I watched the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Sochi and was enchanted by the Russian dream of a land that was home to so many important writers and intellectuals such as Chekhov and Tolstoy. I was also influenced by the poet Anna Akhmatova, but since she had a more complicated relationship to her beloved homeland of Russia, she was not mentioned in the opening ceremony.
Neither was Russia's LGBT population. In fact, none of the Olympic athletes as of yet have come forward to speak out against Russia's anti-gay law that was signed by President Vladimir Putin last June which bans "the propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations,"
and a law that bans unmarried couples or singles from countries that have legal same-sex marriages from adopting Russian children.
There is also proposed legislation that would "deny custody to any parent who leaves a straight relationship to be gay." If enacted, this law could result in children being taken away from their parents.
I appreciate that the athletes, including the ones who are openly gay, have trained long and hard to get to Sochi. That is exactly why they should speak out. They have an international platform to denounce injustice and they should use it.
I am inclined to agree with Harvey Fierstein who wrote in a New York Times op-ed piece last summer that "there is a price for tolerating intolerance" and likened the silence in Sochi to the 1936 Olympics in Germany when few spoke out against Hitler's oppression of the Jews.
When I watched the Nightline documentary focusing on a gay club in Moscow where there are drag shows, I found that I was more than a little depressed afterwards. The thugs that it showed in Russia may be from another culture from mine -- but their hateful words (in the name of God) and skinhead tactics are familiar. The fact is that the Putin's laws are not sending Russia back to the Middle Ages -- in terms of gay rights -- as so many protestors have stated. The laws are reminiscent of a pre- and post-Stonewall United States. In the early eighties when I came out, I had more than a few lesbian friends who had their children taken from them in painful custody battles. I have heard the stories of LGBT people who were brutally murdered. I have been harassed on the street. We are all connected.
The Russian struggle is our struggle.
For the first time in history, we have a U.S. president who is our friend and has supported our rights here in the U.S. and spoken out against the treatment of the LGBT community in Russia. It is my dream that an Olympic athlete, gay or straight, speak up and do the same.
You can learn more about Tea Leaves: A Memoir of Mothers and Daughters here.