First, a disclaimer: To all of the athletes who are coming together around the globe to compete, I wish you well in your proud moment. To all the people who are gathered in Sochi to watch these men and women test the limits of human capacity, I hope it's everything you dreamed and that you stay safe. To those of you who will be watching from the comfort of your homes, I do not begrudge you a moment of enjoyment. And to the corporations who are making a bundle off the spectacle, you have your money (that's the most charitable thing I can say about you).
As for me, I won't be watching due to Russia's horrific human rights abuses against their LGBT citizens. As an alternative, or even as an addition to, I invite you to read a greatly detailed article by Jeff Sharlet as well as many other links that examine the rampant homophobia that has taken root in Russia.
While America pointed and laughed at doorknobs coming off in reporter's hands and tap water coming out of their faucets like a facial from fracking hell in the days leading up to the Sochi Olympics, a brilliant article penned by Jeff Sharlet appeared in GQ Magazine. Author of The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, Sharlet recounts his trip he made last November to delve into Russia's rapidly deteriorating human rights situation. His piece Inside the Iron Closet: What It's Like to Be Gay in Putin's Russia puts into chilling context what is happening to the LGBT community, supplying the hows and whys directly from the voices involved.
In his account, Sharlet tells his story of meeting gay activists, recounting the alarmingly frequent atrocities occurring across the country and relaying messages from the people perpetrating these crimes as if raping a man with beer bottles before killing him was all in good fun, done for the betterment of Russian society.
Elena Kostyuchenko knew she would be beaten. It was how hard she went down that surprised her. Not immediately. When the fist connected with her skull, she fell, yes, but then she stood again and raised her rainbow flag. The crowd was silent. Their mouths were open as if screaming, but there was no sound. Her hearing was gone. Then the police grabbed her, and Elena's first gay-pride parade was over.I understand that the Olympics are a time to put aside political and cultural differences. It is designed to be a venue in which to come together and share our commonalities while watching our very best stretching the limits of human endurance and skill. But my own personal tolerance for man's inhumanity towards man has been strained to the breaking point as Putin and his thugs seek to sweep aside concerns over attacks against the LGBT community while half heartedly assuring that foreigners will be safe from abuse so long as they don't make any waves.
She knows some English, but she speaks mostly in Russian. Explaining her view of Russia's rising homophobia, she dictates to Zhenya: "Putin needs external enemies and internal enemies. The external enemies are the U.S. and Europe. Internal enemies, they had to think about. The ethnic topic is dangerous. Two wars in the Caucasus, a third one, nobody knows how it would end. Jews? After Hitler, it's not kosher. We—" she waves a hand at herself and Zhenya—"are the ideal. We are everywhere. We don't look different, but we are." She inhales. She's one of those smokers who hold your eyes when they're smoking. Cigarettes disappear into her lungs. She says, in English: "It's our turn. Just our turn." She exhales. She has a pleasant smile.While Sharlet mainly focuses on the internal circumstances of Russia's violent devolution against LGBT people, he also points a finger at external forces at play that have contributed to the increasingly violent climate, namely our own American religious extremists. While Russia has adamantly decried attempts at "Westernizing" their country, they have freely adopted Western terminology in their pogrom against gay people. Phrases such as "Traditional Family Values" and a group labeling themselves "Occupy Pedophilia" have been taken directly from the American vernacular. Russia has sought the counsel of American hate group leaders such as Brian Brown and Scott Lively.
There are three faces of homophobia in Russia: that of the state, that of the Orthodox Church, that of the fringe. And yet they're one—a kind of Trinity. The state passes laws; the church blesses them; the fringe puts them into action. The state is the mind of hate, the church, now, its heart; the fringe is made up of its many hands. Some use the courts; some use fists. There are street fighters, and there are polished men and women who attend international conferences on "family values."Even as I write, the Opening Ceremonies are underway in Sochi. Over the next two weeks, the world's eye will be focused on this resort town by the Black Sea. Of course, I will not insulate myself entirely from the events happening there. I will be reading to see who has taken gold and who has waived a little rainbow flag. And long after the Sochi Olympics have faded to memory, I will be keeping my eyes firmly set on Russia to bear witness to and help shine a light on the suffering of my fellow Russian LGBT brothers and sisters.