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Queer Rights. The Battle of Sochi and Beyond.

Queer Rights. The Battle of Sochi and Beyond.

What to do about the Sochi Olympics in Russia? The debate rages as some call for an outright ban on the games, its advertisers and everything Russian in response to the government’s growing list of anti-LGBTQ laws. It’s hard to stand by—especially from a Western point-of-view—and watch as a segment of society is so deliberately targeted and scapegoated for no other reason than being who they are: queer.

Many activists are looking ahead to the Sochi Games as an opportunity to exact a form of revenge on Russia for their appalling treatment of LGBTQ Russians. It has been suggested that the we boycott the broadcast, Sochi sponsors, and even pressure queer athletes not to attend as a show of solidarity, strength and outrage. While these are all viable actions in their own ways, will they really accomplish anything? Will they serve the cause or play into the hands of the very people they are meant to punish?

“Everyone is an influencer.” – Billie Jean King

billie-jean-king-1Recently, I was listening to an interview with tennis legend Billie Jean King on CBC’s Q with Jian Ghomeshi when he asked about her thoughts and ideas on the Sochi Games, the threatened boycotts and the pressure on queer athletes to not compete. Her answer was carefully thought out as she pondered the idea of athletes losing out on what may be their last chance to compete at the Olympic level should they not go in protest. She admitted to having two minds on the topic: boycott in protest or attend and make a statement. She ended her musings with the sentence: “everyone is an influencer.”

Everyone is an influencer. Those four words carry quite a lot of heft. The Russian lawmakers who are targeting and brutalizing LGBTQ people are certainly influencers—in the worst possible way. On the other hand, those who stand up to the oppression and fight for their rights to not only exist but to be counted as equal members of society are definitely influencers.

King’s words made me think of my youth in Toronto. They made me think of the oppression we once lived under right here in Canada over our right to have employment without being fired or refused employment for being gay; to have secure housing and not be denied a home or evicted for being gay; to assembly freely and safely in queer spaces without being arrested for being gay. The idea of marriage and having children wasn’t even a twinkle in the eye of the most forward-thinking activist back in those early post-Stonewall days.

The battles and oppression queers in Russia must endure will go on long after the Olympic flame has been extinguished.

sochi-247In those days we confronted oppression and our oppressors with marches, demonstrations, placards, shouts and chants. We didn’t turn tail and run away. If we did, our invisibility and silence would be playing right into the hands of those who wanted us erased from the world. Why would we be complicit in our own demise? Our history and our road to rights and freedoms meant standing up and standing tall against oppression, not running away.

King, after considering both sides of the boycott/attend scenario and the ramifications of both, seemed to come down on the side of queer athletes and their straight allies going to complete at Sochi and using that platform to make statements in support of Russian queers—whether in interviews or by wearing a rainbow pin. Something. Anything. Show up. Stand up. Yes, there is a risk; but isn’t there always risk in the battle for civil and human rights?

We must remember that while the Sochi Games are very high profile and will draw the eyes of the world, the battles and oppression queers in Russia must endure will go on long after the Olympic flame has been extinguished. By showing our support we can help embolden them for their fight. By staying away we will only make them feel isolated and, worse, we will give Putin and his homophobic cadre of lawmakers exactly what they want: the removal of queers from Russia.

We are Russia. We are Uganda. We are Jamaica. We are the Heartland of America. We are the oppressed. We are everywhere. When it comes to queer rights—whether they are on our own shores or those around the world—we must remember that we have always won when we stand up, make noise, make a statement and become influencers.

AndyAndrew Vail’s writing career began in Halifax when he was but a child. In Grade 4, he wrote and produced his own series of comic books entitled “Freaky The Frog”, the on-going tale of a little misfit frog and his pals of the pond. Marvel Comics never came knocking but Andrew knew he loved to create and tell stories. Since then, Andrew has worked in advertising, PR and publicity; has interviewed politicians, rock stars and very interesting yet not-so-famous movers and shakers. He has published articles in a variety of local and national magazines and websites.

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