Two-time Olympic figure skater Johnny Weir, at 30 now retired from the sport but elevated to the lofty heights on NBC’s official prime skater commentator team, pulled another one of his unpredictable moves this month by premiering a new television documentary dealing with issues surrounding gay athletes at the Sochi Winter Olympics last winter. Called “To Russia With Love,” it’s been airing on the EPIX cable channel.
A lot of the footage was shot by Weir himself when no one was paying attention, and it makes a pretty strong impression that anti-LGBT sentiments among the authorities in Russia, and much of the population, run deep and can be prone to violence.
But really, in its anti-gay attitudes Russia may be more like the U.S. itself a half century ago.
The story told by the documentary is nuanced, and therefore helpful in ways that “establishment” gays in the U.S. aren’t, who one-dimensionally called for an Olympic boycott, which would have caused a massive disruption with significant geopolitical ramifications.
As this gay “establishment” pushed for a boycott of the games, Weir drew the ire of many of them by using his position as a high profile veteran competitor in the games to emphatically oppose the idea.
Eventually, other openly gay Olympians and top-tier athletes like Billy Jean King, Martina Navratilova and Greg Louganis – all of whom are highlighted in the documentary along with Jason Collins – expressed similar positions to Weir’s, but it was Weir who drew the lion’s share of the anger from his “politically correct” gay sisters and brothers.
When Weir, speaking at an event in New York prior to the games, saw demonstrators outside holding a banner assailing him by name, referred to them as “idiots,” he got in even more trouble. But he chose to include that incident in his documentary, not one to shy from the truth, and acknowledged that he apologized for his intemperate remark.
The documentary presents the tension between the aspirations of the athletes to compete in the historic games, including gay athletes, and the strongly-felt need to not stand by silently while Russia passed new anti-gay laws, and authorities do nothing when skinhead gangs or bullies would single out gays for beatings.
In fact, the authorities, themselves, were filmed grabbing and tearing up pro-LGBT signs and leaflets outside the Olympics.
Weir admitted his own ambiguity is grounded in a love of all things Russian since his early childhood.
But the arrival of a 17-year-old Sochi native named Vlad to talk with Weir, King and others about the living hell he was experiencing daily at his school since he’d been tagged as gay, shook Weir and forced him to come to grips with harsh realities of the discrimination there.
All the same, Russian President Vladimir Putin, assigned the role of Satan by many in the gay “establishment,” was shown making remarks that everyone would be free to be themselves around the Olympics as long as they didn’t take their issues to children.
In fact, in a true irony, Putin also commented on the source of the Olympic flame, saying it came from the ancient Greek story of Prometheus, who according to legend was chained to a rock not far from Sochi.
The irony is that in my book, Extraordinary Hearts, published last year, I posit that the archetype associated with myth of Prometheus, the giver of fire to humanity, is a valid paradigm for gay and lesbian sensibility, much moreso that either Dionysus or Apollo.
Weir suggests Russia is “finding its way slowly…think of your grandmother, who senses more out there but doesn’t get it yet.”
Weir’s documentary is his answer to the pressures from the gay “establishment” to conform to its agenda, even as that agenda comes under particular questioning this month as a national gay magazine has placed Putin on its cover, calling him, as an epitome of its concept of evil, its “Man of the Year.”
It’s a curious move that convinces some that behind it may lie an on-going resolve of these gay “leaders” to persist as lap dogs of the neo-conservative war mongers in the U.S.