Between Barilla pasta’s anti-gay jab, the IOC ignoring reality and a Russian activist’s death, times are still tough for LGBT community
Sometimes it really does suck to be gay. In addition to the usual hard work – the recruiting of innocents, the destruction of the institution of marriage, compulsory brunch – there’s been an unusually high volume of international bigotry and bad news to put up with this week.
Take the recent diss from Guido Barilla, the chairman of his family’s famous pasta company. He announced on air that he would never feature a gay family in one of Barilla’s ads. Clearly unaware that gay people can actually hear what he says on the radio, Barilla added that he had “no respect for adoption by gay families because this concerns a person who is not able to choose.” He then encouraged those of us who found his statements offensive to eat another brand.
Within hours, Italian activists and politicians obliged by calling for a boycott. The hashtag “#boycottbarrilla!” began trending on Twitter and popping up all over Facebook, along with a trove of brilliant satiric images. American blogger John Aravosis, who speaks Italian, nailed the lid on by providing a helpful translation of Barilla’s remarks on his Americablog site, plus regular updates of Barilla’s frantic attempts to backtrack. At last count, he and the company had issued three separate statements, including one non-sequiturial rambling from Barilla about women’s central role in the family, plus an awful “I’m-sorry-if-anyone-was-offended” pseudo-apology that only made him sound like a bigger jerk than ever.
Surpassing even Barilla’s unique blend of homophobia and cynicism, the International Olympic Committee issued a statement that it is “fully convinced that Russia will respect the Olympic charter, which prohibits discrimination of any kind”. There are two major obstacles to understanding how the IOC reached this conclusion. The first is the extensive documentation, via every imaginable form of media, of Russia’s persecution of LGBT people under the country’s new, virulently homophobic laws. The second is the IOC charter itself, which states – as this helpful image from Boycott Sochi 2014 reminds us – “Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic movement”. It also compels the IOC to “fight against” and “take action against” what the charter calls “discrimination of any kind”.
Anyone who wants to know what’s responsible for the IOC’s strange blindness to the purpose of its own charter – its conviction that none of the anti-gay witch hunt now in full swing in Russia counts as “discrimination” so long as a mob doesn’t actually disrupt the figure skating – need look no further than the bottles of Coca-Cola artfully placed in front of the IOC members at their press conference. It’s clear that the Olympics – under the auspices of the IOC and the Olympics’ top sponsors, including Coke, Visa, General Electric, McDonald’s, Procter & Gamble – are no longer about integrity or even sport. The occasional glimpse of skiing or snowboarding is just a brief interruption between commercials.
One can only hope that their same deep focus on market forces, along with a wave of protests urging action, will continue to rattle these corporations, possibly even to the point of actually doing something. They would do well to contemplate the effect on their brand of being linked to everything that happens under their logos in Sochi and the damage of winding up on the wrong side of history.
The Metropolitan Opera ignored pleas to dedicate its opening night to Russia’s LGBT population as a protest against the country’s draconian anti-gay laws. This, despite featuring a production of “Eugene Onegin” written by the closeted gay Russian composer Tchaikovsky, directed by two lesbians (Deborah Warner and Fiona Shaw), and featuring two Putin enthusiasts – the conductor Valery Gergiev and the soprano Anna Netrebko. Ultimately, LGBT activists carried the day by bringing so much attention, through outside pickets and an inside action, that every newspaper review devoted half of their coverage to the plight of Russian gays. But it’s disturbing to see the Met deploy the IOC’s same twisted arguments – that somehow holding the Olympics in Russia, or featuring two major Putin supporters in one’s cast isn’t a political statement, but protesting either of those actions is.
Finally, in a huge loss to all human rights supporters, Russian LGBT activist Alexei Davydov died at the age of 36. He was the first to challenge Russia’s new “gay propaganda law” by standing on the steps of the Children’s Library in Moscow with a sign reading “Gay is normal.” Millions of people around the world watched the TV footage of him being hauled off by the police. The police also broke his arm in 2011, after arresting him at a protest defending freedom of assembly for all Russians. Being a gay activist in Russia, and therefore, unemployable, Davydov died poor. His friends are now scrambling to raise funds for his funeral.
Perhaps Putin, who boasted earlier this month that gay people suffer no discrimination in Russia, could step in to insure a hero’s funeral for this “valued citizen of the Russian Federation“?
Don’t hold your breath.