What Should Brian Boitano do?


Today as I took my daily sauna (not spoiled, just a Yooper) I listened to NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me,” which I love. However, one the segments on the normally very liberal show managed to get under my skin.  One of the week’s questions was about the newly appointed US delegation to the Sochi Olympics.  President Obama, like several other world leaders, has decided (wisely, I think) not to attend the Olympics.  In his place he is sending a delegation of three openly gay and lesbian former Olympians: Billie Jean King (tennis), Brian Boitano (figure skating, rendered in the amazing .gif above) and Caitlin Cahow (hockey.)  This move was immediately supported by the Human Rights Campaign, indisputably the most power gay lobby in Washington.  (Note, I say ‘gay’ and not LGBTQ on purpose, but that is a matter for another blog post.)

For those who are perhaps unaware, Russia passed an “Anti-Gay Propaganda” law last year which essentially makes being gay and, in some interpretations of the law, failing to report “a gay,” a crime.  This law has had immediate and tragic effects, sparking the repression of LGBTQ activists around the country and essentially declaring open season on Russia’s LGBTQ community.  Recent attacks have included the online seduction of gay youths by neo-nazis who then torture them on tape with total impunity.  Calls to boycott the Olympics altogether (which I initially supported) have been  quieted by Russia’s LGBTQ community, as the failure of the Olympics might further situate them as scapegoats, a viewpoint which I had failed to consider in my initial blind rage.

So, getting back to the issue at hand, what was it about “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me?” that irked me?  The discourse around this delegation is that it is the ultimate “middle finger” to Putin and his anti-LGBTQ policies.  Media response in general, and not just on WWDTM, has been filled with a gleeful electricity.  “We’ll show them.  We’ll send all these gays.  That’ll show’em,” they laugh, tenting their fingers à la Mr. Burns.  And I get it; I do.  I would love to show Mr. Putin a middle finger or five.  What bothers me is the idea that the very “gayness” of these athletes is somehow being weaponized.  In turn, I think it somehow furthers the notion that there is something noxious or extraordinary about the very fact of existing as gay or lesbian.  It turns these athletes, and in turn all of us, into tokens.  Perhaps in the case these tokens will be used for a greater good, but the tokenization is undeniable.

Would it not have been just as powerful for President Obama to refuse to send a delegation, making his reasons clear and public?  Something like:

“Dear Vlad, I can’t send a delegation to the Olympics this year because I cannot vouch for the safety of all of its members due to your ridiculous laws.  Sincerely, Barack.”

Somehow in this version, it seems like the onus is on Putin to respond and not on the athletes in the delegation to be on the offensive.  It shows that the President, and by proxy our country, recognizes the intrinsic humanity of gays and lesbians enough to not tokenize them or use them as pawns in a political game.

On this point, I must confess that I am also skeptical of the U.S.’s “ally when I wanna be” stance on LGBTQ rights.  First, I should be clear about my understanding that we do not live in a monarchy, and that Barack Obama is only one man.  Nonetheless, his support of LGBTQ issues has seemed as politically shrewd as it has seemed genuine.  For example, his decision to finally “evolve” on the issue of marriage equality just two months before the 2012 election is hard to interpret as a mere coincidence.

While I don’t doubt that Obama is better friend to our community than Vladimir Putin, I’m significantly more inclined to hear from it some of the other world leaders who have chosen not to attend the games, most notably France’s François Hollande, who ran his campaign on a platform the included staunch support (and immediate legalization) of marriage equality, and Germany’s Joachim Gauck, a former civil rights activist in East Germany who currently presides over a country that just legalized a third gender option on government documents.  If Obama is truly the friend to our community that, somewhere deep inside, I suspect that he is, he needs to stop making statements like “marriage equality is best left up to the states.”  Why not lead by example, especially when you can’t be re-elected?  And why not stick it to a few homophobes, like Putin, in the process?

I recognize that Obama, and the country, are in a difficult situation not entirely of their own making.  Both boycotting and attending the Sochi Olympics have positive and negative consequences that are as difficult to predict as they are potentially lethal.  Nonetheless, I think that sending gay and lesbian activists as a “fuck you” to Russia paradoxically serves to further the belief that there is something there to fear, both in Russia and here.  There must be a way for the Obama administration to make its objection to Russia’s Anti-Gay law known without tokenizing gay and lesbian athletes on the basis of their sexuality.  Especially when these athletes are still being denied so many basic civil rights in our own country, it seems in poor taste to weaponize their sexuality in defense of an ideal that we, as a country, are not quite sure of ourselves yet.


Have an opinion?  Leave it in the comments section!  I haven’t worked this out for myself yet, and I’d love to know what you think!

Pontificating About the Pontiff

Pope Francis Holds His Weekly General Audience

Lately a lot has been written and said about Pope Francis, namely that he seems to hold relatively liberal values, especially as Popes go.  While I would argue that being more liberal than Pope Benedict XVI is anything but difficult, that is hardly the point.  Yes, Francis is undeniably more liberal than Benedict XVI and perhaps John Paul II as well, the only Popes I have been around to see.

However, it worries to me how many LGBTQ people and straight women are so seemingly willing to let bygones be bygones and accept whatever crumb of “tolerance” or “progress” might fall from the papal table.  It is true that the Pope was quoted as saying, in July 2013 “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge them?”  Forgive my my cynicism, but this is hardly a ringing endorsement.  According to Biblical teaching, this same statement can (and should) be made about any “sinner.”  No “sin” is greater than any other, and ultimate judgement is the domain of God and God alone.  While many are eager to view this as an evolution on the part of the Catholic Church, it doesn’t seem to represent any substantive change.  Sure, the Pope won’t judge you anymore, but God will. *spoiler alert* You’re going to Hell.   The Pope, and by proxy the Church, have not actually changed their minds about the sinful nature of homosexuality; they’ve just decided to be quieter about it and let God deal with the inevitable lake of fire part.

Add to this another quote from (then Cardinal) Francis from 2010, as Argentina prepared to legislate marriage equality.  Francis referred to it as a “destructive attack on God’s plan.”  As he championed a law that would prohibit marriage equality and adoption rights from same-sex couples he said:

“[T]he Argentine people will face a situation whose outcome can seriously harm the family,” he wrote to the four monasteries in Argentina. “At stake is the identity and survival of the family: father, mother and children. At stake are the lives of many children who will be discriminated against in advance, and deprived of their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God. At stake is the total rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts.”

These are hardly the words of a devoted LGBTQ ally.  Moreover, it points to a more historic problem in the church: that of institutionalized misogyny.

I am by no means the first to say that homophobia is, in many ways, an extreme manifestation of misogyny.  In a world where gender roles reign supreme, there is no is room for “effeminate” men or “masculine” women, and our very existence is a threat to the oppressive social order upon which the Catholic Church (along with many other organized religions) relies.  This is especially true in terms of the “traditional” family structure.  Every so-called defense of the family is in fact a thinly veiled defense of gender status quo.  The idea that children need a mother and father implies that women and men are inherently different; they could never assume each others’ roles because everyone knows you can’t change diapers if you have a penis, and your vagina somehow prohibits you from playing catch in the backyard.

This is of course to say nothing about gender non-conforming and trans* people, apparently destined to walk the Earth alone as they don’t fit into the Church’s idea of what family (read: patriarchal gender roles) is supposed to look and act like.

Although the issue of LGBTQ inclusion in the Church is, perhaps, of more recent importance to most, the Church has a misogyny problem that dates back at least a millenium, inherent in the prohibition of women priests.  While there is a growing movement to repeal to proscription, as it is not even scripturally mandated, the new Pope has been adamant in toeing the party line of his predecessors, saying that “that door is closed.”  Can we really expect the Pope, and the Church, to advocate for any real change for LGBTQ folks when they cannot yet see their way to advocating for the full spiritual personhood of 50% of the Church’s population?  Essentially, the Church’s position is “We know we made up this rule, and it’s not even in the Bible, but you’re still not enough of a person for us to change a rule that WE. MADE.

Should we be cautiously optimistic that the Catholic Church appears to be advocating for slightly more liberal politics since the election of the new Pope?  Yes.  Any progressive change is good change.  Should we be filling every newspaper, blog, and cable news network with stories of Francis’s greatness?  No.  Not yet.  We LGBTQ people have subsisted on the table scraps of the rich and powerful for long enough.  It is time for us to stop applauding the hegemony for espousing views that we view as basic human decency in those around us.

Ask yourself: Would you tolerate the idea that LGBTQ people and straight women are inherently less than from your friends or your family?  If the answer is yes, you have some deep thinking to do about why that is (and I’m confused about how you found this blog.)  But if the answer is no, and I hope it is, you shouldn’t be tolerating it from your Church either.