Europe

Boycotting anti-gay Russia: Vodka, maybe Olympics too

Human rights supporters are boycotting Russian vodka, as show by this sign at LuLu in Palm Springs, California, "a straight, but not narrow" establishment. (Photo courtesy of AmericaBlog.com)

Human rights supporters are boycotting Russian vodka, as show by this sign at LuLu in Palm Springs, California, “a straight, but not narrow” establishment. (Photo courtesy of AmericaBlog.com)

The Russian LGBT Network says opponents of Russia’s anti-gay crackdown should protest at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, rather than boycotting them.

That stance contrasts with the position of RUSA LGBT, a Russian-American gay rights group, which is urging a boycott of the Games in Sochi. It said:

Do not go to Sochi. Do not support state-­‐sponsored hate and witch hunts. Do not sponsor the Sochi Olympics. Withdraw your support today if you already pledged. Let the Russian government know that the world will not tolerate federally mandated homophobia and persecution.

In addition, a group of 23 Russian LGBT activists supported both a Sochi boycott and a vodka boycott in a letter to the US activist group Queer Nation.

Many bar owners who support LGBT rights have joined the vodka boycott,which particularly targets Stolichnaya vodka.

In response to the campaign, the CEO of the SPI Group, which produces Stolichnaya, wrote an open letter to the LGBT community, stating that his company supports gay rights and criticizing the “recent dreadful actions” of the Russian government. That didn’t stop the boycott.

Opinions of the proposed Sochi boycott are more divided.

Johnny Weir (Photo by Dan Leveille via Wikimedia Commons)

Johnny Weir (Photo by Dan Leveille via Wikimedia Commons)

Openly gay men’s figure skating champion Johnny Weir opposes it even though, he said,  “The fact that Russia is arresting my people, and openly hating a minority and violating human rights all over the place is heartbreaking and a travesty of international proportions.”

The Russian LGBT Network said, “Participation and attendance of the Games in Sochi will not indicate endorsement of injustice and discrimination; they will only if they are silent,” the group said. They proposed “sending the strongest message possible by involving athletes, diplomats, sponsors, and spectators to show up and speak up, proclaiming equality in most compelling ways.”

Past Olympic boycotts have not be very successful, the group said, citing “the 1980 boycott of the Moscow Olympics [and] the 1984 ‘retaliation’ boycott of the LA Games.”  In contrast what was memorable from the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City “is neither the number nor the names of those who boycotted the Games, but the ‘human rights salute’ by Tommie Smith and John Carlos who rose black-gloved fists and bowed their heads on the victory stand as a sign of resistance to racial injustice and solidarity with everyone who fought for equality and human rights.”

The International Olympic Committee announced July 26 that Russian officials assured the IOC that the nationwide ban on “gay propaganda” that was recently enacted “will not affect those attending or taking part in the Games.”

In response the pro-LGBT rights Human Rights Campaign said that wasn’t enough: “They should be advocating for the safety of all LGBT people in Russia, not simply those visiting for the Olympics. Rescinding this heinous law must be our collective goal.”

This is the Russian LGBT Network’s statement:

Winter Olympics: We Should Speak Up, Not Walk Out

In light of the recently enacted Russian law on ‘propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors’ that renders illegal statements and actions that acknowledge LGBT equality and in response to the growing violence against LGBT people and allies in Russia, the upcoming Winter Olympics and Paralympics in Sochi have already become a subject of an international debate both over the impact of this context on the athletes, spectators, staff, and volunteers of the Games and over compliance of the Sochi Games with the Olympic values of diversity and non-discrimination.

Sochi logoThe Russian LGBT Network applauds the actions of individuals and organizations who address the escalating official and societal homophobia in Russia, and we are with them in the commitment to the protection of the rights and freedoms of LGBT people and allies. Numerous initiatives in regards the 2014 Winter Olympics are successfully garnering support worldwide, with the centerpiece of the debate being the pro- / counter-boycott considerations. We would like to join the momentum and share our vision.

While we value diversity in approaches and welcome all efforts that forward justice and equality, we will contribute the work of the LGBT Network to the promotion of proactive participation in the Games instead of a boycott.

We believe that calls for the spectators to boycott Sochi, for the Olympians to retreat from competition, and for governments, companies, and national Olympic committees to withdraw from the event risk to transform the powerful potential of the Games in a less powerful gesture that would prevent the rest of the world from joining LGBT people, their families and allies in Russia in solidarity and taking a firm stance against the disgraceful human rights record in this country.

In retrospect, the record of the Olympic boycotts is not utterly promising in regards the potential to bring a change; look at the 1980 boycott of the Moscow Olympics, the 1984 ‘retaliation’ boycott of the LA Games, or at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. What is remembered from 1968 is neither the number nor the names of those who boycotted the Games, but the ‘human rights salute’ by Tommie Smith and John Carlos who rose black-gloved fists and bowed their heads on the victory stand as a sign of resistance to racial injustice and solidarity with everyone who fought for equality and human rights.

The Olympic Games are a unique and powerful occasion for individuals, organizations, diplomatic missions, and governments to come together and voice, in tune with the Olympic ideals, the ideas of human rights, freedoms, equality and justice – regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Participation and attendance of the Games in Sochi will not indicate endorsement of injustice and discrimination; they will only if they are silent. We hope to join forces and succeed in raising everyone’s voices for LGBT equality in Russia and elsewhere. We hope that together with those who share this vision, we will succeed in sending the strongest message possible by involving athletes, diplomats, sponsors, and spectators to show up and speak up, proclaiming equality in most compelling ways.

We call for organizations and individuals who are attending the Games to exercise freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and to not fall accomplices to the homophobic policies by censoring own beliefs, statements, and identities.

We will work for greater visibility of LGBT pride before, during, and after the Games in all domains possible, and we hope for the support of national organizations in making sure that the athletes publicly take a stance against violence toward LGBT people and stand strong for LGBT equality; that the national houses fill the gap of the banned Pride House and support LGBT athletes, staff, spectators and their allies on their grounds; that sponsors follow through with their policies and visualize their commitment to justice and observance of human rights in regards LGBT people at the Games; and that the broadcasters display all this in a positive and supportive way.

The Olympics in Sochi should embody the ideals and values of the Games and should demonstrate to everyone who is watching that the greatest athletes stand strong with their LGBT competitors and partners, out or closeted, and that together they stand strong with LGBT people and allies everywhere.

Do not boycott the Olympics – boycott homophobia!

9 thoughts on “Boycotting anti-gay Russia: Vodka, maybe Olympics too

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