The International Olympic Committee this week restated yet again the ban on athletes engaging in political demonstrations and protests at the Sochi Olympics. The gays are pissed. While many activists understand the historical ban on political protest during the Olympics, many others want LGBT rights treated differently from every other social-justice and political movement in the history of the Games.
The IOC is never going to allow athletes to engage in political demonstrations at the Olympics this year. Period. They will not tolerate rainbow flags or anything else that remotely smells like a political statement. We can cry and scream about it, but it's not going to happen.
If they kicked Tommie Smith and John Carlos out of the Olympics for raising their fists, anyone with a rainbow flag or a T-shirt will suffer the same consequence. That's reality, folks. They've never allowed it before, they won't now, and they have good reason.
Many activists in the LGBT space want to demand the IOC change this policy because their issue is suddenly directly affected. They didn't care when it was human rights in China; They didn't care when it was American civil rights at the Mexico City Games. But now, because it affects them and our movement, they want the IOC to change the rules.
Except, we're not special. The Olympics have taken place across a broad spectrum of social-justice movements that involve race, gender, creed, national origin, religion and just about everything else. The IOC has never allowed protests before, so why should they now? Because white people are being affected? Because LGBT rights are the hot topic of the day? Reality check: It's not going to happen no matter how loud we scream or how cute we get with our campaigns.
One of the rallying cries of LGBT rights opponents is that we want special rights, special treatment by the government. We don't, of course; We just want equal access to the law. Yet in this case, we give our opponents fodder. Here, many LGBT activists do want our rights to be treated by the IOC in a way they have never treated any rights movement in history.
Many LGBT activists have wanted to put our agenda ahead of the athletes themselves. First they wanted to tell athletes they couldn't go to the Olympics at all by boycotting the Games. Now that that's clearly not going to happen, they want to put a target on the athletes so they can pressure them to make LGBT politics front and center during the Olympics.
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The athletes are the most important element of the Olympics. They should be celebrated and revered. And they should be left alone to compete.
"How dare you! No medal is more important than the lives of LGBT Russians!"
Yes, I know. I agree 100%. But the Olympics aren't about the LGBT Russians, they're about the athletes. Unless you change the Olympic charter -- the very essence of the Games -- to make them about policy and politics, then the Olympics' fundamental role in our culture is to highlight the majesty of the greatest athletes in the world.
And if those athletes want to talk about the Russian laws after their competition is over, fantastic! If they want to hold a rainbow flag on the podium with a gold medal draped around their neck, awesome! They'll be escorted out of Sochi for it (by the IOC, not the Russian government), but the Games will be over and they'll have their medal, so the potential negative repercussions won't be felt for four years.
This is where the rest of us step in.
Away from the athletes, we will raise awareness about the Russian anti-gay laws. We should. We must. NBC was right to hire a special political analyst to cover the issues during the Games after first saying they would only address issues as they came up. They were right to hire out gay former Olympian Johnny Weir as a commentator. The rest of the media seems all-in as well.
We're seeing other folks step up big-time. The EU Commissioner and German president have both said they will not visit Sochi due to the anti-LGBT laws. Vancouver is sending one delegate: An openly gay man. Various organizations have put together campaigns to show their displeasure with the Russian anti-gay law and support of Russian LGBT people. Other groups are using the Olympics to raise money for LGBT Russians. There should be a conversation about the kinds of places the IOC selects as hosts; Russia and China should have never been given the Games in the first place. President Barack Obama has talked about the issue, and hopefully he will send an out LGBT gesture to the Olympic Games.
This is how we should be targeting this issue.
What isn't right is the pressure so many others are putting on athletes to speak out on our behalf. The IOC is stepping in to ward off the tidal wave of political pressure all of their athletes will receive if they open the flood gates and allow political messages in the Games.
"As an athlete, you do not want to be confronted with any kind of political controversies at the Games," IOC president Thomas Bach said.
As we at Outsports have said over and over, the most powerful message we can send is to have out LGBT athletes compete in Sochi. Forget about all of these straight athletes waving rainbow flags and making speeches about the Russian laws; It was never going to happen.
Snowboarder Belle Brockhoff. Speed skater Anastsia Bucsis. Speed skater Blake Skjellerup, god willing. These are the LGBT athletes we should be talking about! Lifting up the LGBT athletes who are competing in Russia is the No. 1 way to get our message across, be visible, and show support for LGBT Russians.
If you want someone else to act on our behalf, go after the governments and national Olympic committees that allow Russia to enact these laws without sanctions, and which allow the IOC to choose places like Russia as hosts.
The IOC and the Chinese government addressed protest concerns there in the same way as Russia is next year: The creation of protest zones. In Beijing, these zones were far away from venues and were not used. Where was the outcry then?
We can't expect the IOC to waive a century of history that says the Olympic Games are a time to put aside politics. They've maintained that through Nazism, the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement, women's suffrage and the like.
LGBT rights won't get special treatment.