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The Olympics: Why I’m Tuning Out

Friday, February 7, 2014
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The crowd at Nationwide Arena roared Saturday night when seven Columbus Blue Jackets players and executives were introduced at the last home game before they head to the 2014 Winter Olympics.

I cheered, too.

Members of our home team will play, coach or manage for hockey teams of four different nations in Sochi. According to Cleveland’s Plain Dealer, nine other athletes and coaches with Ohio ties will skate, slide or sled during these Olympics.

I wish them all well.

But I won’t be watching.

For months, President Vladimir Putin and leaders of the International Olympic Committee have been dismissing world concerns over Russia’s anti-gay laws and violence with assurances that LGBT athletes and spectators will be safe in Sochi.

They’ve offered no such peace of mind to LGBT Russians, who won’t have the luxury of leaving the host country after the Olympics are over. Behind the facade of a nation sanitized for TV, gay Russians have become prey to hate-filled fellow citizens who call their anti-gay hunts “safaris.”

I refuse to be one more TV viewer fueling the corporate-athletic complex of the IOC, international broadcasters and sponsors who downplay Russia’s state-fueled violence and cloak their own financial interests in our good will toward the world’s top athletes.

With their anti-gay “propaganda” law and repeated statements equating gay people with pedophiles, Putin and Russian authorities have given their not-tacit approval to the violence befalling LGBT people there. They have unleashed this wave, and they have done little to stop it. We cannot dismiss what’s happening there by pointing out Ohio’s own shortcomings: lack of marriage equality and lack of anti-discrimination protections. Gov. John Kasich and Attorney General Mike DeWine might wish us political defeat, but they don’t wish us physical harm.

“Why the fuck are you dressed like that?,” an off-camera thug asks a young man who’s wearing a bedazzled denim vest and carrying a woman’s bag on his arm.

He might be headed to Axis Nightclub if he were standing on High Street in Columbus. In Russia, on a video recorded by the bullies who do this type of thing with regularity, he’s cowering on the ground after he’d already been punched in the jaw.

In videos collected and posted this week by Human Rights Watch and others floating around the Internet, gay Russians are shown being beaten and kicked. Men’s heads are shaved and painted in rainbow colors. One man’s hair is painted with a roller.

Some have dildoes slapped across their faces or poked at their mouths. Teenage boys are doused in urine or forced to drink it.

“Do you agree that we should kill you?,” someone asks a man who’s down on his knees. “I suppose that’s my fate,” he answers quietly.

Watch one video and see what else comes up. It’s an entire YouTube genre: Russian gay men being abducted, stripped, degraded. One is held with a big kitchen fork pointed at his eyes. One man shakes as his clothes are burned. Human Rights Watch says he was forced to sodomize himself with a glass bottle.

IOC President Thomas Bach calls protest of this terrorism an attempt to interject politics into his precious Olympic games. He criticized criticism of Russia this week. He chastised world leaders such as President Obama who have chosen not to attend the games. He said they weren’t invited anyway.

Mr. Bach is German. His country’s history books should contain ample evidence of what happens when the world turns its back on hatred, when people wish unpleasantness away instead of speaking out against it.

Bach and Putin have teamed up to shut down dissent at these Olympics. Putin has set up a protest zone 9 miles from any Olympics venue, and anyone protesting must get approval from authorities. Bach has warned athletes that the IOC will take away medals, if need be, from anyone who makes a statement against Russia’s anti-gay atmosphere during the Olympics’ two-week run.

Reports say athletes might wear rainbow pins and other shows of support for LGBT Russians. I hope they do.

It’s the only thing that would make these Olympics worth cheering for.

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