American middle distance runner Nick Symmonds is a friend of the LGBT community and posed for the NoH8 campaign this year. He is also opposed to the new anti-gay laws passed in Russia. But now in Moscow for the world track and field championships, Symmonds will stay silent on the issue and his stance is a total cop-out. Writing in Runner's World, Symmonds said:
These laws, which do not expressly prohibit being homosexual, criminalize public discussion of homosexuality, especially with foreigners. As an American, I believe in freedom of speech and equality for all, and therefore disagree with the laws that Russia has put in place. Given that I am currently residing in London, I will say, once again, that our LGBT neighbors deserve all the same rights as the rest of us. However, as an American who is about to reside in Moscow for 12 days, this will be the last time I will mention this subject.
I say this not out of fear of prosecution by the Russian government, but out of respect for the fact that I will be a guest in the host nation. Just as I would not accept a dinner invite to a friend's house and then lecture them on how to raise their kids, neither will I lecture the Russian government on how to govern their people. ...
If I am placed in a race with a Russian athlete, I will shake his hand, thank him for his country's generous hospitality, and then, after kicking his ass in the race, silently dedicate the win to my gay and lesbian friends back home. Upon my return, I will then continue to fight for their rights in my beloved democratic union.
For a smart guy whose heart is in the right place, Symmonds really missed on this. Being in Moscow is EXACTLY the time to be bringing this up, with the world's sports media assembled to cover the event and with the issue of gay rights front and center. Now is not the time to be silent.
Let's take his analogy: "Just as I would not accept a dinner invite to a friend's house and then lecture them on how to raise their kids, neither will I lecture the Russian government on how to govern their people." This is the wrong way to look at it. Let's see how Russia is treating its gay kids -- jail, torture, public condemnation, threats to their physical safety, making them outcasts etc. I can't imagine Symmonds would accept a dinner invite to a friend who was treating their children that way and stay silent.
He makes things worse by saying that if he wins, he will "silently dedicate the win to my gay and lesbian friends back home." Symmonds has qualified for the 800-meter final on Tuesday, and if he wins, a silent dedication is meaningless. Why not pull out a rainbow flag and run around the track? Or use your post-race press conference to speak out? Do or say something.
When Symmonds posed for his NoH8 photo, he must have been aware that the duct tape over his mouth was symbolic. He needs to remove it now and speak up while people are paying attention. That's what a true ally would do.
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