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Show Solidarity in Sochi by Holding Hands

Randy Potts

August 11th, 2013

It appears that a boycott of either Stoli or the games in Sochi is unlikely to affect real change in Russia.  On top of that, athletes competing in the games can’t, according to IOC rules, wear rainbow shirts, pins, etc.  So, what to do?  Why not something more subtle but ultimately more powerful, an image that would be broadcast silently across the globe, an unmistakable, but politically neutral act:  same-sex hand holding.  Regardless of orientation, athletes from around the world can grab the same-sex hand next to them and hold it.  While waiting for their turn on the slopes or the bobsled or while receiving their medals — regardless of nationality or orientation, this is something all athletes in the games can do and it would be difficult for the IOC to do anything about it.  It’s not a kiss or an obvious political sign, it’s just two people, of the same sex, holding hands.

What better way to show solidarity with lgbt teens across Russia and the world?  It’d make for some pretty great images that could go viral across the globe.

Maybe Paul McCartney can show up and sing along.  YouTube Preview Image

 

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TampaZeke
August 11th, 2013 | LINK

By the time NBC got done angling their cameras and editing no one would ever know that it happened.

I think they should go with the flags and pins. If they get MASS participation there is NO way that the IOC would send thousands of athletes, and whole teams, home! It would be an international public relations nightmare.

james
August 11th, 2013 | LINK

When our pride event is held later this month, one group is going to have signs in Russian expressing solidarity with Russian LGBT folks. You can have your picture made holding a sign. Then it will go on a Facebook page. The group has contacted a group in St. Petersburg to coordinate.

Richard Rush
August 11th, 2013 | LINK

Some things deserve to be repeated. TampaZeke said,

I think they should go with the flags and pins. If they get MASS participation there is NO way that the IOC would send thousands of athletes, and whole teams, home! It would be an international public relations nightmare.

I’d like to see the entire U.S. team (and other nations) carrying rainbow flags into the opening ceremonies. There is no way Russia would arrest the entire U.S. team, and as Zeke said, there is no way the IOC would send them home.

What does it say about a team if the only way they can win Olympic medals is by turning their backs on conditions in the host country approaching a pogrom? And what does it say about the IOC and their rules? Perhaps if people hadn’t turned their backs on the plight of German Jews during the 1936 Berlin Olympics, history may have turned out differently.

F Young
August 11th, 2013 | LINK

Mass participation would be great, but in a democracy, you can’t enforce uniforms, gestures or flags that have a political meaning. Some people would rightly object and claim their freedom of expression and religion rights are violated. So, everybody has to be able to make their own individual decision, and hope they are not penalized. You’d be lucky to get 25% participation under those conditions.

So, I might be okay with hand holding if it was clear what it meant. Unfortunately, I expect in some countries, including Russia, the message would be censored. Also, in Arabic countries, hand-holding is common and accepted among heterosexual same-sex friends; so, its particular meaning in this context would be lost.

Personally, I’d prefer to see kissing, since the message would be undeniable and it would start to normalize same-sex intimacy, especially among males. Of course, both persons would have to agree. Only a few gutsy athletes would go that far.

Timothy Kincaid
August 11th, 2013 | LINK

Personally, I’d prefer to see kissing, since the message would be undeniable…

But perhaps not in Russia. Remember, most of the people we want to participate are straight allies, and in Russia straight men kiss each other. So unless they are making out (which we really can’t expect from our straight allies), the message might not get through.

Randy Potts
August 11th, 2013 | LINK

Yeh, that’s a good point, that kissing and even walking arm in arm is pretty typical of men in Russia, but it’s typical of men in Russia who’ve been drinking and palling (sp?) around, not men involved in sport, at least that’s how I read it. Seems like holding hands prominently would be a clear signal around the world. It might be just edgy enough to be something male athletes with a rebellious streak would want to do but not so edgy (like making out) that their skin would crawl.

The IOC would have a really tough time banning hand holding whereas I could see them disqualifying someone for a pin.

F Young
August 11th, 2013 | LINK

“Maybe Paul McCartney can show up and sing along.”

Or, better still, the athletes themselves could sing it in the opening or closing ceremonies, while holding hands.

Or, how about “All you need is love, love is all you need.”

Karel
August 11th, 2013 | LINK

I have to say I think that this idea is myopic, misguided and disagreeable.

Homosocial physical contact, e.g. handholding, without any sexual implication, is common in countries where taboos against homosexuality are still in force. When I visited Thailand several years ago I saw many, many pairs of men and pairs of women holding hands: very few of them were gay couples. The hand-holding didn’t signify “gay” at all. However, to see a man holding a woman’s hand (in polite Thai society) was close to unheard of. PDAs like kissing were extremely frowned upon. But homosocial bodily contact like hand holding or hugging was not seen as a sexual PDA.

Now this may be changing in Thailand. In Russia, certainly, aggressive, physical male bonding among men is seen as an integral part of the culture: e.g., the kisses on each cheek in greeting, the sauna rituals, and, yes, hand-holding. And I think that the backlash against homosexuality in Russia is driven in large part by horror at the idea of sexualizing these interactions.

Just look at what’s happened in our culture! Straight guys don’t even feel comfortable hugging anymore; it’s become problematic even to say “I love you” without qualifying “but not in a gay way,” even for people who aren’t homophobic! You don’t have to be homophobic to not want an innocent gesture of physical solidarity to be taken in a sexual way. But because sexuality has entered the equation, such gestures have dramatically diminished.

To say that the Russian audience at Sochi should read same-sex hand holding as obviously homosexual is a) indicative of complete cultural cluelessness and b) only going to reiterate to traditional Russians that gays really do need to kept in the closet by force, to keep ordinary cultural expressions of human solidarity (like handholding) from taking on unseemly sexualized connotations, from ceasing to be innocuous and becoming gross PDAs.

No mussing around: gay athletes who win should pull out rainbow paraphernalia on the podium; or get married beforehand, so that they can declare their love for same-sex husbands or wives without any ambiguity. Open political hostility, not clueless cultural hostility, is the only chance of engaging the Russians without closing their minds off completely.

Preston
August 11th, 2013 | LINK

I would hate to see us give up the Stoli boycott. Change can be slow and incremental and in many ways invisible at first. The slightest economic impact can encourage positive change in unforeseen ways. (think orange juice, circa 1977)

james
August 11th, 2013 | LINK

The best, very best “protest” would be an openly gay athlete winning a gold medal with Russian athletes winning silver and bronze. Like Jesse Owens winning gold in Berlin in 1936 and embarrassing the shit out of the Nazis.

MattNYC
August 11th, 2013 | LINK

@james

Let’s just hope it occurs in a real sport (i.e., no judges). Otherwise, “…and the Russian judge awards a 2.”

Randy Potts
August 11th, 2013 | LINK

With respect, Karel, I think maybe we’re thinking of different audiences. I don’t see any reason to appeal to Russians in general — homophobic attitudes are so prevalent there that when measured it’s often 70-80% of the population or more who have a strong animus against LGBT people. There’s also no point in appealing to the Russian government or to Putin — they have a lot to gain with their pogrom and nothing we can do as individuals or athletes in February will change that. The audience I was thinking about was the lgbt audience and their allies both in Russia and around the globe. In that sense, Harvey Milk was right — hope is the place you start. In a case like this, solidarity is the best way to begin.

I’ve never been to Thailand, but your assumption about Russian men is not correct — men in Russian society do not and have never held hands. Two Olympic athletes silently holding hands would be a very obvious signal and yet would also be completely asexual and something the IOC would find tough to ban.

For the most part, our hands are tied. Dan Savage’s boycott is genius with respect to calling attention to the problem here in the US but at the same time it has no effect on Russian politics. Boycotting or moving the Olympics itself would be a wasted opportunity and would only bolster the Russian conviction that they are the victims of the US and the West in general. A boycott also does nothing to help gay people in Russia. We have a chance to do something on a stage that will be watched closely by Russians — why waste it?

Rainbow flags and pins et al will likely disqualify athletes who’ve spent their life working toward this moment. We can’t be sure that hand holding WILL work, but it seems worth a shot.

StraightGrandmother
August 11th, 2013 | LINK

Well my idea is for the opening ceremony you give out sheets of colored paper, and when the Russian Team enters for the opening Parade the crowd hold up their sheets of colored paper and it makes a rainbow. It is the crowd rather than the atheletes. IOC rules do not permit the athletes to show or wear political gestures. It would be great if in the seating blocks of tickets were sold in blocks to the nice countries.

Lucrece
August 11th, 2013 | LINK

In many of the most homophobic regions, such as the UAE and Africa, men hold hands, so something as vague as same-sex hand holding isn’t going to do much.

Jay
August 12th, 2013 | LINK

Just boycott the damned Olympics or, better, move it to Vancouver or Norway or some other place that respects human rights. We should not be rewarding and subsidizing Russia.

Chuck
August 12th, 2013 | LINK

I say screw it. If the athletes want to do what’s right, they will wear and say as much “gay propaganda” as the cameras can take and flip the bird to the IOC if they get kicked out. Even athletes that spent a long time training for this should know that human rights are more important than sports.

It should be done by every gold medalist who gets interviewed.

Chuck
August 12th, 2013 | LINK

The slogan that every medalist should say is “F*ck Russia!”

Phil
August 13th, 2013 | LINK

I think handholding is fine, no matter what. I question Karel’s assertion that nonsexual male affection is decreasing in our culture. I work at a college, and college men are much more likely to say “I love you” to their friends than they were 15 years ago. The stigma of homosexuality is less of a big deal now.

Here’s what a heterosexual athlete should do if he or she really wants to go down in history: after winning a medal, put on a rainbow pin, shirt, or flag up on the podium. The IOC can’t disqualify you from a competition you’ve already finished, and even if they take away your medal, the world will already know that you’ve won it. And you’ll be remembered long after most Olympic medalists are forgotten. If it’s a really big gesture, you could end up in history books apart from sports. (Jesse Owens is the only widely remembered name from the 1936 Olympics, after all.)

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