On Monday, our Cyd Zeigler wrote an editorial based on his Five Rings To Rule Them All podcast, advocating that “It’s time to ban Iran from the Olympic Games.” In it, he discussed the need to hold that country’s leaders accountable for their appalling record of human rights violations against LGBTQ citizens, as well as the murder of wrestler Navid Afkari on trumped-up charges relating to his participation in anti-government protests.
At a time when most Americans are understandably consumed with the presidential election, the pandemic, and our own civil rights crises, it’s important to be reminded of the abuses happening in the world outside our borders — especially as they relate to the LGBTQ community.
But a fair amount of his argument relied on the testimony and opinions of Richard Grenell, who is currently an adviser to the Trump campaign and the former Acting Director of National Intelligence under Donald Trump; before that, he was U.S. ambassador to Germany. And that reliance on Grenell deserves to be addressed.
I’m going to start by saying something that I didn’t ever anticipate writing: I agree with part of what Grenell said. Specifically: “systemic human rights abuses” should lead to drastic consequences.
Yes, Ambassador Grenell, I concur. Countries that discriminate against entire classes of people by holding them in indefinite detention and subjecting them to barbaric atrocities must be held accountable and punished severely.
And yes, I also saw what I did there.
These two things can be true at the same time: Iran is one of the most virulent anti-LGBTQ countries on the globe. And anytime one of Trump’s people criticizes them for their LGBTQ record, there’s almost always an ulterior motive behind it.
Consider this: Iran represses its LGBTQ population, its government kills dissenters, and Grenell says they should be banned from the Olympics. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia represses its LGBTQ population, its government kills dissenters, and they get to host WWE SuperShowdown with no objection.
The lesson, apparently, is that this administration will stand up and fight for LGBTQ rights against repressive theocracies, provided that said theocrats haven’t already entered into financial partnership with a billionaire Trump donor who let the president shave his head during Wrestlemania.
When Grenell or anyone from this administration goes off on Iran’s atrocious LGBTQ-rights record, the first question should be whether they’re doing so because they’re really concerned about the community, or if they’re using us as cover to attack one of their favorite geopolitical punching bags: Iran’s Islamic population.
Actually, most of us don’t need to wonder. It turns out gaydar works for detecting bullshit, too.
From the trans military ban to appointing a plethora of judges with horrific anti-gay views, this is an administration that has treated America’s LGBTQ population with little to no regard whatsoever.
It’s also the administration of Betsy DeVos and Mike Pence, whose relationship to the gay community is so toxic that Trump once bellowed about his vice president, “Don’t ask that guy — he wants to hang them all!” (And while Trump’s people might push back that he was joking, as someone who has spent the last two decades in the comedy industry, let me assure you: Donald Trump has never successfully told a joke in his life.)
So, yes, as aware and informed world citizens, we absolutely must call out Iran’s heinous record of abuses against the LGBTQ population, and it’s definitely fair game to consider big punishments like an Olympic ban.
But when someone from this government thinks they have any kind of moral high ground to look down on other countries’ LGBTQ or human rights track records? Spare me.
Lest we forget, it’s not as if this country is a coast-to-coast Pride festival. This year, as if to emphasize how fragile our community’s status remains, the number of murdered trans Americans surpassed the total for all of 2019 in just seven months. Not one person from this administration said a damn word. Amazing how quiet they can get when they can’t find a way to work in the phrase “Sharia law.”
Unless we’re hoping the IOC makes throwing stones in glass houses an Olympic event, I don’t want to hear from anybody affiliated with Donald Trump speak about this subject ever again. Because if Richard Grenell keeps pushing the IOC to ban countries for human rights abuses, the rest of the world would eventually be justified in responding, “OK...now do America.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: The original version of this op-ed misspelled Cyd Zeigler’s name. Yeah, I mean, sheesh, right? While this kind of thing happens from time to time — Cyd even has a saying, “I before E except after Z” — in this instance, it is just plain ridiculous. Thanks to Cyd, who is the one who spotted it; I have fixed it, and Ken and I sincerely regret the error. — Dawn Ennis