Why the United States Should Boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics

The following was part of my midterm for the latest class I’ve been taking at NYU (yes, I am voluntarily in summer school).  We had to write an op-ed piece.  This got high praise from my professor, and I’m pretty proud of it.  I promise that the next time I return from a months-long absence in writing, it will be with something less serious.

The ongoing government-sanctioned abuses and discrimination of homosexuals in Russia demand a strong international response.  To that end, the United States should lead a boycott of the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.  A boycott would be a public, wide-reaching, and impactful way to demonstrate that these repressive policies adopted by the Russian government are unacceptable to the global community.

This summer, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a federal law forbidding any “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations around minors.”  Legal analysts and gay rights activists describe the law as intentionally vague.  By this new definition, “propaganda” could be something as overt as a gay pride march or as innocuous as a same-sex couple holding hands as they walked down the street.

Gays and lesbians in Russia are already denied the rights enjoyed by gays and lesbians in some other Western nations.  Russia does not grant legal recognition to any committed gay or lesbian couple, nor does it allow them to adopt children.  This new propaganda law elevates the disenfranchisement of LGBT Russians from denying their rights to forbidding any public discussion of the matter.

The open discrimination of Russia’s LGBT citizens by the government has been matched by open violence against Russia’s LGBT citizens in the streets.  Rallies in support of LGBT rights have dispersed into chaos, with anti-gay counter-protestors hurling eggs and rocks at those calling for equality.  Some instances have been more severe.  LGBT advocates leading these demonstrations have been assaulted and beaten, both by their ideological adversaries and by Russian police.

Most alarmingly, this violence has not been limited to these public gatherings.  Young gay men in Russia are being targeted by bigots via the Internet, who lure them into meetings where they are humiliated and harmed.  Some of these encounters have been videotaped and distributed online.  There have been lethal consequences.  The Spectrum Human Rights Alliance reports that some of the victims have since killed themselves, unable to face the trauma of their torment or the shame of being so crudely outed to friends and family.

Mr. Putin’s government has created a culture in which the physical and psychological abuse of its LGBT citizens is tacitly approved, if not outright encouraged.  Seemingly unsatisfied with diminishing people in his own nation, Mr. Putin has now widened the scope of his bigotry.

The propaganda law includes a provision for how to deal with foreigners found to be in violation of its statutes.  In addition to facing monetary fines, gay or “pro-gay” visitors to Russia may now be detained for “up to fourteen days before facing expulsion from the country.”

With thirty-eight nations already committed to participating in the 2014 Winter Olympics, Russia will see a tremendous influx of foreign visitors next year.  Any of those visitors, whether they are athletes or spectators or journalists, whether they are homosexuals or not, will be subject to the propaganda law.  The International Olympic Committee, the body that organizes the Olympic Games, stated that it had received assurances from the Russian government that LGBT athletes would be free from prosecution during the games.  That statement was swiftly countered by Russia’s Minister of Sport, Vitaly Mutko.

“No one is forbidding an athlete with non-traditional sexual orientation from coming to Sochi,” Mr. Mutko said, “But if he goes onto the street and starts propagandizing it, then of course he will be held accountable.”

In other words, a gay athlete is free to compete for a gold medal; but if he thanks his boyfriend for his love and support in a televised interview, he would likely be arrested.

To protest these draconian laws and this environment of hate, the United States should boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics.  Participation in these Games would be an insult to the LGBT citizens of Russia, to LGBT people worldwide, and to the peaceful spirit of the Olympics themselves.

The history of the modern Olympic Games is filled with boycotts.  Most were political posturing between rivals.  Countries have been uninvited from the Olympics over political grudges.  Host cities have even had that honor rescinded because of their political allegiances.

Only once in the history of the modern Olympic Games has action been taken in response to a humanitarian crisis.  In 1964, the International Olympic Committee banned South Africa from all future Olympic competition due to its refusal to correct the injustices of apartheid.  The ban lasted twenty-one years, and was only lifted when the South African government had demonstrated that it was making substantial progress in treating its citizens equally regardless of race.

The legal discrimination of citizens based on their sexuality is as abhorrent as the legal discrimination of citizens based on their race.  Those who would argue that one offense outweighs the other fail to understand that civil rights are human rights, and that we are all human.

A boycott of the Sochi Olympics would raise awareness not only of the plight of LGBT people in Russia, but of LGBT people around the world.  Of the thirty-eight nations already committed to participating, only eleven grant full marriage equality to their homosexual citizens, and only nine grant those people full adoption privileges.  If the Sochi Olympics are boycotted on the grounds of homosexual discrimination, Russia will not be the only nation to have its gay rights policies reexamined with greater scrutiny.

The United States would benefit from leading a boycott.  Our nation has been working to regain the moral authority we were believed to have possessed in decades past.  An Olympic boycott would be the right opportunity to reaffirm the founding principles of our nation to a global audience: personal liberty, freedom from government tyranny, and the opportunity to succeed without the hindrance of discrimination.

A boycott would also have the effect of stimulating further discussion of our own ongoing struggle with LGBT rights.  Only thirteen of our fifty states currently offer citizens marriage equality.  While the Supreme Court decision that repealed the Defense of Marriage Act was a victory for the American LGBT community, the logistics of distributing the federal benefits now guaranteed to LGBT Americans remain to be clarified.  There are also the continued instances of the bullying and resultant suicides of America’s LGBT youth.  A boycott would remind us of the work that remains to be done here at home.

There are some who disagree with the calls for a boycott.  Openly gay Olympic speed skater Blake Skjellerup said he intends to compete in Sochi.  He is among those who believe there is more power in presence than absence.  People who share Mr. Skjellerup’s opinion no doubt hope to see an openly gay athlete on the winner’s podium in Sochi.  While the possibility of a gay parallel to Jesse Owens’s success as a black athlete in Hitler’s ethnocentric Germany is an alluring prospect for the cause, refusing to accept the invitation of a nation that institutionalizes such bigotry is a far stronger statement.

Other arguments against a boycott barely pass muster.  Openly gay Olympic figure skater Johnny Weir has discouraged a boycott because it would deprive the athletes of “possibly having their lone life-changing moment” of Olympic glory.  He has also given shockingly reductive advice to any LGBT athletes planning to attend: “If you don’t call attention to yourself, attention won’t come to you.”  This is particularly ironic coming from someone who has appeared in more reality television programs than Olympics, where he has never finished higher than fifth place.  Mr. Weir’s are the weakest of arguments against a boycott, steeped in vanity and unbecoming of an athlete meant to represent America to world.

Russia pursued the hosting privilege for the 2014 Winter Olympics to demonstrate to the world that it is a twenty-first century nation, a first-world power with bountiful resources, modern infrastructure, and an open outlook on the world.  However, Mr. Putin’s escalating persecution of his LGBT citizens shows the true face of Russia: blustering, bigoted, and receding towards the totalitarianism of its past.  A boycott of the Sochi Olympics is America’s only recourse, lest we associate ourselves with Mr. Putin’s policies by willfully participating in the games.  There is nothing less than this at stake.  Sending athletes to Sochi would signal to Russia and to the world that we choose to ignore the abundant evidence of these ongoing human rights abuses.  Attendance is equivalent to complicity, and no American should tolerate that.

~ T

Version 3.0

Hello again, readers new and old.  It’s your friendly blogmaster, returned after an extended absence from the interwebs.  We’ve got a lot to catch up on!  I’ll start by explaining exactly why The Honestly Blog has been dormant for so long.

The main reason that I wasn’t blogging this year was because I was spending most of it undertaking a project that I wasn’t comfortable having on the public record.  That project was applying to graduate school.  From Christmastime through the middle of February, I was hitting the books for at least 90 minutes each night, studying for the GREs.  After that, springtime was spent working on application essays, accumulating writing samples, and seeking letters of recommendation.  My applications went out right before Easter, and I am happy to report that it was about a month later that I found out I had been accepted to the School of Continuing and Professional Studies at NYU.  Starting very soon–Tuesday, in fact–I will begin my course of study towards my masters degree in public relations and corporate communications.

The eternal flame of knowledge…or an albino artichoke

Now you might be thinking, “But Tyler, that’s awesome!  You write so well and you’re so engaging and so effortlessly handsome that this program sounds like it’s tailor-made for you.”  (You are thinking that, aren’t you?)  “Why wouldn’t you be shouting that from the digital rooftops?”  Well, you rascally flatterers you, the reason I was keeping this under wraps was because I hadn’t told anyone at work that I was pursuing this.  To be as frank as I can be, this has not been a very good year for me on the job.  2012 has been a year of extreme ups and downs in the office. Our normally slow summer was upended by the much deserved yet unexpected retirement of one of my bosses.  It was only in the last two weeks that we wrapped up the majority of the unfinished business left in her wake, and it was only then that I felt comfortable sharing with my remaining employers that I would be spending my evenings learning how to make myself a more marketable applicant to other businesses.  Since I can only afford to go to school at night if I keep my job during the day, the whole situation has required a level of decorum I usually wouldn’t have to keep.

The air might be cleared now, but that doesn’t mean that I can go back to being a blogging machine.  Given the amount of schoolwork I have coming my way and the rigorous standards of the program (less than 3.0 each term and you’re out on your ass!), I’m afraid that my postings may not be as frequent or as lengthy as in the past.  Couple my course load with the fact that I’m also going to be actively searching for new employment (that retirement doesn’t seem to be yielding any promotions), and you can imagine just how little spare time I  might have.  But I also recognize that the months ahead are going to be very strenuous, and I’m going to need an outlet, a place to turn when I near a burn-out, a way to exercise the wackier parts of my brain, a place where everyone knows my name…wait, scratch that last one…

So my game plan for The Honestly Blog is to write one post each week; a weekly installment of the shenanigans and sass you’ve come to enjoy over these past few years.  I’m hoping to write about a wide variety of things in an array of different styles; maybe have some guest writers; perhaps even experiment with video content.  I hope you’ll continue to drop by.  I’ve also become quite a Twitter fiend this year, so follow my bird to get some giggles on your smart phone in 140 characters or less.

Before I give you the abridged run-down of my 2012 adventures thus far, I have to give a special thank you to my family and friends who persisted in getting me back to writing this blog.  Special shout-outs go to the kickball gang (especially fellow blogger Jill), my bestest best friend and budding blogger herself, Lauren, and no less a cewebrity than the talented J.T. Riley, whose prodigious and enjoyable output can be tracked via his Twitter.  Mille grazie, everyone!

So, what else was I doing while operating in Sith-like secrecy?  Well, the first thing I did after taking the GRE was to get on a plane bound for Austin, TX!  Literally, I went from the test location to the airport.  A handful of Hobos and I went to the liberal center of the Lone Star State to cheer on one of our own, Stacy, while she ran the Austin marathon.  She set a new personal best with her running, and I set a new personal best eating ribs.  Success all around!  Other far-off adventures this year have included a visit to Syracuse and its surroundings to see my pal Stef, an extra-long Fourth of July holiday in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts with most of my cousins, and more trips to the Long Island beaches than I can recall making in previous summers.  There were many more local adventures as well: nights out in Hoboken and Jersey City, and the annual multi-borough epic affair known as Handicapable Ice Cream Day, a weekend whose history would require a posting of its own to fully explain.

An aquatic event on this year’s Summer Olympic-themed Handicapable Ice Cream Day

There were sporting events aplenty.  My brother and I sat twenty rows off the floor of the Prudential Center when Blake Griffin and the Clippers came to town to play the Nets, I made numerous trips to both Yankee Stadium and Citi Field, and I even won a few shekels at the Belmont Stakes.  Sadly, my kickball days are over, as my NYU schedule won’t allow enough time for that much drinking athleticism.

There were cultural outings, as well.  For every excellent book I read (Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding being the best among them), I saw a terrible movie (Honestly, Prometheus?).  I saw musicals good (Now. Here. This.), bad (Merrily We Roll Along), and ugly (Leap of Faith).  I made my first trip to the Metropolitan Opera.  I also hit a few concerts, including my favorite one to date: the incomparable, insatiable, insane Scissor Sisters.  Don’t take my word for it; Anderson Cooper was there right next to me.  (No, really, he was.  I got a drink at the bar, turned to walk away, and bam–Silver Fox!)

Scissor Sisters having a kiki at Bowery Ballroom

And if, like me, you’re in your late twenties and actively maintaining a social life, you probably spent your summer going from one wedding to another.  I know I did, and I wouldn’t have wanted to spend those weekends any other way.  Each celebration was special in its own way, and each of them was an absolute blast.  Congratulations again to Christina and Charlie, Matt and Jess, and Kaitlyn and Matt!  May you spend Summer 2013 judging other people’s nuptials against your own.  They’ll be tough to beat.

That about brings you up to speed, faithful readers.  It’s Labor Day weekend now, the unofficial end of summer.  Big changes are about to take shape, and I’m looking forward to them.  Stay tuned.

~ T

Honestly of the Week: 7-11-10

I suppose part of my LeBron-o-thon analysis constituted an Honestly of the Week, but there was actually a second item I had planned to devote my more irritable energies to.  The offending item in question was in the news last week, but seeing as how my next summer adventure will take me away from my computer this coming weekend, I’m publishing it now.

As part of the sluggish and uncertain process of repealing the United States military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, the Department of Defense issued a survey to 400,000 active service personnel to gauge their thoughts on gays and lesbians in the military.  Defense Secretary Robert Gates has repeatedly stated that he feels this survey, and the larger study it is a part of, needs to be completed before the President or Congress make a decision on the future of the policy.

I could craft an outraged missive about why this is a wasteful, transparent, and insulting move by the government; but I think you’ve heard enough from me these past few days.  So, instead, I’ve taken questions from the actual survey, which was leaked to numerous media outlets last Thursday, and substituted the words “gay”, “lesbian”, and “homosexual” with the words “black”, “African-American”, “female”, and “woman”–groups to which the military previously denied inclusion–to demonstrate the inexcusable condescension of this document.  (Editor’s Note: Try to ignore the loaded nature of the word “partner”, given the topic under discussion)

  • If Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is repealed and you are working with a Service member in your immediate unit who has said that he or she is black, how, if at all, would your job performance be affected?
  • Have you shared a room, berth, or field tent with a Service member you believed to be African-American?
  • If a wartime situation made it necessary for you to share a room, berth or field tent with a woman, which are you most likely to do?  Take no action; discuss how we expect each other to behave and conduct ourselves while sharing a room, berth, or field tent; talk to a chaplain, mentor, or leader about how to handle the situation; talk to a leader to see if I have other options; something else; don’t know.
  • If Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is repealed and a female Service member attended a military social function with a partner, which are you most likely to do?  Continue to attend military social functions; stop bringing my spouse, significant other, or other family members with me to military social functions; stop attending military social functions; something else; don’t know.
  • If Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is repealed and you had on-base housing and a black Service member was living with a black partner on-base, what would you most likely do?  I would get to know them like any other neighbors; I would make a special effort to get to know them; I would be uncomfortable, but access to the exchange, commissary, and MWR facilities is more important to me than who my neighbors are when deciding where to live; I would be uncomfortable, but the quality of on-base housing is more important to me than who my neighbors are when deciding where to live; I would be uncomfortable, but the cost of moving makes it unlikely I would leave on-base housing; I would probably move off-base; something else.

More or less speaks for itself, doesn’t it?  I particularly enjoy the “wartime situation” modifier in the third question.  As if an individual’s particular discriminatory predilections will be more or less heightened only after a declaration of war.  Call me a crazy book-learned liberal, but in a wartime situation, my only concern would be living.  And what’s with that decidedly ominous “something else” option in the response choices?

Now, I’m not shitting on the military.  I’ve got friends and family who have served.  That’s an experience I sincerely believe I couldn’t handle, and they have my utmost respect for their commitment and sacrifice.  But it seems to me that if we didn’t lose World War II due to the introduction of the Tuskegee Airmen, and if Army brass did not resign in mass protest due to the 2008 promotion of Ann E. Dunwoody to the position of four-star general, then we don’t have much to worry about if after killing a few guys, G.I. Joe wants to come home and kiss one.

Honestly, Department of Defense.  Honestly…

~ T

Honestly of the Week: 3-20-10

This week’s Honestly is a first.  It is co-authored by my good friend and fellow musical theater enthusiast, Elena, seen here on one of our many expeditions to Broadway.

What follows is a paraphrased G-Chat conversation we had that was inspired by her G-Chat status…

Elena: “Chocolate Cheerios?’

T: “I saw those at A&P!”

Elena: “Someone said they aren’t even that good.  Stores are selling out like it’s the best thing since sliced bread or the flip-flop.”

T: “Cheerios have just given up.  So much for lowering everyone’s cholesterol.  Now they’re just like, ‘Fine, fat-ass. Can’t be bothered to have some honey nut circles instead of a microwavable Jimmy Dean artery clogger?  Here’s some chocolate fucking Cheerios.  Die a little sooner.’ ”

Elena: ” ‘Dear Michele Obama, please speak to the General of Mills.  Thank you, T-Co and E-Do.’ ”

Honestly, Chocolate Cheerios.  Honestly…

~ T

Honestly of the Week: 3-13-10

What the hell is going on at the yogurt section of Shop Rite?  I go to the supermarket every two weeks, typically on Saturday or Sunday, usually in the early afternoon.  Every time I go, I have yogurt on my list, so I’ve got something healthier to snack on.  And every time I go, the yogurt section looks like a Sizzler buffet after a NASCAR event.  Nothing is organized; brands, flavors, and serving sizes are all mashed together like some messy, lactic orgy.  Few cups or containers are standing right side up.  Expiration dates have been smudged by the clammy, clamoring hands of earlier shoppers.  And the kicker is that the brand I personally prefer is always cleaned out.  Who knew I was on to something?  Now, I don’t mind that the toothless septuagenarians of the neighborhood have beaten me to the punch, but why isn’t anyone restocking these shelves?  They’re wheeling out rump roasts from the butcher and replenishing that new olive bar all day long.  When’s the next wave of yogurt coming?  And if you know that this particular brand is your most popular, why don’t you have more of it and less of the shitty kind?  The continued patronage and health of your customers is at stake, good sirs and madams.  I want my fucking yogurt.

Honestly, yogurt section of Shop Rite.  Honestly…

~ T

Honestly of the Week: 1-23-10

Why is it that no matter how carefully or tightly I coil up my iPod headphones before I stick the little bastard in my pocket, when I take it out it’s tangled up like yarn that just fell afoul of a kitten?  What the hell is going on in my pocket?  Are my gloves coated with some static cling that causes the wires to writhe around like evangelicals at the latest Billy Graham crusade?  Is my phone jealous and teaching the iPod who’s boss among my limited collection of technogadgets?  I really don’t understand it.  Is this a design flaw that has yet to be addressed by Steve Jobs, despite his multiple enumerations of said device?  I’m all for progress, but before you give me a phone that does my taxes and wipes my ass, how about giving me some headphones that won’t tumble into some freakin’ Gordian knot without any provocation.

Honestly, iPod headphones.  Honestly…

~ T

Honestly of the Week: 1-16-10

Why is it that when you apply to a job online, among the first things they ask you to do is to upload your resume…and then they demand that you retype what amounts to essentially your entire resume in a series of “required fields” before you can finally submit your application?  I found a job to apply to and spent more time filling out page after page of these empty prompts than I did writing my tailor-made cover letter.  Is this just some kind of endurance test; to see if you have the patience to complete this ridiculous, redundant process?  Or is it some kind of idiot test; to see if you’re stupid enough to do whatever someone in a position of authority tells you?  Given that there was no way to skip to the “submit” option, I’m guessing it’s the former…which makes them the idiots.

Honestly, online job applications.  Honestly…

~ T