Friday, August 16, 2013
Bigotry, Homophobia and the Olympics
Have you seen any of the videos of gay Russians being beaten and abused because they are gay? You might assume that the videos were posted by gay activists to expose the brutality, but you would be wrong. They were posted by Russian vigilantes trying to terrorize their gay sisters and brothers. It’s frightening stuff.
The videos and the anti-gay mobs that have gathered to suppress every demonstration of opposition to the new law against “propaganda” supporting “non-traditional sexual relations” provide clear evident that the critics are right when they say that the new law is basically government sanctioned homophobia.
The measure was signed into law by President Vladimir Putin in June with overwhelming support from the Russian legislature, the Russian Orthodox Church, and the Russian people. Not surprisingly, it has set off a wave of international criticism, particularly in relationship to the Winter Olympics, to be held in Sochi, next February.
The controversy has cast a long shadow over the world track and field championships, held this week. Some athletes have spoken out against the law. Nick Symonds, an American runner, dedicated his silver medal in the 800 meters to gay friends. Swedish high-jumper Emma Green Tegaro painted her fingernails in rainbow colors as a symbol of her opposition to the law and her support for LGBT rights.
But the spotlight shined brightest on a high profile Russian athlete who spoke out in support of the new law. Yelena Isinbayeva, who won her third world championship in the pole vault this week, declared her support for the law and appealed to athletes from other nations to respect her country’s views on homosexuality.
“It’s unrespectful to our country,” she said at a news conference. “It’s unrespectful to our citizens because we are Russians. Maybe we are different than European people, than other people from different lands. We have our law, which everyone has to respect.” The law, she said, reflects the culture of the Russian people. “It’s my opinion also,” she said. And then she went on to say, “You know, to do all this stuff on the street, we are very afraid about our nation, because we consider ourselves like normal, standard people. We just live boys with women, and women with boys.”
“When we arrive to different cultures, we try to follow their rules,” She explained. “We are not trying to set our rules over there. We just try to be respectable. And also we ask everyone to be respectful to our place, to our culture, to our people.”
It is an interesting argument: You respect the rules in my country and I will respect the rules in your country. Respect our culture just as you would want us to respect your culture.
There is a place for cultural relativism. But this isn’t it. The respect for diverse cultural customs and institutions does not extend to bigotry and persecution. When Jesus told us to treat others the way we would want them to treat us, he was not suggesting that we should have a mutual tolerance for each other’s bigotry.