Like a lot of folks, I’ve been hearing a lot recently about the human-rights-defying anti-gay laws passed in Russia, particularly in the context of the upcoming Winter Olympics. British comedian Stephen Fry just wrote an open letter to Prime MinisterDavid Cameron suggesting a boycott or relocation of the games from Russia. On the other side of the issue, Johnny Weir (American figure skater, openly gay man, and sequin aficionado) has spoken out against an Olympic boycott, saying it would just hurt people who had nothing to do with the laws.
What are civilized people supposed to do? On one hand, going ahead with the games and hiding behind the shibboleth that “the majesty of sport transcends political issues” isn’t an option. It amounts to tacit approval of gross immorality. But would a boycott really do anything constructive? Is it even possible to change the location of the games at this late date? Is punishing the athletes (the folks the games are ultimately about) to “send a message” a just thing to do?
I’ve been trying to think of what an approach of creative, constructive nonviolence might look like as a solution to this issue, based on the reading and coursework I’ve done in this area. And I might just have come up with a solution.
Four words: The Gayest Games Ever!
Imagine this scene: the pomp and circumstance of the opening ceremonies is building to a climax, as Vladimir "The Shirtless Wonder" Putin looks on from the VIP stand. The time has come for the athletes of the world to enter the stadium for the torch lighting. And here they come . . . each nation’s athletes entering the stadium wearing designer team outfits capturing the ethos of their country. The crowd roars a greeting as the skiers, skaters, bobsledders, and (yes) curlers come in. The athletes wave back, with smiles on their faces, digital cameras in one hand, and in the other, a flag.
But not their nation’s flag.
Not the Russian flag.
A rainbow flag.
Dozens, then hundreds, than more than a thousand rainbow flags waved joyfully in the air as the parade of nations continues.
Cut to the scowling visage of Pooty-Poot in the VIP area.
But the fun doesn’t end there. Athletes, on their own initiative, put rainbow patches or pink triangles on their uniforms, skis, skates, etc. Again, on their own, they adopt a catchy, simple, positive mantra (e.g., “One love!” or “Equality!”). They punctuate interviews by looking into the camera and saying this. They mouth it just as they have their gold medal hung around their neck. Athletes tweet this to followers, creating a hashtag trend. Enterprising profiteers create unofficial Olympic buttons with this emblazoned on it. Heck, maybe Trojan sends several boxloads of condoms with the saying printed on it for distribution at the Olympic Village.
Sure, the powers-that-be, including but not limited to the Russian authorities, commercial media outlets, corporate sponsors, and Olympic bureaucrats, would try to stifle this. They’d try to search out athletes carrying rainbow flags. They’d try to cut interviews off before an athlete could shout out “One love!” to the camera. They’d threaten to hold medal ceremonies in private if athletes insisted on displaying any solidarity with the cause of human rights.
But none of this would work. All these efforts would just make the story bigger. The effort to stifle the expression would end up foregrounding it in the consciousness of those watching. And I have little doubt that Olympic athletes are far more creative and resourceful than Russian (or Olympic) apparatchiks. It would put athletes on the side of good against the bureaucratic, fun-hating, hate-mongering thugs. It would make equality cool and reveal homophobia for what it is: perverse, inhuman, and dull (in every sense of the word).
The advantages of this approach over a boycott or other official action are many. First, and most importantly, it doesn’t punish the athletes. Second, it is the athletes themselves who participate in it; they, rightly, are the stars of the show. Third, it is positive rather than negative. It’s not a withdrawing or silencing; it’s a positive expression. It’s not a punishment; it’s a celebration. And it would be based on individual decisions of individual people coming together to express a deeply important truth. It would not be the act of one or more governments, Olympic committees, or other bureaucratic entities. Least of all would it be an expression of any sort of nationalism. It would be what the Olympics claim to be but never are: a celebration of the human spirit over the divisiveness of tribalism, politics, and nationalism.
Would all athletes participate? No. Surely there are homophobic lugers just like there are homophobic butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers (and ex-KGB-turned-sourpuss-heads-of-state). But a lot would. Enough to make it a story—in fact, *the* story, of the Olympics.
Enough to make it The Gayest Games Ever.