Despite Russia’s anti-gay laws passed last summer, including a measure barring “propaganda” about “nontraditional sexual relations,” out LGBT athletes competed at the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Refusing to be intimidated, they showed off their considerable talent, skill and pride. They also won medals. Tons of them. Some even grabbed a gold or two.
In Vladimir Putin’s Russia, where it is a crime to be openly gay, all LGBT-related information and gay rights demonstrations are banned. The oppressive, homophobic atmosphere has resulted in violence, blatant discrimination and hateful messages in the media.
This past February, when it came time for Russia to host the Winter Olympics, President Obama and other world leaders steered clear of the games. While many didn’t say so publicly, their actions spoke for them. They objected to the Putin regime’s policies toward LGBT people. On the day of the opening ceremony, there were 14 arrests of gay rights activists protesting in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
You’d think all this might have generated a demoralizing, paralyzing sense of fear in LGBT athletes and their allies at the Olympics. Yet openly gay athletes competed as if their lives depended on it, and their actions spoke louder than any words of protest could have.
Let’s start with Ireen Wüst, one of the seven openly LGBT athletes at Sochi, who won two gold and three silver speed skating medals. Nothing, and no one, could stop Wüst. “Seventeen million Dutch people wanted me to win,” Wüst stated. “Now the extreme pressure is off, and I can win more.”
Lesbian and married Austrian ski jumper Daniela Iraschko-Stolz won the silver medal at the first-ever women’s ski jump competition.
Although Canadian speed skater Anastasia Bucsis did not bring home a medal, she was out and proud in Sochi. And last year, she made a public statement at Calgary’s Pride parade against Russia’s laws. She also tweeted and spoke to the media about being “so proud to be gay.”
Those who did not bring home a medal still gave a sense of pride to those watching from home. Dutch lesbian snowboarder Cheryl Maas raised a rainbow and unicorn clad glove to the camera at the finish of her run. We’re sure her wife, family, friends and everyone else watching got a rush from that. The official gloves for the Sochi Olympics were rainbow-colored, representing the colors of the Olympic rings. And, as it happens, the rainbow is a symbol of LGBT pride—maybe the Russian planners didn’t get that memo. Awkward!
Diversity is a foundation, Putin, whether you like it or not. To those who tried to stifle our fire at this year’s Olympics—namely Putin and Russia’s draconian laws—we say, “Nice try.” We won’t be snuffed out. This little light of ours, we’re gonna let it shine.