I absolutely love the Olympics. I can vividly recall watching the games as a kid and being filled with excitement and amazement at the extraordinary talent I witnessed. Though I have since come to terms with the fact that I probably never will realize my childhood dream of competing in the games, I am still a proud and enthusiastic fan.
Unfortunately, my Olympics enthusiasm has been slightly tempered by the anti-LGBT track record of this year’s Winter Olympics host country, Russia. As has been widely reported, Russia is making a concerted effort to institutionalize anti-LGBT bias within its borders and beyond. Just this month it implemented a law prohibiting international same-sex couples from adopting Russian children, and last year it enacted legislation prohibiting Russians from publicly advocating for LGBT issues. Additionally, the country may consider another law that could potentially remove Russian children from the homes of same-sex parents. In light of all of this, I watch the Olympics this year with both enthusiasm and heartache.
So far, none of the openly LGBT athletes or delegation members in Sochi has been publicly subjected to the law. However, LGBT activists in St. Petersburg and in Sochi have been arrested while the games have been in progress. Needless to say, the Russian anti-LGBT measures undoubtedly weigh heavily upon everyone’s minds during these Winter Olympics, including my own. As advocates and others have highlighted, they are entirely inconsistent with the spirit of the games, most especially Principle 6 of the International Olympics Committee Charter, which expresses that sport does not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise.
Moreover, the laws have created a great deal of divisiveness, which is also contrary to the Olympics ethos. As I have always understood, the Olympics are intended to peacefully unite the international community in the mutual enjoyment of universal sport, not to further divide people and nations from one another. Instead, the controversy over the Russian laws has created a global controversy over the games themselves, with many calling for boycotts of the Winter Olympics this year. Though these demands have been dismissed, several world leaders, including President Obama, have been conspicuously absent from the games.
On a more personal level, the controversy has sparked dissidence in my own life. Before these Winter Olympics began, I was confronted with the question of whether I would support these games in the same way I had supported the previous Olympics. On the one hand, I am a former athlete and a dedicated sports fan; on the other, I am a member of the LGBT community and an aspiring LGBT advocate. So I was concerned that it would be hypocritical for me to celebrate the Olympics in Sochi at all, let alone to the extent that I had celebrated the games in the past.
However, I considered that in prior instances I have attended weddings and proudly supported friends’ marriages while simultaneously opposing the Defense of Marriage Act and state bans of same-sex marriage. I have also proudly supported our troops while also opposing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the ongoing war in Iraq. In addition, I faithfully watched the Olympics in Beijing though I disapproved of China’s well-known and deplorable human-rights abuses.
Looking back, I do not think that my support for my friends, our troops and athletes evidence a deep-rooted cognitive dissonance. Rather, I think that support for particular individuals and occasions should not be equated with support for unjust laws, policies and actions because the two are distinct. Accordingly, I do not think that support for the athletes and competition in Sochi this year is at variance with opposition to Russia’s reprehensible treatment of LGBT individuals.
As a result of these considerations, I ultimately decided to actively partake in this year’s Winter Olympics and have been devotedly following, watching and cheering on the athletes throughout the games. Even as I write this, I am listening to Olympics-themed music — not necessarily because I need another way to make my life all about the Olympics right now, but rather, because it inspires me in the same way that the Olympics inspires me to strive to reach new heights. At the end of the day, that is what all of this is really about. Hopefully, with the Olympics spotlight on Russia, we will all be inspired to strive to reach new heights for LGBT equality and realize that, as the Olympics come to a close, it’s not just a time to tally scores and count medals, but also to measure how far we have come and how far we have yet to go.
Andrea C. Anastasi is a J.D. Candidate and Law & Public Policy Scholar at Temple University Beasley School of Law.