How One LGBT Family Decided Whether or Not to Boycott the Sochi Olympics

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My family and I are all abuzz about the Olympics this week! The kids are most pleased that they will be allowed to watch more television than usual, and we grownups are looking forward to watching athletes at the top of their game represent their countries with pride. There is a part of us that hopes to witness a significant amount of protest, as well. I came to my decision to watch the games after a lot of thought.

Olympic Rings in Sochi
Image: © Michael Kappeler/DPA/ZUMAPRESS.com

When the Russian homosexual propaganda bill became federal legislation in June of 2013, I was just as infuriated as anyone. While we were celebrating our own president’s evolution in a country slowly realizing equality, Russian President Vladimir Putin criminalized homosexuality and legitimized hatred. I couldn’t understand how the United States could justify participation in the Olympics with Russia as the host country, and I was prepared to boycott all things Russian like vodka and … and … caviar and… uh … vodka.

At first, it seemed clear to me that all countries that legislated equality should boycott the Olympics in Sochi. I stood with George Takei in his efforts to move the games to Vancouver. I judged my nation harshly for our compliance by participation.

My inner parent voice often interrupted my activist diatribes, too. “But what if your kids were slated to compete in the Olympics?” she asked. “What if you had spent years watching your children train and compete and fail and succeed and completely commit themselves to a sport? What if their relentless dedication yielded an invitation to represent their country and compete against the top athletes in their field from all over the world? What if they were about to realize their most coveted dream?”

“Yeah,” I answered her without pause, “we’d go.”

And we’ll tune in, too.

Our high horse is not as high as we think

The more I have discussed the Olympics with friends and family, the more I support our participation. To have boycotted would have indeed sent a message from one political body to another -- but at the expense of all the athletes and coaches who deserve to compete, wherever the Olympics takes them. Once the United States agreed to participate in this year’s Olympics, individual boycotts would serve more to cut off a nose in spite of a face than change the face of national hatred.

If we had not sent our athletes to 1936 Germany, Jesse Owens would not have become an international hero after setting world records in the 100 and 200-meter sprints and the long jump. He would not have won 4 gold medals. Had we skipped the 1936 Olympics, the United States would not have shown the world that racism does not win races.

While I am devastated by the discrimination and violence surfacing as a result of institutionalized hatred, I am just as encouraged by the global criticism Putin has unintentionally invited, including those voices of dissent in his own country.

I have always believed that we would not be celebrating marriage equality, state by state, if not for the fire that Prop 8 lit under the movement. When injustice is too grotesque to ignore, the world mobilizes against it. That’s my hope, anyway.

We are lucky to be spectators from afar. We don’t live the daily fears of our LGBT community in Russia. We can watch the Olympics from the safety of our sofas and refer to the anti-gay Russian legislation as a teaching opportunity as opposed to an explanation about why we have to hide our truth or leave our native country. We’ll teach our boys a little bit about geography, international politics, and about our proud delegates, Billie Jean King and Brian Boitano.

And, we’ll explain how we’re grateful to be living in the United States but that there is plenty of work to be done here too before we can achieve equality. There are still states that have “no promo homo” laws on the books that sound suspiciously similar to Putin’s laws. Our high horse isn't as high off the ground as we think.

Mostly, however, we will be cheering on athletes with the rest of the world. My wife, Gabriella, is Italian; I am Jewish, and perk up when I seen any Jewish athlete or Israeli competing. I have a British passport, as do our boys, and we’re all living in the United States. We have many countries to support, and we are happy to celebrate excellence in athleticism -- regardless of the country that takes home gold. If we’re really lucky, the boys will be so inspired by the curling competition that they pick up a broom and start competitively sweeping our house!

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