British human rights lawyer and writer Mark Stephens has written a provocative article arguing that LGBT rights be the centerpiece of the London Olympics. Nations that still criminalize homosexuality should be banned by the International Olympic Committee, he argues, just like South Africa was under apartheid until 1992. He writes in the Guardian:
When people think about countries like Jamaica, Kenya and Ethiopia at the Olympics, they think about the incredible runners, like Usain Bolt. They don't think about what would happen if Bolt were gay. They don't think about the fact that he would face a ten year prison sentence for having consensual sex with an adult man. That being open about his sexual identity would be dangerous, not only because it is illegal but because the levels of homophobic violence in Jamaica are so catastrophically high. In the Maldives and Qatar homosexual acts are punished by whipping. Only ten countries recognize marriage equality.
Stephens points out that the Iranian team will be welcome in London, while at the same time a court there sentenced four gay men to hang for sodomy. He also urged gay athletes to come out, if they can.
You are the only ones who have the glare of attention that can be used to effect real change. If you feel safe to do so, come out and make a visible, memorable, courageous gesture for LGBT rights. Show that you are proud to be LGBT. ...
To the LGBT athletes who don't feel safe - and there must be many of you. I invite you to apply for asylum in this country on the grounds that you will face persecution at home if you are open about your sexual identity. Our supreme court has recognized ... that a person cannot be asked to conceal their true sexual identity in order to avoid persecution. ... LGBT athletes from the 84 criminalizing jurisdictions should use this case to apply for asylum in the UK when they arrive for the Games in July.
I agree with everything he wrote, but won't hold my breath waiting for the International Olympic Committee to act on behalf of gay rights. There is too much money and too much politics involved for this to rise to the top as an issue. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei have never allowed women to compete as Olympians, and they still enjoy full participation.
LGBT athletes, though, should come out in London if it would be safe for them. Matthew Mitcham has shown that you can compete at a high level and be openly gay. London is one of the most gay-friendly cities in the world, and any out LGBT athlete would be embraced.