Russia’s LGBT laws harsh, but U.S. isn’t flawless

The Winter Olympics are finally here and in full swing, and that means it’s time to play an exciting round of “Our Country’s Just Better Than Yours At Everything!”

This apparently includes being more inclusive toward the LGBT community.

When 29 states have no laws on the books protecting LGBT individuals from discrimination or harassment, including being fired from your job or evicted from your home, we’ve got issues.

— Angelica Rodriguez

It’s not a secret by now that the Games this year are in a country with a sub-par record of treating gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people with respect. The law against promotion of “nontraditional” sexual conduct to minors has emboldened “vigilante” groups across Russia to confront gay people, or lure them in under the pretense of a date, then verbally and physically harass them and (in many cases) brutally beat them or threaten them with death. Pride parades and protests are against the law as well, and activists have been locked up because of this.

When you look at this in terms of which is worse on the surface, Russia wins. After all, at least we can give lip service to how proud we are to be a part of, or to support, the LGBT community. Russia’s severe oppression is a big part of the reason I’m not watching the Olympics as they’re being aired on NBC — I don’t want to be a part of something that’s making that much money in a country that basically tells people it’s not okay to be who they are. And on the surface, companies like Google and Chobani turning rainbow for the Olympics are great. So is Principle 6, an organization that seeks to benefit LGBT groups in Russia, with which American Apparel is a partner.

But this is turning into a battle of Us versus Them. I’ve seen a lot of comments like, “Ugh, Russia is basically a third-world country” or “Those damn ignorant Russians,” without any mention of how long of a way the United States has to go to clean its slate.

At first glance, you don’t see all of this. But dig a little bit deeper, beyond the Defense of Marriage Act and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell being repealed, and you’ll notice the issues apparent.

When 29 states have no laws on the books protecting LGBT individuals from discrimination or harassment, including being fired from your job or evicted from your home, we’ve got issues.

When 20 percent of homeless youth are LGBT (and only 10 percent of all youth are), and people are still getting beaten and killed in American cities and towns because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, there’s still a huge problem.

When an NFL prospect, Michael Sam, publicly states that he is gay and people immediately talk about how “brave” he is or how this might “lower his draft stock,” there’s still a ways to go.

This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t talk about Russia’s issues. They are plentiful, and they are just as important — but we need to stop acting like this is just their problem, because it’s everyone’s. And companies like Google, Chobani and American Apparel cashing in on this issue when each of them are far from squeaky-clean — Google’s consumer privacy issues, Chobani’s use of genetically modified organisms in its products, and American Apparel’s portrayal of increasingly young, sexualized female models all come to mind — makes me really uncomfortable. How much of this is legitimate, and how much of this is just good public relations to feed the machine? Are they really invested — do they want to partner with LGBT groups or donate to causes, or is it just the same empty “support” that will go away once the Closing Ceremonies have ended?

I guess we’ll just have to use our judgment. In the meantime, though, if you really want to further the cause, get yourself educated about your own backyard, as well as across the pond.

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Twitter: @A_Rodriguez39