In the year leading up to the Sochi Winter Olympics, the Russian government enacted anti-gay policies — including a ban on "gay propaganda." Calgarian Russell Wilson weighs in.

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As the clock ticks down to the Feb. 7 opening ceremonies of the Sochi Games, all eyes are on Russian President Vladimir Putin, as the country's approval of anti-gay legislations have spurred backlash from across the globe. As a gay man and former university-level athlete that will be watching the games in Sochi, I have found myself in somewhat of a moral crossroads. On one hand, I have been openly gay since I was 18 and have been publicly supportive and encouraging to those around me to be appreciative of such diversity. But on the other hand, I am a passionate enthusiast of sports and all that the Olympics stand for.

Opinion AntiGaySochi RussellWilson photoCalgarian Russell Wilson shares his thoughts on Russia’s anti-gay legislation as he gears up to cheer on Canadian athletes in Sochi.Initially the decision to go was not a difficult one. The opportunity presented itself and I, being excited about attending the Games, did not think twice. It was not until after a rather heated conversation with a good friend of mine, who vehemently disagrees with the Olympics even happening in Russia, that I began to think, why?

Why does he feel so passionately about this, when
I on the other hand do not? It struck a chord in me that made me question whether or not I was proud of being gay. How can I, as a gay man, support something that does not support me?

But then the question came to me. When did the Olympics become a social platform for LGBTQ rights? I'm there to support the friends who are competing; I'm there to marvel at one of the world's greatest sporting events; I'm there, not as a gay man, but as citizen of the world.

My being gay has never been the defining feature about me, and nor is a straight athlete's sexuality their defining characteristic. The countless hours of preparation and work placed into competing at an elite level, and then making it all the way to Olympics should not be thrown away based on a person's sexuality.

That being said, those athletes who are already openly LGBTQ and are going to compete are sending a far stronger message of strength and perseverance to both the world and Russian citizens than boycotting the games would, as had been suggested a few months back.

By taking a broader perspective on the situation, I wonder if this movement could be compared to the integration of both women and African American individuals in the Games in the early 20th Century. By considering this viewpoint, maybe this conflict will be seen in years from now as a pivotal moment for the future of normalizing LGBTQ athletes into the hierarchy of elite sports.

Russia's anti-gay law

As the eyes of the world will soon fall on Sochi, people will be thinking about more than just the speed of the bobsleds or the landing of a triple axel. The negative reaction to President Vladimir Putin's recent signing of a bill banning "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors" has drawn attention to the rights of the LGBTQ community in Russia. Article 6.21 states:

• Propaganda is the act of distributing information among minors that 1) is aimed at creating nontraditional sexual attitudes, 2) makes nontraditional sexual relations attractive, 3) equates the social value of traditional and nontraditional sexual relations, or 4) creates an interest in nontraditional sexual relations.

The new law, which was signed on June 30, 2013, marks a climax in an ongoing period of already limited rights for Russia's gay community. Here, an outline of what the Russian LGBTQ community has already been up against:

• Denial of registration to nongovernmental organizations
• Regional laws banning the propaganda of homosexuality to minors, for which people can be fined
• Increase of violent attacks on openly gay and "suspected gay" individuals
• Banning of over 150 Pride events and marches between the years of 2006 and 2008

Social change can't just happen over night, and as more stepping-stone events occur and bring such international attention to the cause, it will be impossible for all those eyes that want to be blind to the situation to stay shut. As for its implications on Sochi, whether or not a gay athlete openly takes the podium in defiance to the legislations, the movement has only gained momentum to a more inclusive future.

Russell Wilson is a Calgarian who grew up participating in sports and played volleyball at the post-secondary level. He is currently living in Australia and planning to pursue medical school.

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Devan K 06.02.2014 15:28  
  Well thought-out response, Russell. I agree – our most defining characteristics are often those that we work to build and promote in ourselves, not necessarily those characteristics with which we are born. (Or, as Dumbledore would say, "It is our choices that determine who we are far more than our abilities"!)  
Sean 06.02.2014 21:08  
  While being gay may not define you, it is a part of you. Beyond being a citizen of the world, you are also a part of a community.

While you're cheering on the home team those LGBT members of our community outside the protective walls of Sochi are being silenced and beaten, considered second class citizens and told they're lesser than. This isn't an issue of politics or sport, but an issue of human rights. Hitler did the same thing in Germany at the summer games of 1936 and denounced blacks and Jews before the world and as much as I love my countrymen, you wouldn't catch me saluting in the stands then or now.

Love is golden. Freedom is golden. Those supporting, attending and watching these games are only patting Poutin's back in agreeance.

Be smarter than that. If you were born into Russia's politics would you want the world celebrating at your doorstep only to leave again? Change can be slow, but I'll be damned if I don't push it along as hard as possible.

    COMMENTS: In accordance with our web policy, we reserve the right to edit reader comments for length, clarity, taste or legal reasons. In an effort to maintain reasonable community standards, the Calgary Journal will not publish comments that contain profanity, contain personal attacks, or are potentially libelous.'

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