About the time that Vancouver Councillor Tim Stevenson was probably confirming his window seat to head back to the True North Strong and Free after meeting with Olympic officials in the True North Strong and Not-So-Free, I was sipping an Americano in a Gastown café. Stevenson had gone to Sochi to ask the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for policy changes that would prevent future Games going to nations with discriminatory human-rights laws.
Three middle-aged gay men sat near me as I sipped my coffee. I wasn’t paying much attention to their dish until one of them, who’d been speaking loudly and more often than his luncheon partners, let go this zinger: “I’m so tired of politicians trying to save the world.”
A dramatic pause, then: “It gets so . . .” arm waving, voice rising, “tedious!”
He looked to his friends for affirmation. From where I sat, they seemed embarrassed for him.
Tedious. Wow. Now that most Canadians more or less have our rights recognized to love and play, are we really so self-absorbed as to find tedious the efforts of those among us working for similar rights around the world? I think not.
I’d bet most of us are proud of Tim Stevenson taking our values to Russia and calling the IOC to account.
Most people I talk to know that though gay life is comparatively good in Canada, our culture still has a huge hang-up about sexuality that leaves many of our brothers and sisters locked in straitjackets. We need to keep pushing for acceptance of all expressions of sexual expression and gender, together.
Russia and Uganda have dominated the news lately with harsh new anti-gay laws that have already left a trail of blood. There are about 10 nations in the world that execute gay men and sometimes lesbians. Another dozen or so punish us with long jail sentences that people usually don’t survive. Others execute or harshly punish all non-marital sex play. A few more have police that turn a blind eye to people killing gays in “moral” judgment.
Yes, some of these are Muslim states. But some are Christian states, heavily influenced by the fundamentalist movements of the US. And a disproportionate number of countries with official homophobic laws are, like Canada, former British colonies. That’s right, former British colonies have generally worse homophobic legacies than those of Spain or France. Check out the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) website for details and heartache.
So, what should we do?
Key leaders of the gay movements of Russia and Uganda have specifically asked that progressive nations avoid economic boycotts or interrupting development aid. Such actions lead only to local gays being blamed by their fellow citizens, and boycotts almost always hurt the poor more than the powerful in any case.
Instead, they suggest we show solidarity through two key measures that target the very lawmakers and their powerful backers, many of them corrupt or incompetent (hence the homophobia to divert attention from their mismanagement), that passed the laws. Put them on no-fly lists that prevent them entering or flying across a country’s airspace, and freeze their bank accounts and confiscate their property (such as real estate and corporate investments).
Hit them where it hurts: their international lifestyles and hideaways for their ill-gotten finances. We could start with Russian and Ugandan politicians and broaden out from there, paying particular attention to our fellow Commonwealth nations.
Let’s face it: we gays and lesbians are sitting pretty comfortably now in Canada. We could choose to see it as our destiny to spread the love, share the freedom. It’s an honour, a responsibility and perhaps a destiny. It’s definitely not a tedium to be abhorred as we drink our Americanos.