While some are debating whether it is more productive to boycott the Russian 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi due to Russia’s homophobic policies, or to participate and hope for a “Jesse Owens” moment, I would like to look at the issue from an American-German historical perspective.
Being a dual German and American citizen, and a son of Holocaust Survivors, I always wondered how America believed Hitler’s explanation about how the Nazi Nuremberg Laws (1935) wasn’t a harbinger of his plans against the Jews after the 1936 Berlin Olympics?
As a young boy growing up in Queens, I went to a rally at Queens College where Robert Kennedy was speaking on freeing Soviet Jewry. The Soviet Union (and Russia) had a long history of oppressing minorities; especially Jews. Remembering the Holocaust and “Never Again” I felt obligated to speak out.
In our lifetime, it is the LGBT community who is facing discrimination. Just as Hitler created a temporary cover-up of the Nazi laws in 1936, I am afraid that Putin is covering up his intent to increase Russian LGBT persecution after the Olympic torch goes out.
To better understand what happened in 1936, we must acknowledge the fact that America’s laws were in favor of discrimination and segregation against our minorities. We tend to forget that from 1896-1964 “Separate but Equal” was the law of the land in all of America, and that not only African-Americans were facing discrimination and segregation. It was legal and acceptable to restrict neighborhoods, resorts, hotels, colleges, and jobs from Jews, Catholics, Asians, (as well as African-Americans) in New York as well as in Alabama.
From 1871-1933 Jews had full citizenship in Germany. My own grandfather fought for the Kaiser in World War I as a proud German Jew. So when the Nazis started to remove civil rights from Jews in 1933, America couldn’t vigorously speak out since we were further down the path of discrimination than they were. The KKK terrorists were a great example for the SA to learn how to terrorize Jews. America has always had a strong minority encouraging discrimination (and even slavery) since our founding, which makes it more difficult for us to be a shining light to the world.
So now Russia is embarking on strengthening anti-gay laws based on the notion that if young straight children see positive images, they will become gay. Putin forgets that gay people of his generation all became gay without seeing one pro-LGBT image on television or in the media. Putin and I are the same age, and nothing openly gay existed in the 1950’s. This entire anti-gay campaign is dangerously politically motivated.
To nip discrimination in the bud, one must speak out loudly from the onset. That is why whether it is through a boycott or a LGBT-friendly full participation in Sochi, the harder question to answer is how can America speak out against Russian homophobia when so many politicians are still promoting the use of American laws to make American LGBT people second-class citizens?