The Rings Stand for Inclusion. So Do We, and So Can You!
First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.
—Pastor Martin Niemöller 1892-1984
Over the past few months we’ve all heard about the anti-LGBT policies that President Vladimir Putin is promoting and legislating in Russia today.
Among many violations of fundamental, constitutionally protected rights of Russia’s LGBT citizens were multiple bans on pride parades in Moscow and other cities, hefty fines of LGBT rights groups under the pretense that they were acting as “foreign agents,” denial of registration to nongovernmental organizations associated with the LGBT movement, and regional laws broadly banning the “propaganda” of homosexuality to minors, which served as the model for the federal “propaganda” law enacted by Mr. Putin and unanimously passed by the Duma. Against this backdrop, violent attacks on LGBT people or those suspected of being LGBT are becoming commonplace.
The Olympic Games are about inclusion and the human spirit of individuals and nations. In the history of the Olympics, we have experienced moments of glory and moment of shame. We all remember moments that inspired us and individuals who gave all they had to win or reach the finish line.
I was a high-level athlete when I was growing up in Israel. I was a swimmer, one of the top in my field, and swam for two years for the Israeli national team. It was a long time ago, but for me swimming was more than a sport. It was a way of life and affected everything I did then, and even today, I believe. I often say to my close friends that the book about my life will be called Swimming Changed My Life. As an athlete, you learn a lot about yourself and your fellow competitors, and in my view, the most significant thing you learn as an athlete is to respect your competitor, whether you win or lose. It teaches you discipline and a great sense of morality.
In the history of the Olympics, we’ve had moments that did not embrace the basic ideas of this event: Hitler and Jessie Owens (1936), Munich and the terrorist attack on the Israeli delegation (1972), the Moscow boycott (1980), and the L.A. boycott (1984), to name a few.
The dilemma for the international LGBT community when it comes to Sochi is clear, but opinions on how to react and respond to the situation in Russia have been mixed. On the one hand there are the athletes who’ve spent nearly their entire lives working toward that moment when they will perform on this huge stage with the best athletes in the world. As an athlete myself, I know that for them, the idea of not going to the Olympics is extremely painful. When I was 16 years old, I was third in my country, and my coach had high hopes that I would swim at the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow. She presented me with a four-year training plan she’d built with an expert and wanted me to sign off and commit to four grueling years of working toward that goal. After several sleepless nights, I decided to pass. I wasn’t willing to sacrifice so much. I quit competing and moved on with my life. When the 1980 boycott happened, I was thinking about all the athletes who’d been shut out after a lifetime of working. I couldn’t help but wonder how I would have reacted if I had swum twice a day for 365 days a year for four years, earned my ticket to swim in the Olympics and then been told that because of politics, I couldn’t go. Surely I would have been devastated, to say the least, and I’m sure that the athletes who couldn’t go were!
On the other hand there is social responsibility. Hasn’t history taught us anything? Can we take part in a major event that benefits a country that discriminates against individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity? Should we help promote a country that practices unjust policies? Is the common good more important than the good of the individual?
I can’t say that I have a clear answer. I understand both sides, and I am really torn about it. What I do know is that we can’t sit idly by. We can’t be silent! Wrong is wrong. So here are some ideas for what we should do:
1. We invite all active members of the LGBT community and our allies to post our “Missing Link“ sign (pictured above) in your windows, on your cars, on your Facebook accounts — anywhere visible. At the very least, we must make sure that this problem is on people’s minds and in the public eye.
2. At and around the Olympics, everyone from free nations, LGBT or not, should wear a ribbon or the “Missing Link” pendant in celebration of the LGBT community. I plan to sell this piece through the “Missing Link” campaign, and one hundred percent of the revenues will go toward Immigration Equality’s Russia Emergency Fund.
3. Do not choose Russia as a vacation destination or spend money there in any way. Implement a “no honey, no money” policy.
4. Hurt the ratings of the Olympic broadcast by only watching what you absolutely must. Money talks; B.S. walks. Our networks must know that we will not tolerate Olympics in countries that don’t respect all individuals and the Olympics’ original spirit of equality and humanity.
LoveandPride.com and I are starting the “Missing Link“ campaign to help raise awareness about the injustices that the LGBT community in Russia is facing on the eve of the Olympics in Sochi. Like my company, I am committed to fighting for inclusion and ending discrimination against all people.