First, please understand that I fully support the goals of those who want to demonstrate our disagreement with the homophobic and unconscionable laws and trends in Russia on the lead-up to the Winter Olympics in Sochi. We think Putin’s punitive laws and tacit backing of bullying and abuse should be exposed, and the Olympics should be targeted. Our question should be, “What strategy will bring the most beneficial change for our gay colleagues in Russia?”
The first idea is to get the Olympic Games moved out of Russia.
If that fails then go to plan B and shun the Olympics. So far there appears to be the widest agreement in the LGBT world on some form of boycott. The idea is to cause the Russians financial pain.
However, it always seems like a good idea to form a strategy to help somebody by at least asking their opinion. We have heard a lot of voices raising an uproar, but few of them were Russian.
So a few days ago I asked a Russian friend of mine what he thinks. He is gay and has been living in Thailand for a long time. His plan is to immigrate here, and in no case to go back to Mother Russia. He is very aware of how bad the situation is. Still, he said that he thinks the boycott could not hurt the Russian power players or help gay people in Russia the most. He believes the thing that Putin is afraid of is not that we will stay away, but that we will come. That madesense to me, in light of the recent announcements in Russia that rainbows and pink triangles would not be tolerated, nor would demonstrations of any kind. Those were defensive announcements. Imagine how Putin would have to deal withwhole delegations in rainbow colored overcoats in the opening ceremony on worldwide TV or rainbow bobsleds careening down the icy concourse, much less gay winners unfurling rainbow flags as national anthems are played. Arrests of gay advocates from overseas are not likely, despite rhetoric from certain Russian officials designed to scare us off. My friend concluded that what would give his gay friends the biggest thrill and help is for a great outpouring of unity and visible shows of support in front of the world’sviewing public. Not even the heavily intimidated media in Russia would be able to block that kind of news.
Whatever we do, boycott or demonstrate, it will be most effective if we have a united strategy. If we want to make a major impact there are two ways to go. Our plan will eitherbe to cause the Olympics to shut down or move. Or else, we should be working to get whole delegations to show gay solidarity in their dress, luggage, accessories, mascots and fans, or in the way they appear on camera. We can bend the news. What’s a human rights campaign if it doesn’t press the oppressors? If Putin reacts, we win big. If he doesn’t, we win anyway.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.