Once upon a time, I loved the Olympics. Not because I loved sports, but because I loved the idea of fraternal, international competitions.
However, this year is a different story. It seems that nothing can be done without the explicit reference to gays and lesbians in the Russian Federation.
While I am deeply concerned with the Russian anti-propaganda laws and violent movements such as Occupy Pedophilia (ÐžÐºÐºÑƒÐ¿Ð°Ð¹ ÐŸÐµÐ´Ð¾Ñ„Ð¸Ð»Ñ), the phenomenon of gay-baiting young men, torturing them, degrading them and sometimes murdering them while recording the incident, the American understanding is decontextualized and lacking information.
In effect, the public discourse demonizes Russians, disregarding and dehumanizing a foreign people. And this is the face of American exceptionalism. It is harmful not only to those abroad, but also to groups within the United States.
American media and social media, while championing the out lesbian who won a gold medal in speed skating or the recent American football player who came out, largely avoids the reality of American people who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender or Queer (LGBTQ), especially trans*gender and queer.
In explicitly stating the violences experienced by Russian gay men (yes, it is mostly gay men, but also trans*gender folk) and heralding the victories of gay and lesbian athletes, the discourse is implicitly denying the reality of violences experienced by many who are perceived as less than heterosexual and cisgender in North America.
My brothers and, more often, my sisters and gender non-conforming family barely receive coverage in the national discourse when we face violence.
Delightfully ignorant of our own national problems, it is quite easy to bash another culture and society for their failures in upholding basic human rights. In this way, gay people are used as a token. Every post made reads to me, “we treat our gays better than you treat yours.” I use gay here because in many cases, the fight is for gay rights, as in rights that do not promote the basic human interests of queer and trans* people. But, I am tired of being forced to conform to a heterogeneous idea of what a gay or lesbian is. And I am tired of being a token.
It is interesting to note the change in dialogue from the previous U.S. hosted Olympics. In Utah, no one really paid much attention to the state’s oppression of LGBTQ folks, which has an anti-gay propaganda law very similar to the one in Russia.
And in Atlanta, Cobb County passed anti-LGBTQ ordinances. Few realize that, as a result of LGBTQ activism, no Olympic events were held within Cobb County in 1996. Queers had to fight for themselves against a legalized oppression of their existence. And the poverty experienced by the many residents of the greater metro Atlanta area was unfathomable. It is largely forgotten that many communities were further marginalized by the extensive building and redevelopment of the city to accommodate the Olympics. The effects of which are still felt today! Yet almost no media covered these events. American exceptionalism is damaging to our own population.
If you want to be an ally, take an active stance. First, educate yourself. That’s a start, and a very important one, too. In eight states – Utah, Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina – there are anti-propaganda laws similar to those passed in Russia. Texas’s and Arizona’s laws actually require teachers to address homosexuality as a criminal behavior. In 33 states a person’s livelihood, that is housing, medical care and jobs, is threatened just because they do not fit into the dominant gendering system as trans*gender and gender non-conforming individuals. In 29 states, a person can be fired for their sexual identity. Before the recent statement that the executive will extend same-sex marriage rights to all 50 states (which is not in effect yet), couples’ rights are not even protected as they crossed intra-American borders. And second, do something about it. Calling out Russian homophobia does nothing to end the oppressions experienced in the U.S. For too long, only LGBTQ people have been fighting for the rights and social change that will protect us. American exceptionalism has for too long been an ideology of denying the bad and ignoring the change that must start now. I challenge you to fight this.
Only with the abolishment of American laws that hold back queer people and people of color, can we reach an all-inclusive state. Until then, it is a lie that holds back the country from the fulfillment of freedom.
Kolia Kroeger is a College junior from Thorndale, Texas.
Illustration by Priyanka Pai