Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

No Rainbow Flags Will Fly at the Winter Olympics

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

No Rainbow Flags Will Fly at the Winter Olympics

Article excerpt

RUSSIAN President Vladimir Putin doesn't lose sleep over what the American people think. Last week, the Russian government granted Edward Snowden temporary asylum, allowing the man wanted by the United States for leaking information on the National Security Agency's surveillance program to leave a transit area in Moscow's airport.

Snowden will be free to do what he pleases in Russia for a year. What happens next in this chess game is up to Putin, President Obama and a welcoming country to be announced. Most Americans are aware of strained U.S.-Russian relations through the Snowden prism, but there is another rainbow worth exploring.

In July, actor and playwright Harvey Fierstein wrote an opinion piece in The New York Times detailing Russia's new policies on gay people. In short, the government is against them. Even tourists who promote homosexuality, whatever that means, could find themselves detained in jail for up to 14 days and then expelled from the country. No gay couples can adopt Russian children. This is a dangerous time to be openly gay or even gay-friendly in Russia.

Perhaps on the scale of human rights abuses, where genocide still exists and women are raped and mutilated, and even subject to arrest for reporting abuse, Russia's anti-gay laws seem less urgent. The urgency for Fierstein is the 2014 Winter Olympics to be held in Sochi, Russia.

The 2014 Sochi Olympics could be a replay of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, a propaganda event that deflects attention from a spreading, insidious social cancer. To quote from the musical "The Fantasticks," "You wonder how these things begin."

The modern Olympics are as much about money as athletics. The games are profit opportunities for cities, promoters and sponsors that have their brands splayed on surfaces both inanimate and human. Fierstein suggests a boycott of the games if Russian policies continue.

Athletes, even gay athletes, are not embracing that option. What does an Olympic boycott accomplish but to keep gifted athletes from competing? There is a movement within the gay community to boycott Russian vodkas. Some gay bars are doing just that with Stolichnaya. Don't expect much to come of it. Unlike a boycott of a brand because the manufacturer has done something egregious, boycotting a vodka brand will have no impact on a sovereign nation's policy.

Imagine if there were a global boycott of McDonald's. It could put McDonald's out of business, but it would not move the needle an inch in Washington, D.C. Besides, Americans in the 21st century are by and large a lazy bunch, unmotivated to do very much en masse. Even the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq did not get millions of Americans off their couches or Facebook pages. We are a nation easily distracted by the silly, the stupid and the profane. What happens to loud, pampered housewives in select cities across the nation generates more water-cooler conversation than the civil rights policies of Russia. …

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