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Why Didn’t More Olympians Speak Out in Sochi Against Russia’s Anti-gay Laws?

German olympians

With the constant stream of athletes, politicians, and companies speaking out strongly against Russia’s oppressive anti-gay laws in the months leading up to the Olympics, you might have thought that Russian authorities would have their hands full dealing with up-in-arms activists once the Games actually began.

Unfortunately for the LGBT citizens of Russia, the public criticism from Olympic athletes was, for the most part, muted in Sochi. The Wall Street Journal reports:  

There were no high-profile proactive statements or blatant symbolic gestures by athletes. A few athletes criticized the law when asked by reporters to weigh in, and a Belgian performer who supports gay rights displayed rainbow colors, a symbol of the gay-rights movement, during her performance at the Games.

LuxuriaBut the only really noticeable pro-gay act inside Olympic Park came when Italian Vladimir Luxuria [pictured], a transgender gay rights activist, showed up at a women's hockey game in a rainbow skirt after broadcasting that she planned a protest. Police removed her from the park. A day earlier police detained her briefly after she unfurled a "gay is okay" banner outside the park.

So what happened?

Ashley wagnerThe paper points to the many athletes who said they had already gone on record against the anti-gay laws and felt that using the Olympic platform to promote a political or human rights cause would be an unnecessary distraction from the competition.

"I really have already voiced my opinion and spoken out," said U.S. figure skater Ashley Wagner [pictured], responding to questions from reporters. Wagner has been outspoken in her criticism of the Russian laws. "My stand against the LGBT legislation here in Russia is really the most that I can do right now," she said. "I'm here to compete first and foremost."

How athletes in Sochi handled concerns over gay rights varied. Belle Brockhoff, the gay Olympic snowboarder who had promised to “rip on [Russian President Vladimir Putin’s] ass” during Sochi interviews, failed to medal and was given minimal press coverage. Gay former Olympian Johnny Weir’s decision to work the Games for NBC but not directly address gay rights in Russia was met with scorn from gay rights groups in the U.S. The German team, meanwhile, debuted a rather gay-looking rainbow outfit for the Games [pictured above], but maintained a steadfast denial that it was meant as a protest statement against Russia's anti-gay laws. Other athletes felt that wearing the 'Principle 6' line of protest merchandise was the proper avenue for Olympians to (indirectly) speak out for LGBT rights. 

Billie jean king_2Tennis legend Billie Jean King, who was among the gay athletes in President Obama’s Olympic delegation, said she supported athletes’ decision to avoid public demonstrations that could get them booted, but disagreed that the Olympics isn’t a place for politics. 

"It is an unbelievable opportunity to exchange ideas and hear each other," she said, standing on a hotel balcony just outside Olympic Park. "Hopefully, out of all these athletes we will have some teachers."

To believe the Olympics can remain entirely separate from politics, she says, amounts to "keeping your head in the sand."

'68 saluteIndeed, using the Olympics as a platform for social activism is nothing new, with the most memorable incident being the black power salute by medal winners John Carlos and Tommie Smith in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. It’s sad to think then, that these Olympics came and went without a similar moment of solidarity with LGBT equality, especially when such international attention was given to the issue. Just imagine how iconic (and bold) of a statement could have been made if a simple kiss was shared between two same-sex medal winners on an Olympic podium while in Sochi.

Now that would have kept the conversation going long after the Olympic spotlight and journalists faded from Sochi. 

The International Olympic Committee, which is under pressure to be more selective in its picking of future host cities, has said it’s impractical to eliminate potentially controversial countries, otherwise the Olympics would be held “in only two places.” Putin, for his part, praised the IOC for taking a “risk” by entrusting the Games with Russia. In a post-Olympics meeting attended by IOC president Thomas Bach and committee members, Putin said one of the main aims of the Games was to show off to the world the new face of post-Soviet Russia, a country he has run since 2000. 

"It was important to show that we are a country with goodwill which knows how to meet guests and create a celebration not just for itself but all sports fans in the world."

With the Games over, however, one can't help but feel a sense of mounting concern for Russia's "goodwill" towards its already marginalized LGBT community. The removal of parenting rights for gay couples in Russia, for example, could very well be the next step in Putin's anti-gay agenda. 


Johnny Weir Complains He's 'in the Crossfire' Between LGBT Activists and Sochi

Figre skater Johnny Weir, who is going to Sochi as an NBC correspondent, told Reuters he's "in the crossfire" between LGBT activists and his devotion to the Olympics:

Weir"Those who want me to be more gay than I am are going to be disappointed and those who want me to be less gay than I already am will be disappointed. My statement is simply being there and being gay and showing the world and the Russian government that there is nothing weird or wrong with me and that there is nothing weird or wrong with the LGBT community in your country so we shouldn't be treated as pariah....

...I've been called so many names and been hated on so many fronts, and been called a Russian spy and all of these wild and outlandish things... I definitely feel in the crossfire. I feel that in many ways I cannot give the right answer that everyone wants to hear. You can't please everyone. The only people I am worried about pleasing is the Russia LGBT members that are living under this scrutiny on a daily basis and have a hard life for it. I worry about them and I want to be there (for them). Activism should be ongoing until the laws of equality are in place and gays are not scrutinized or thrown into prison simply for being gay in public in front of children."

Full interview here...


NBC Hit With Protests for Ignoring Gays in Russia in Lead-Up to Sochi Winter Olympics: VIDEO

Weir_nbc

Queer Nation protested outside NBC's Sports Department holiday party outside a restaurant on East 30th street in NYC yesterday. The banner was sewn by Gilbert Baker, the creator of the Rainbow Flag.

Earlier in the day, the group hit the Today show holiday party.

Pogrom Nbc_wtf
The group explained its actions in a press release:

Charging that NBC is misinforming its viewers about the dire circumstances of LGBT Russians ahead of its broadcast of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Russia, LGBT activists will demand that NBC tell the truth about Russia and its anti-LGBT laws.

“NBC has dispatched Olympic commentator Johnny Weir and MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts, two openly gay men, to soft-pedal the Russian government’s anti-LGBT bigotry,” said Ken Kidd, a member of Queer Nation NY, an LGBT rights group. “LGBT Russians have been vilified, assaulted, tortured, murdered, and fired from their jobs by the Russian government and by Russian thugs. It’s past time for NBC to report the facts about Russia.”

NBC, which spent hundreds of millions of dollars for the broadcast rights for the Sochi Olympics, said in a Dec. 3 statement, "As we’ve previously stated, NBC will cover all newsworthy issues as they are relevant to the Games, including the LGBT law.” The following events have transpired since then; NBC has reported on none of them:

- Dec. 5: New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli asks 10 Olympic sponsors to oppose Russia’s anti-LGBT laws.
- Dec. 6: At his Moscow concert, Elton John condemns Russia's anti-LGBT laws.
- Dec. 8: German President Joachim Gauck declares he will boycott the Olympics over Russian human rights violations.
- Dec. 10: European Union Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding says she will boycott Olympics over Russian human rights violations.
- Violence against LGBT Russian continues unabated and Russian government does nothing.

Weir and Roberts cover the Olympics for NBC. Roberts hosted the Nov. 9 Miss Universe pageant that was held in Moscow and broadcast on NBC; in Moscow, he made comments that minimized the harm of Russia’s anti-LGBT laws. Weir, who also works for the Russian consulate in New York City, has consistently praised Russia and defended one of Russia’s anti-LGBT laws at a recent appearance at Barnard College.

A story on Americablog revealed yesterday that Weir's bio claimed that he worked for the Russian consulate, a detail that was scrubbed immediately after the story came out.

The scrubbing was followed by a statement from Weir and his publicist saying that the figure skater had never worked for the Russian government.

Weir also tweeted: "I have never worked at or for a Russian consulate. I don't know where people get this stuff. XO"

Queer Nation also released a video yesterday, Olympic Jive, highlighting the Russian anti-gay laws and denouncing the IOC and its sponsors for standing by and doing nothing.

Watch it, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "NBC Hit With Protests for Ignoring Gays in Russia in Lead-Up to Sochi Winter Olympics: VIDEO" »


NBC Expresses Support for Johnny Weir's Apology to Gay Activists

NBC released a statement late yesterday expressing support for their correspondent Johnny Weir's apology after Weir lashed out at Queer Nation activists, calling them "idiots" at a talk at Barnard College earlier this week. The activists were protesting Weir's decision to serve as an NBC correspondent during the upcoming Sochi Games in Russia and his ongoing defense of the country despite its anti-gay laws.

Deadline reports: Weir

NBC just released a statement in response to Johnny Weir’s comments this morning that he feels “remorse” for insulting protesters during an appearance Monday at Barnard College. “We’re supportive of Johnny’s apology for his choice of words last night in an emotional setting. As we’ve previously stated, NBC will cover all newsworthy issues as they are relevant to the Games, including the LGBT law”, NBC said.


Johnny Weir Tries to Explain His Outburst at LGBT Activists Opposing His Stance on Russia

Earlier today we reported on Queer Nation's protest of gay figure skater Johnny Weir at an event he was hosting last night at Barnard College in NYC.

WeirThe protest was held in opposition to Weir's decision to serve as an NBC correspondent during the upcoming Sochi Games in Russia and his ongoing defense of Russia. Weir called the longtime LGBT activists "idiots" during the Barnard event and was called on it by activist Andy Humm.

Weir wrote a lengthy explanation for his behavior, which reads, in part:

Cut to this week when I was speaking at a university and called a small group of people protesting my speech, idiots, for no other reason that my tongue getting away from me. This kind of talk is usually relegated to the safety of my own friend groupings and family but for some reason, I felt like a threatened underdog and needed to take a dig at the people who had me on edge. At the end of my speech I opened the floor to a Q&A and it turned out that those very people protesting my speech, were actually friends of the faculty and brave LGBT activists who stood in the same room as me. I felt, and still feel, a great deal of remorse for allowing myself to insult other people, fighting in their own way, and for using insulting words instead of my usual cheerleading antics for one and all.

What my speech related to was the role of athletes at the upcoming Russian Olympics, and as if it isn’t obvious, this is a topic I know a lot about and am very passionate about. I will preface this also by saying that it’s been a while since I was last protested in person and for the last month I have been dealing with an unsafe fan situation, so to say the least, I am on high alert and high self-protection mode. However, I realized that there is no excuse to hurl insults at those who oppose you, or those who think differently than you and as a believer in free will and free speech, I allowed my own fear and emotion to get the better of me and for a moment I became a hypocrite.

He adds:

Despite many activists bravery, they also have a very pointed way of trying to make everyone around them an activist and to stand for a cause. My stance of being pro-athlete before being pro-gay has ruffled so many feathers and it becomes difficult to speak publicly because of this fight. As a non-confrontational person, I take it very hard (obviously) when I offend people or they feel the need to tell me that I am awful. Many activists also believe that change starts with a revolution, a term that terrifies me. I am not against activism in any way, but I don’t have the strength of character to not only revolutionize my life on a daily basis but also the lives of others. Our differences are vast, but we all live for a purpose.

Read Weir's full post here.


Johnny Weir Faces Off with LGBT Activists at Barnard Appearance, Calls Them 'Idiots'

Earlier I posted about Queer Nation protests of Johnny Weir at a talk at Barnard College last night. Weir appeared at the talk with his husband, Victor Weir-Voronov. The openly gay skater is contracted to work at the Sochi Games as a commentator for NBC.

Weir_voronovApparently there were fireworks inside the talk as well, as Weir defended his love of Russia and attacked the LGBT activists protesting him outside.

Reports Andy Humm at Gay City News:

During his talk he spoke of “idiots like the ones outside tonight, dumping vodka in the street,” action he dismissed as useless.

“They say all these stupid things,” he told the audience of about 40 Barnard women students. “I never supported the [Russian] government. I supported the people.”

Polling shows the Russian people support the anti-gay laws overwhelmingly.

...

“We’re angry at him for not telling the truth about what’s going on in Russia to LGBT Russians and everybody else who dissents, who are being brutalized,” said Ann Northrop of Queer Nation at the protest. “He is selling out millions of people to satisfy his desire not to forgo his income or status. Is this what he would have done in Germany in 1936?”

Protest_weirVersha Sharma at Vocativ backs up Humm's report:

The real tension came when he referenced “idiots like the four outside,” referring to the half-dozen activists from organizations Queer Nation and RUSA LGBT who were protesting the event. They held up a banner in front of the school gates that read, “Weir: Russian Olympic Clown; N.B.C.: Naive Bloody Collaborators.”

...

“I as a gay man hope there’s a beautiful iconic moment, but I don’t think it will happen in Sochi,” Weir said.

The iconic moment of Weir’s talk came when longtime activist and reporter Andy Humm called out Weir for his “idiots” comment and demanded the figure skater apologize.

“You insulted them,” Humm told Weir, pointing out that the activists outside “have 100-plus years of experience…they won your right to get married.”

“When I feel attacked, I have the right and ability to say something,” Weir responded, and then apologized.


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