February 08, 2014

How Dare You Try Helping!

The Winter Olympics are underway.  There was some question as to whether it would ever happen, between the terrorist threats (seriously, hosting the Olympics 250 miles from Chechnya on the 150th anniversary of the ethnic cleansing there, one hundred years after Russa invaded, and less than twenty years after TWO wars of independence?  Hm.) and, of course, the Russian domestic policy of 'Gays Don't Really Exist, And If They Do Shut The Hell Up'.

For the folks who are complaining that things aren't great in the US for queer people "so there!", I'd like to point out that this, exactly THIS, is something that's going to help.

First off, boycotts of the Olympis do nothing but help the medal counts of the nations people are complaining about.  Think of the 1936 Games: what is the primary story you know about them?  I'll bet 90% of you thought of the rather non-aryan Jesse Owens.  Now picture the total number of medals Nazi Germany would have won had the Allied nations boycotted.  Bear in mind, this was at a time when Owens wasn't allowed in the same places in the US; but now he could be a powerful image of how ridiculous that idea (segregation) was...

Basically, who is a more effective spokesperson for queer rights in Russia: a very good athlete - a world champion, even - who didn't take part in the Olympics, or a gold medal winner who says 'this law is ridiculous'?

Likewise, the "Western" nations racked up the wins in Los Angeles because Russia and their allies didn't bother to show up (much to McDonald's dismay) in retaliation for those same "Western" nations boycotting the 1980 Games in Moscow - which led to huge medal counts for the "Eastern Bloc" countries.  All that either of the boycotts did was increase medal counts for the host nations and nothing else.

Showing that the US as a whole - the image they are putting forward into the world - is going to be one of tolerace toward queer people IS going to encourage the same response domestically.  The image a nation has of itself - the stories we tell of us - is key in directing the future.  It's a message that is overly simplistic, certainly, but that's what's most likely to sink in to the folks who are still aggressively opposed to it.

"Hey!  Don't you pick on those gay folk!  They're OUR gay folk to pick on!" is an eye-rolling statement to hear, but even that little bit of progress is an improvement.  Lots of people who have limited their vision to only include homophobic and xenophobic views are going to be exposed to this debate if they watch ANY of the Olympics.  Or, for that matter, use the largest search engine in the world (by FAR) to check out the opening ceremony.

And, yeah, using jingoism to get a wedge in against homophobia seems like robbing Peter to pay Paul, but at least jingoism has less effect domestically because the people afflicted with that aren't likely to be huge into international relations any way.

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posted by Erin Butler at 12:52 pm


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