Thursday, August 01, 2013

Reasons For A Boycott Of The Sochi Games

In light of John Baird's recent comments regarding Russia's recently-passed anti-gay laws which basically outlaw any "gay propaganda" (such as two people of the same sex holding hands), I'd like to spend a bit of time talking about why a boycott of the Sochi games, along with generally isolating Russia politically is needed right now.

Baird described how he saw the roots of the issue take hold during a meeting of G8 foreign ministers in May 2012. 
“I can recall being in Washington when (then U.S. secretary of state) Hillary Clinton was chairing the G8 foreign ministers meeting and we put, as part of our statement, support for sexual minorities. Russia put an asterisk beside it saying they were not on board,” he said.
“This did not just pop out of nowhere.”
 He's right about one thing - this didn't "pop out of nowhere".  While Canada's Foreign Affairs minister cannot point the finger at the source of this vile piece of legislation, I can.  Take a look south of the US border, in particular to one Scott Lively, who has been exporting the American evangelical version of homophobia since the 1990s.  In the mid-2000s, Lively made a speaking tour of Russia where he started the process of advocating for stricter anti-gay laws.

Make no mistake about it, Lively even goes so far as to try taking a significant amount of credit for the laws that Russia has recently passed in one of his columns for WND.
I am personally very pleased to see this development, having called specifically for legislation of this sort in my speaking tour of the former Soviet Union in 2006 and 2007. During that tour, which began in the Russian eastern city of Blagoveschensk and ended in St. Petersburg, I lectured in a variety of venues including numerous universities, churches and conference halls, and met with numerous government leaders at various levels of influence. Read more at 
Now, the fact that this is an export of the worst aspects of American-style religious evangelism is almost secondary to the discussion.  LGBT people in North America are well aware of who Scott Lively is, and just what he represents.

However, this is the first of the reasons that I am going to raise as to why something stronger than diplomatic arm-twisting is required.  Whether we like it or not, Canada's current government is rapidly becoming seen as no better than the US when it comes to foreign affairs.  The positions taken are ridiculously absolutist, and worse often end up tacitly condoning activities which the majority of its population do not approve of.  Both the United States and Canada need to be seen to be moving definitively against these laws for one basic reason:  failure to do so gives the extremists at home the excuse they need to push towards similar laws here.

Think I'm kidding?  Take a look at the tone of LifeSite's article on Russia's laws:

While Russians certainly do not want to encourage homosexuality, by no means do they criminalize homosexuality, nor do they discriminate against homosexuals, as some media have claimed. Homosexuals enjoy the same privileges as all other Russians, but they may not promote homosexuality as something positive among children in the same way as Mayor Bloomberg wants to eliminate sugary drinks, and Michelle Obama wants to get unhealthy foods out of school cafeterias.  
The media has been portraying the law as an unreasonable measure pushed by “radical religious groups.” But this cannot account for why the lower house of the Russian parliament approved the bill unanimously, with only one abstention. Russia can hardly be described as a religious nation, but the law has overwhelming support in the legislature.
Russians have consistently denied homosexual groups parade permits, sparing its children and the public at large the ludicrous and disturbing behavior on show in the squares and streets of Europe and America. 
Similarly the news reports have highlighted episodes where some LGBT persons were victims of violence, without highlighting that the vast majority of the demonstrators at the parliament while the law was being passed were in favor of the law, and that the violence had nothing to do with the vast majority of demonstrators. 
The law prohibiting the promotion of homosexuality among children simply codifies that Russia truly is interested in protecting its children, not that is interested in persecuting homosexuals. The fact is, that homosexuality is associated with almost a 20 times higher risk of HIV/AIDS, and other bad health statistics like higher incidence of drug and alcohol abuse, depression, and even suicide. It is no wonder that Russians want to protect their children from embracing homosexual lifestyles. 
What the articles authors conveniently leave out is that the definition of "homosexual propaganda" used in the Russian legislation is so broad that it effectively outlaws being gay.  Full stop.  The notion of propaganda includes holding hands, having or displaying the pride flag, or even just looking gay when it comes down to it.  Legitimate political advocacy, such as speaking out for human rights on behalf of LGBT people is considered propaganda, as is providing educational content.  In short, while being gay in Russia isn't strictly illegal, they have made any expression of homosexuality whatsoever illegal ... it amounts to the same thing.  (I'm not at all sure how these laws play when we are talking about the transgender population - especially transsexuals - I suspect it could get really nasty fast).

Which brings me to the second reason why I think that a boycott of the Sochi Games is a reasonable response.  Quite frankly, the IOC's own charter would justify yanking the Sochi Games entirely.

1. Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example, social responsibility and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.2. The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious developmentof humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.
I think that when a country moves against its own citizens as blatantly as the Russians have, that country is in violation of the very fundamental principles in the first two clauses of the Olympic Charter.

Since the IOC has been reluctant to speak out against the Russian laws, especially since we have considerable reason to believe that these laws will be enforced against foreign athletes and spectators during the games,  speaking up with a boycott of the Sochi Games sends a message to both Russia (whose pride and honour is resting upon the success of the Sochi Games), and the IOC, that laws which unreasonably attack the freedoms and civil liberties of a nation's citizens are not acceptable and will not be tolerated.

I have heard others in the LGBT rights movement in Russia say that they do not agree that a boycott of the Sochi games is appropriate.  I disagree.  Isolating the Russian power structure, both through diplomacy and direct action against the state is a clear statement:  "You will not attack your own citizens without it being noted, and you will absolutely not endanger the citizens of any other nation either".

The third point that I would raise is that in today's era, it is long past time to take laws of this nature and expose them for what they truly are.  We've been through this before in recent history - whether we are discussing Stalin's overly heavy handed authoritarianism, or Hitler's maniacal "Final Solution".  Both boil down to the state attacking its own people.

Under no circumstances should the world look upon this and simply try to shrug it off.  This is criminal and it endangers otherwise peaceful members of the society.  Such a law is as unacceptable in Russia as it is in Canada, the United States or Uganda.

It is time for the world community to stand up and be heard ... before we have another genocide.

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