Is WNBA star Brittney Griner a prisoner of war?

Britney Griner, WNBA, lesbian, arrest, cannabis. Russia, lesbian, drug charges
Brittney Griner playing for Phoenix Mercury Photo: Shutterstock

POW: Prisoner of War. Three letters and three words that are synonymous with pain, suffering, and anguish. 

As the two-month mark since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began fast approaches, arguably the first prisoner of the Putin regime’s war against its neighbor to the west languishes in a Moscow jail. The hostage is a 31-year-old black woman from the LGBTQ community. 

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With vitriolic hatred of the queer community embraced as both part of official government doctrine and a large part of the population, this would be disconcerting enough. 

Factor in that person being held is WNBA superstar Brittney Griner, and the concern for her well-being and safety has been amplified as the geo-political ramifications of her detainment are unfolding in concert with the ongoing war. 

Having arrived in Moscow one week prior to the commencement of the newest round of hostilities, Griner found herself detained under murky circumstances. Allegations of possessing vape cartridges that contained hash oil have her looking at a potential sentence of up to 10 years in prison. 

What makes the charges against the two-time gold medal champion even more curious was her status as a longtime member of the Russian Women’s Basketball Premier League. In winning three domestic titles and four Euro League championships, Griner was even more decorated in Russia, than in the United States

Splitting her time between leagues, and nations, for what a recent LGBTQ Nation article suggested was financial reasons, the timing of the arrest of such a well-known person, with longtime ties to Russia, inevitably stoked questions.

Furthermore even Griner’s celebrity may not help her if convicted. Russia’s attempt to stifle LGBTQ culture isn’t only related to the present day but a full erasure of its past.

The backdrop of the conflict led Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) to state that Vladimir Putin intends to use Griner’s status as a “negotiating chip” with a longtime sports attorney saying that the elements of the case have led to a “perfect storm” working against the seven-time all-star. 

The open-ended nature of both the war and the extension of her next court appearance until May has led to long stretches of silence regarding the iconic athlete’s well-being.

Why is the star’s freedom paramount? 

As is widely reported, discrimination against those identifying as LGBTQ isn’t confined to Russian legal theory. Gay men have spoken as to the beatings they have received in prison, along with being subjected to electroshock treatment

While Griner may not be an official POW she must be treated with the same care and urgency in bringing her home from a nation at war with the world and a society at war with her community.

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