February 26, 2014 at 4:00 pm EST | by Peter Rosenstein
The Olympics are over, now what?
Russia, Vladimir Putin, Sochi, Winter Olympics, Dupont Circle, gay news, LGBT, Washington Blade, Olympics are over

Several gay rights advocates gathered at Dupont Circle on Feb. 22 to bring attention to the treatment of LGBT people in Russia. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Olympics are over and maybe those of us who deplore the situation of the LGBT community in Russia can again all sound like we are on the same side. What the games seemed to bring out in the LGBT community, and much of it poured out on Facebook, was a lot of bitchiness to each other depending on what positions we took on everything from a boycott to what the people who went to Sochi should have done.

Some people took to attacking our athletes for not being activists and I even read one person attack all their parents for not bringing them up right if they didn’t take to the streets in Sochi. There was debate on how vocal or active Billie Jean King or Brian Boitano should have been. Should they have joined Pussy Riot in the streets? Should Johnny Weir have done more than lug along what must have been a couple of steamer trunks full of sequins and be filmed going fishing with Billy Bush of Entertainment Tonight?

I would have hoped that our official government delegation to the games had spoken out a little more forcefully than they did and that NBC, which had the rights to broadcast the games, had done the same. I appreciated when Bob Costas during one primetime broadcast did speak out and say, “While in many significant ways, Russians have better lives than Soviet citizens of a generation ago, there is still a government which imprisons dissidents, is hostile to gay rights, sponsors and supports a vicious regime in Syria, and that’s just a partial list.” He added that these Olympics are essentially “Vladimir Putin’s games,” and if they’re successful it will help bolster his image. Costas concluded, “No amount of Olympic glory can mask those realities, any more than a biathlon gold medal, hard-earned and deeply satisfying as it is, can put out the fires in Kiev.”

The Olympics should never have been held in Sochi but that was the responsibility of the International Olympic Committee not our athletes. And despite everything, it is good to see the athletes from nations that don’t generally talk to each other hugging and displaying the kind of camaraderie that we would hope all people could share every day.

But now the Olympics are over and the issue of the health and safety of the LGBT community in Russia remains. We are seeing these issues not only there but coming to the forefront in Africa including Uganda and Nigeria as well as other places around the globe. Last year when the members of the reconciling United Methodist Churches in the United States tried to change church policy to allow for the church to marry gay couples it was the African Churches that stopped them cold.

We need to ask ourselves what we can do to help the LGBT community around the world. That is a crucial question we must ask of our government and decide what we demand of them. This is clearly part of the general discussion on how much the desire to eliminate human and civil rights abuses in other nations should impact our foreign policy.

While this is not a new question the fact that the LGBT community now has the strength to make our voices heard in this fight is somewhat new to us. In this area the broader community is still finding its voice and we should be able to do it without it tearing us apart.

As those trying to defend people’s human and civil rights around the world for years have found there is no easy answer. Our country knew about the millions of Jews being taken to concentration camps and killed by the Nazis before we ever did anything. We have watched genocide in Rwanda and other places and taken too long to react. We are seeing people slaughtered in Syria and are taking much too long to determine the right policy to deal with that.  Americans are tired of war. Many, if not the majority, now look at the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as wars we shouldn’t have fought. Americans’ willingness to intervene in other nations seems limited to sanctions and economic fights rather than any boots on the ground. Too many see interference in the human rights issues of other nations as none of our business.

That must change and we must recognize that as a global community no longer is anyone able to be isolationist in either political, economic or human rights issues.

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