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STEPHEN FRY CHANGED MY MIND

The debate about what our response to Putin’s anti gay laws should be is escalating. Today, Stephen Fry added his eminently intelligent and ethical voice to the conversation. He makes a compelling case for an Olympic boycott and I urge you to read it here. He reminds us that the world went to the Berlin Olympics after Hitler instituted similar discriminatory laws – and it propped up his regime.

Fry quotes the clear Olympic statement of purpose. Rule 6 states: “Act against any form of discrimination affecting the Olympic Movement.” What action by the Olympic committee would honor that rule? In my last post, I argued that since a worldwide boycott of the Sochi Winter Olympics seemed improbable because what drove the games was money, I advocated using the games to protest with acts of civil disobedience. I suggested athletes and spectators wear a pink triangle and wave one on a flag.

But Stephen Fry has made a more compelling case to deploy the ultimate sanction on Putin and his thugs – the world needs to stand up for human rights and boycott the Russian games. I urge a boycott that would be a bottom up movement within the Olympic family.

The common argument against a boycott is that it would hurt the athletes who have trained hard and sacrificed much for their chance at a medal. And that is exactly why the athletes have the power to create the boycott. They have the credibility of their sacrifice. Now they need the courage to say, “This is bigger than me – I will stand up for gay rights as human rights and refuse to participate in the games in Russia.” What could be a more powerful statement?

If the movement begins with the athletes, the officials at the IOC and world political leaders will be shamed for their inaction. Their arguments about keeping the Olympics “above” politics would be seen as the sham arguments of the ethically impaired. We do not need the Berlin Olympics again; we will not appease fascist dictators who want to “cleanse” their nations of us. This is a human rights issue, not merely something on the “gay agenda”. The athletes, backed by principled people, can bring corrupt power structures to their knees.

I’ve heard the argument of Johnny Weir, the gay American figure skater who said he would not support a boycott. Part of his rationale was based on the sacrifices his parents made to support his dream. While I sympathize with him for what he sees as too great a sacrifice for him and his family to make, I ask this question. What do we say to the parents in Russia whose gay children are being beaten and killed in the streets? What do we say to the millions of gay Russians whose freedom of speech has been suspended and who presently live in fear for their very lives? Does a chance for a medal trump their sacrifices?

George Takei suggested that the Winter Olympics be moved to Vancouver, the site of the last winter games. History is replete with the stories of individuals who moved mountains in the pursuit of justice. In this case, the athletes can boycott Russia and move to a mountain in a free land.

- Tom

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One Response to “STEPHEN FRY CHANGED MY MIND”

  1. I like seeing this evolution in thinking of how to best respond to Russia’s step-back towards aiding and abetting Gay cultural genocide. The immediate (and stupid) pop-culture response: “Let’s drink a different brand of vodka” reaction was grossly simplistic.

    Sadly, displaying a pink triangle or rainbow flag by athletes is outlawed by olympic rules, so a broad visual show of politics or solidarity is unlikely during the games – although it would only take ONE CAMERA SHOT of a participant standing up and out in protest to garner global media attention. Perhaps someone will have the moral courage to do that during the games and display or say what other’s fear to: To refuse to tolerate the intolerable stance Russia has taken on the LGBT community.

    MOVE THE GAMES away from Russia – now that would be the best outcome. But whatever transpires, agreed: It must come from the bottom up, from within the olympic community assisted by a growing external pressure across the globe to Do The Right Thing.

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