With the Sochi Olympics kicking off and focusing the world’s attention on Russia’s hostility to homos, everyone wants to protest, in one way or another. Hell, even AT&T is getting in on the action before the start of the Games.
But like most things, it’s not so simple. The Russian government will not take kindly to protests in Russia proper, to stay the least, so while the games offer a world stage for activists, they’ll be subjected to a brutal police force backed by harsh anti-propaganda laws. The wimpy IOC isn’t making things any easier by walking on eggshells, and for gay and hundreds of pro-gay straight athletes whose competitive (and sponsorship) aspirations hinge on these Olympics, dreams of the podium should and will occupy almost every waking thought.
Even so, we foresee high drama and lots of conflict — that much we can be sure of. Here’s a look at the ways people are already protesting, what we may see once the games are under way and what you can do.
1. Street Activism
Open protest in Sochi/Moscow
Though any official with a voice to be heard (Olympic or Russian) and many unofficial (even Johnny Weir) are urging people to avoid street activism, we’re predicting there will be some notable disturbances as the games progress. We salute anyone willing to put their safety on the line to stand up for justice, and hope that demonstrations are met with nonviolent reaction from the Russian police. (We somehow doubt these thugs get sensitivity training.) Fortunately, cameras will blanket the country. The world will be watching.
Organizations like ACT UP have staged protests in the US. We wouldn’t be surprised if some guerrilla plans click into action once the games are under way.
On the eve of the Olympics, Queer Nation assembled outside the Russian consulate in New York, some in Putin masks, to dump fake blood on the Olympic flag. “The whole world is watching — literally. Putin can’t hide his pogrom behind the sports page,” said QN member Ken Kidd. They chanted “Queer rights are human rights!” and “Gay bashing is not an Olympic sport!”; held “Putin heads” on sticks; and carried anti-Putin signs in both English and Russian.
Athletes (and you) speak out
We’ve already seen athletes (Olympic and otherwise) voicing their opinions. Blake Skjellerup, 2010 Vancouver speed skating competitor, posted this video offering to give “scared” Putin a “great big hug.” The video’s host, uinterview, is inviting anyone who feels inclined to post a video telling Putin what they think of his antigay laws.
Though IOC President Thomas Barch has warned competitors that they are barred from making political statements (and can in fact be banned for participating in a demonstration) from the podium or other official arenas, that won’t stop them from speaking out at press conferences or in media interviews.
Out Australian snowboarder Belle Brockhoff told the Courier-Mail, “After I compete, I’m willing to rip on [Putin's] ass. I’m not happy and there’s a bunch of other Olympians who are not happy either.”
Principle 6 Campaign
Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter states that “Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement,” and the IOC has confirmed that this includes sexual orientation. Except the IOC isn’t doing much of anything to stand up to Russia’s blatant human rights violations. Even the Google Doodle likes P6.
The P6 champaign was formed to bring together athletes, spectators and global supporters to speak out against Russia’s anti-gay laws. You can visit the site to sign petitions, donate money or download a logo to display as your facebook profile picture during the games to show support. Attached to the project so far are athletes like Greg Louganis, Belle Brackhoff and many other current and former Olympians.
Athletes are encouraged to hold up six fingers during the games, representing the portion of the Olympic Charter, to show their support.
There are some very powerful videos circulating the net that we’ve noted. We suggest taking the time to watch this short piece by Human Rights Watch, and the five part Vice Magazine web documentary Young And Gay In Russia. You’ll get a look into the reality of everyday life for gay Russians that no written article could ever convey.
Out, proud correspondents
Figure skating medalist Johnny Weir has signed on as an NBC commenter. “I’m just going there to be me, to be gay, to be proud and to be a strong light for the Russian LGBT community,” he said. We aren’t likely to see much more from Weir in terms of protest (something Weir has received his fair share of flack for in the gay community), but his presence will nonetheless be important.
Openly gay MSNBC corespondent Thomas Roberts is taking a similar stance, saying, “I choose to offer my support of the LGBT community in Russia by going to Moscow and hosting this event as a journalist, an anchor and a man who happens to be gay. Let people see I am no different than anyone else.”
This Canadian Gem
The Canadian Institute of Diversity and Inclusion (CAIDI) released this fantastic commercial reminding us that the Olympics have always been a little gay. Hopefully the ad thrusts its way to Putin’s iPad.
Moscow Open Games
While homophobia and bigoted vigilantism run rampant in Russia, being gay there is not a crime. The Moscow Open Games, an LGBT sports competition not affiliated with the Olympics, will operate in full view of Moscow police at the same time as a not-so-subtle protest, and because participants won’t be “spreading an agenda,” simply competing, the organization supposedly can’t be sanctioned under the anti-propaganda laws. Events include table tennis and arm wrestling among other conventional sports like swimming (lets hope it’s an indoor pool) and basketball. We expect the Open Games to remain peaceful, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be tensions in the capital city.
The Cold Shoulder
World leaders are making their opinions heard by publicly avoiding the games. Notably, French President Francois Hollande (left) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (right) will not be making the trip to Sochi. While it’s hard to imagine the direct effects of their actions, there is important symbolism behind these powerful figures making bold statements. You also won’t be seeing Obama anywhere near a curling broom. Even Ellie Goulding turned down an offer to perform in response to antigay laws, so you know it’s getting real.
Tennis legend Billie Jean King is worthy of representing the US as an Olympic delegate wherever the games are, but President Obama made a special point to include gay athletes when he selected her. King was “deeply honored” to be chosen, and added, “I am equally proud to stand with the members of the LGBT community in support of all athletes who will be competing in Sochi and I hope these Olympic Games will indeed be a watershed moment for the universal acceptance of all people.” Unfortunately, King won’t be able to attend due to personal issues, but out two-time Olympic hockey medalist Caitlin Cahow (originally scheduled as the closing ceremony delegate) will take her place.
Hell, if there’s ever a time for Brian Boitano to stumble out of the closet (we were just letting you win at hide and seek), being selected as a delegate is it. Boitano’s public statements fall in the Johnny Weir/Thomas Roberts camp of “my presence is protest enough.” But with Billie Jean King now sitting out, it begs the question…What would Brian Boitano do?
4. Follow the money
Appealing to Corporate Sponsors
40 of the world’s biggest human rights organizations recently coauthored a letter addressed to the ten largest corporate sponsors of the games, urging them to push back against Russia’s ambivalence towards the violence taking place. So far, only AT&T and DeVry University (neither in the aforementioned ten) have risen to the occasion to denounce the anti-gay propaganda law. It’s time, CEOs.
Specifically, they’re asked to:
You can view the full letter here.
Hijacking Corporate Sponsorship
Other activists are taking a more direct approach with sponsors, working to infiltrate marketing and publicity campaigns to spread awareness of the atrocities in Russia. Queer Nation reedited the famous 1971 Coke advertisement with footage of anti-gay violence, and the group is taking to sponsors’ social media campaigns (like #CheerstoSochi on Twitter) to voice their message.
The general response from sponsors has been predictable — of course they support freedom for everyone! McDonald’s put out this recent statement: “McDonald’s supports human rights, the spirit of the Olympics and all the athletes who’ve worked so hard to compete in the Games. We believe the Olympic Games should be open to all, free of discrimination, and that applies to spectators, officials, media and athletes.”
Unless, of course, that gets in the way of selling a burger or five million.