enhances the credibility of his strong anti-boycott stand, removing the allegation that he was acting merely out of selfish self-interest, lusting for a third shot at Olympic gold at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia next February.

Weir has never shied away from controversy during his past decade’s colorful figure skating career, although it has usually been associated with his offbeat costumes and not infrequent sassy remarks. Some of that persona has always been evident in his public appearances on the ice or off, as trendy fashion, unconventional routines and other forms of exaggeration have always been part of his makeup. But it’s always been done, he’s made clear many times, to give heart and show solidarity for the many misfits and oddballs out there, including LGBT youth, who are so often subject to abuse.

This “method to his madness” underscores in Johnny Weir remarkable capacities not only for empathy and compassion, but for intelligence, articulation and, above all, a resolve to put them all to use by way of uncommon personal courage.

While often expressing these qualities in an online blog, Weir began bringing them to a wider forum of public discourse through a weekly newspaper column he began almost a year ago, published exclusively in my newspaper, the Falls Church News-Press.

Despite flying all over the world for competitions and exhibitions, he never missed a weekly deadline with 600 words of original, insightful content on all manner of love and life issues.

But when the drumbeat began arising in LGBT circles this summer about a movement to boycott the Winter Olympics as a way to protest new Russian anti-gay laws, Weir felt obligated to put his weekly column to the purpose of opposing such a move with a variety of compelling arguments. He wound up writing on the subject for four consecutive weeks in August.

When he submitted the first one, he suggested to me that the subject might warrant drawing some further attention, and I agreed, issuing a press release about it that went out to a national media list. Sure enough, it led to a thundering media response, with lots of TV, radio and newspaper interviews.

Not surprisingly, the self-appointed gay spokesmen favoring the boycott plan began chewing rugs in anger and jealousy, and their effort escalated when last week Weir was interviewed on ESPN by Keith Olbermann and showed up in a form of campy drag, namely, a Russian Army uniform, to underscore his argument on behalf of mutual respect and cooperation rather than angry confrontation.

It turns out there has been a wider context for all this impacting overall relations between the U.S. and Russia. The major pro-boycott gay spokesmen, it turns out, are strongly aligned with the infamous neo-conservatives (neocons) in the U.S. who launched the invasion of Iraq, being the chief political operatives for the nation’s military-industrial complex, and instinctively itch for fights internationally wherever they can provoke them.

It is these neocons, mostly Republicans, that are urging on the bombing of Syria and are denigrating Russian president Vladimir Putin’s brilliant initiative to defuse the Syrian crisis. It is these neocons who insist on the militaristic “American exceptionalism” that Putin rightly criticized in his recent New York Times op-ed.

The neocons hoped a burgeoning LGBT-led Olympic boycott movement would heighten adversarial U.S.-Russian postures, planning that by now it would have gained major and swelling momentum.

But Johnny Weir almost singlehandedly pulled the plug on all that, qualifying him as not only a leading spokesman for the LGBT cause, but also for international peace-making more generally.