By David Reddish
Originally published on Advocate.com February 14 2014 5:00 AM ET
Dear Mr. Putin,
Thank you. Your blustering and bullying have made a great number of headlines in the past year: Pussy Riot, Syria, Iran, and now the Sochi Olympics, where as policy you’ve vowed to protect children from the insidious LGBT athletic invaders.
What a gift! Your picking on the gays may reinforce your shirtless, gun-toting, man-boob-sporting tough guy image, but in doing so, you have also marginalized your influence and alienated the very countries upon which Russia depends to maintain its economic strength. And if my prediction holds correct, if history is any indicator, you’ve just done gay people one hell of a favor.
You see, Mr. Putin, once upon a time, when Russia lived under the violent and tyrannical banner of the Soviet Union, the rest of the civilized world — yes, that includes other communist nations like China — recoiled at the cruelty the Soviet government inflicted on its people in the self-proclaimed label of “Leftist Revolution.” The rest of the world, led by the United States and Great Britain, reacted in character — anything those damn pinko commies did, they had to do the opposite. Equality among the sexes? Screw that! Government programs aimed at raising living standards for all citizens? How dare you? Declaring a secular government? Blasphemy!
Thus came the Cold War, and with it, the hypocritical and often counterintuitive policies of Nixon, Reagan, and even your dear friend George H.W. Bush. The Equal Rights Amendment was defeated, federal agencies designed to aid the middle class evaporated, and religion was reduced to a political trump card.
But Mr. Putin, something wonderful happened in 1991: The collapse of the Soviet Bloc meant the United States and its allies could no longer define themselves by acting the part of the anticommie. All at once, the rest of the industrialized nations had to find their own priorities, and ultimately, their own core beliefs. Of course, these rational improvements took time, and indeed still have much maturing left before they evolve into the ideal — particularly, gay rights in the United States.
So what does this have to do with Sochi? Well, by passing anti-LGBT legislation, oppressing large groups of people, and insulting gay athletes around the world, right as you welcome them to the world’s ultimate gathering of solidarity and goodwill, you’ve forced the other governments of the world to defend their citizens.
This is particularly important in the United States, for the very cabals who still oppose LGBT equality happen to be the same reactionary minds raised on anti-Russian sentiment. You’ve ignited sympathy in the cold and hardened hearts of America’s oppressive elements, rallying them to defend their nation’s athletes regardless of sexual orientation, and melded gay rights with American patriotism and liberal democracies the world over. And, of course, you’ve made an ass of yourself.
The Olympic Games in general capture the highest television ratings of the year, and even in the age of DVRs and online streaming, the world will still tune in to watch the events of Sochi unfold and the narrative of Gays in Peril play out on their screens. Americans, once so repulsed by LGBT individuals, will now root for them and for their nation, which takes pride in its athletes and their lives.
You, Mr. Putin, have just conflated support for LGBT equality with American patriotism, and true to the American reputation, this ideal will permeate all domestic and foreign policy for years to come. Preventing oppression of gays and lesbians in Third World nations such as Uganda or in the theocracies of the Middle East will become a priority like promoting free speech and freedom of religion. Your grandstanding against LGBT people may cast storm clouds over what should be a proud and glorious event, but at the end of these Olympic games, a big gay rainbow will shine over the earth.
So thank you again, Mr. Putin. And for your own sake, put a shirt on.
DAVID REDDISH is an award-winning civil rights activist and author of the novel Sex, Drugs & Superheroes. Follow him on Twitter @TheGayMagneto.