So, I heard you still plan to go to Sochi in spite of everything. Well, Johnny, I must confess I’m baffled and disappointed. Is this the same Johnny I loved so much for his fearlessness? The one who boldly skated to this oh-so-gay song?
Or the Johnny who stood up to homophobic bullies with guts and grace?
I miss that brave guy, Johnny. And I don’t think that Russian army uniform is a good look for you, either. Armies the world over have a nasty “tradition” of hazing any gay guy who is unfortunate enough to be outed. Just ask Chelsea Manning how that worked out for her back when she was still going by “Bradley”.
Sure, you say you’re willing to brave arrest for being there with your Russian spouse and all. And you seem very confident that nothing bad will happen to you because you speak Russian and love Russia. I hope for your sake that it’s true. But you’ll be doing too little, too late, even if you do get arrested; the real push is on now. The anti-gay law has people’s attention already. Nobody needs you to publicize to the plight of LGBT Russians. Activist organizations are doing that already. You are, quite literally, Johnny Come Lately.
You say you’re an Olympian and that this supersedes everything else about your identity. And maybe for you, right now, it does. But you won’t always be a competitor. You will, however, always be a gay guy. And so will your partner. And you will not always be safe. You yourself have (rightly) made it clear that you still face discrimination and inequality in your own country. Even if you are safe in Sochi, other parts of Russia will still be off limits to you for as long as that anti-gay law is on the books.
But, Johnny…this is not about you. It is not a question of security at Sochi. And it’s not about other gay athletes, either. This is about the LGBT Russians. They, not you, are the ones who will bear the brunt of this horrible legislation.
They, not you, are the ones who don’t feel safe in public ANYWHERE.
They, not you, are the ones who will be forcibly parted from their loved ones — especially if they have children.
They, not you, are the ones facing prison.
They, not you, are the ones facing fascist gangs emboldened by the laws.
They, not you, are the ones facing violence on the streets every day.
They, not you, are the ones facing death just for being different.
And they, not you, lack the privilege of elite athleticism to shield them from the worst of it.
Yes, Johnny, I know you want your shot at the podium. I wish you the best of luck; I wish you all the luck in the world. But even if you’re not harassed, beaten up, turned away by border police, or arrested, you’re still making a mistake by going. And you’re not doing your Russian LGBT fans any favors by being there. Your planning to skate will not change anything. Letting the show go on like nothing is wrong is not an effective strategy, never was, and never will be. On the contrary, it is a tacit way of acquiescing.
A boycott may sound isolating to you, Johnny, but it actually lets Russians who oppose these laws know that the world is standing in solidarity with them. Radical protests work. And LGBT Russians have turned out on the Internet to let the world know that they appreciate the support. The vodka boycott is already having an effect, and an Olympic boycott, because of the sheer volume of sponsorship dollars, will have an even bigger one. How would you feel if no one tuned in to see your big moment at Sochi, Johnny?
Pretty isolated, I would guess. And wouldn’t that be ironic, just as you’re going for glory?
I know, I know. You don’t want to be an activist. You want to be an Olympian. Maybe even a gold medalist. It’s a laudable ambition, but don’t be too surprised if you come home with a lump of something tarnished and unrecognizable hanging off your neck instead. If that happens, Johnny, take heart and remember: It was never about you.
And if you don’t want to do the right thing, other people will.