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Monday, August 12, 2013

Remember that time, in Germany..?


Hello, darlings. Apologies for the brief hiatus – sometimes one’s personal life gets in the way of shouting one’s opinions from the rooftops. I hope you missed me and your weekly dose of rainbow fabulousity! Or something. In any case, I can’t wait to get back ‘under the saddle’. Let’s talk.

There has been a HUGE elephant in the room for the past couple of weeks. Longer really, but it’s gained a lot of headlines and a TON of bloggers diligently objecting away in recent days. I've been debating whether or not I wanted to join the throngs of people talking about it, because most people seem to be in agreement, but there are some aspects of the whole thing that not everyone is talking about. Not loudly enough for my taste, anyway.





Unless you've been living under a rock, you've probably heard about Russia’s new anti gay-propaganda law. Basically, while technically being gay is not a crime in Russia, sharing any information about the existence of homosexuality with minors, or sharing any positive opinions on it, is. Oddly enough, no one seemed terribly concerned about this until it came up in the concept of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

(I’m sure someone was concerned, but let’s just say it wasn't common conversation unless you were either gay, in Russia, or close to someone who is.)

The rest of the world, the mostly-straight world, treated it as a ‘not my problem’ issue, for the most part – just like they have always done with ‘gay’ issues, with women’s issues, with brown/black/yellow/red people’s issues, with civil and human rights abuses in any culture that didn't directly affect them.  As long as they came home and found a martini in their wives’ hand, a hot dinner waiting on the table, and slippers in front of the TV, as far as they were concerned, all was right with the world. (Yes, darlings, I’m oversimplifying. I hope to whatever you believe in that there were plenty of not-directly-involved people who were simply outraged. If you were one of them, good for you, but you’re not the problem I’m addressing.)

Ah, the Olympics! Longstanding tradition of sport without politics, a chance for the people of all countries to put aside their differences and come together in an environment of peace and equality – Oh, wait. Hmm. Suddenly there was a concern. Not a concern about the gays and gay allies in Sochi, and their families, who have to live there day in and day out. No, those people live there so it’s ‘not our problem’. The concern was for the Olympic athletes. Would they be in danger of imprisonment and eventual deportation? Should we keep them from competing, like Marty Stoller and Sam Glickman in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin? And yes, for those of you paying attention, I just validated Godwin’s law. Appropriately, as it turns out.

LZ Granderson wrote a great article about them, and the implications of Russia’s new law. You can read it here. In it, LZ manages to make a very elegant case (while claiming not to make it) comparing the new law to the way the Nuremberg laws limiting Jewish citizens' rights were instituted a year before the 1936 Olympics, eventually leading to a nifty little nightmare called the Holocaust.

Yes, I just went there. “Jesus H Christ on a jumped-up chariot-driven sidecar, Unicorn,” I hear you wail. “You can’t compare anything to the Holocaust! That’s … you just can’t!”

Can, did, and will keep on doing it until more people open their eyes. Let me tell you why.

Because even though many countries have protections from discrimination for LGBTQ people, those countries are still in the minority. The LGBTQ community is still marginalized in terms of workplace discrimination (you can lose your job just for being suspected of being gay in thirty states in the US – in 2013. True story.) LGBTQ people still can’t marry or have their marriages recognized in most states. We are frequently discriminated against in housing situations and financial lending. We have to take special legal action just to be allowed to be at the side of our loved ones as they lay dying in hospital beds surrounded by their ‘real’ families. Thousands of LGBTQ kids (and adults!) are bullied every day. Many attempt (and succeed) to end their own lives. Some are targeted, beaten, and killed. And we have it good.

Uganda keeps bringing to the table a bill with the lovely little name ‘Kill the Gays’. Heard of that one? It gets soft-pedaled in the media by people claiming it targets pedophiles and those who spread disease deliberately. That’s a good thing, right? Except that the bill also calls for the incarceration for life of all homosexual people who have done nothing wrong - other than being gay. Oh, and the Pope? He gave his blessing to the author of that bill. Personally. Nice.

Uganda isn't alone. Islam, the Middle East, and Africa (among others) also criminalize being gay. I’m sure you've heard of the lovely practice of serial-raping gays – men and women – to “cure” them. That’s just common sense, right? Because nothing would make a gay person want to have heterosexual sex more than being repeatedly raped by a straight person. Mmm, yeah, so that’s what I was missing! I’ll go right out and sign up for more of this, please. Ugh. The level of stupid and cruelty in that form of reasoning makes me want to puke. Preferably directly onto the people who agree with it.

Then there are the ones who are just – killed. Attacked, beaten to death, left for garbage solely because of who they are.

These are just the tip of the iceberg, and don’t even address the other forms of sexual and human rights abuses practiced on people. But my stomach can’t take much more of this right now, sorry. You can do your own research, if you've got a stronger gut. I dare you.

“But Unicorn, nothing like that could happen today. That stuff is horrible, but what does it have to do with the Holocaust?”

A lot, really.

Because the Holocaust didn't appear overnight. The Nuremberg laws set into motion a series of beliefs that took humanity (and the rights accorded thereby) away from a group of people. It was a slow, insidious process that slowly accustomed otherwise ‘normal’ people to thinking of certain groups as ‘other’, making it easier to swallow the slowly snowballing erosion of the freedoms, civil and human rights and – eventually – the right of those groups to exist. They were made to wear labels proclaiming their status, lost their positions and homes, and eventually somewhere near fifteen million innocent people were sent to one of twenty thousand camps – from forced labor camps to the ‘final solution’ killing compounds where millions died. Between 5 and 15,000 of those were actual or suspected homosexuals.

I ask myself, “How could they sit by and let something like that happen,” but the answer is painfully clear, and made even more so by the events happening in our world today. It happened because they let it happen. That’s an ugly statement to make, and it’s an ugly thing to believe, but ultimately, it is an ugly truth.

They let it happen.

And by that, I mean WE let it happen. We stood by and said, “It’s terrible, but it doesn't concern me, so better to keep my head down and my mouth closed, and hope nothing worse happens to me.”

I’m sure many of the people who saw what was happening felt in their hearts that it was wrong, but were afraid to speak out for fear of losing everything, fear for their own safety, and the safety of their families. Some people did try to help – they hid and protected those who were endangered, and helped smuggle them to safe havens, often at great personal risk and sacrifice. Those people are heroes, though if asked I’m sure they would say they are not – they did what they had to do, because it was the right thing to do. But many more did not. They swallowed their discomfort and turned their eyes away. They felt there was nothing they could do. They kept silent. And millions died.

We are at a point now where we have to make the same choice. Do we raise our voices, or turn our eyes away?

Our eyes will be on Sochi as the countdown to Winter Games 2014 continues. Will Russian legislators back down from this anti-propaganda hate law? They have said they will not. Will they ‘neglect to enforce’ the law during the Olympics, to protect athletes and visitors? They have said they will enforce it. And what happens afterwards, when the crowds and the television cameras go home? What of the thousands of homosexuals – and their allies – who will be alone and unprotected once the eyes of the world turn to other things? Gay parents are facing the ‘choice’ of leaving their country or risk losing their children. A recent poll found that only 16 per cent of Russians thought homosexuality was “natural”. More than half think gays need “treatment”. Whether these thoughts are their own, or are being cultivated by their leaders, it is clearly “not their problem” what happens to those people. Many gays are living in fear, as police state that they do not criminalize adult homosexuals, yet they stand by as gays are beaten and tortured to death in the streets, doing nothing to interfere. It sounds dramatic to say it, but I have to: With the obvious blind eye being turned to these abuses, can labels (and the rest) be far behind?

Oh, and Greece currently has more than 5,000 ‘undesirable’ people being held in ‘appalling conditions’ in internment campsright now, today. I guess we’re not talking about this, either.

So what do we do now? 

Do we keep our mouths shut as we hope that people come to their senses? 

Do we keep our heads down and go quietly about our business as Russia vows to prevent young people from learning of the existence of homosexuality, and abuses its citizens (and visitors) for daring to tell them ‘it  gets better’? 

Do we tell ourselves, “Someone else will do something. Someone else will speak up,” to help us get to sleep at night? 

Do we forget the eleven million ‘undesirables’ – including Jews, Poles, Slavs, Roma Gypsies, the disabled/handicapped, and homosexuals – who were killed? (It was my instinct to write “who died”, but that’s trying to pretty it up and hide the horror of what happened. Those people didn’t die – they were murdered in a calculated regime to remove those deemed less than human from the world.)

Gay, straight, black, white, Jew or Gentile, or whatever flavor or persuasion we might be – how can this be “not my problem”? 

Those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it. 

How can we allow the foundations to be put in place to marginalize and remove groups classed as ‘undesirables’ from society, without speaking up? How can we keep silent as families are torn apart and people’s basic freedoms to exist are put into question? How can we wait for ‘someone else’ to say something, to do something, to scream for basic human treatment of all human beings? If not us, who?

I'll repeat that. It's not an accusation, not a threat. It is the truth. If not us, who?

I’m not sure what I can do. I’m not sure what you can do, either. I am only one small person, and you are just you, and we are all tiny in the great scheme of the world. I know that, and I know that laws – especially laws in other countries – seem beyond the ken of anything we can effect. But I also know that the rights of all humans, and especially the violation or termination of those rights, effects every single one of us.

And if enough small people speak and act together, we can be mighty, indeed.

Take the steps that you are able to take. Speak up when you can. Correct someone who says, “It’s just the Olympics, sports shouldn't get involved in politics.” Ask them about the thousands who will be left in Sochi after we've gone. Ask them at what point it is our problem. Ask them if they know anyone who died under the Nazi regime. Ask them if they know anyone who isn't affected in some way. If they say no, tell them they’re a liar, and walk away. And keep speaking up. This not an 'Olympics issue'. This is a freaking 'life-and-death issue' that transcends a simple sporting event that will be forgotten in a few years. And we can't afford to keep forgetting.

Do something! Please. Do anything. Sign a petition. Click ‘Like’ on Facebook, if that’s all you can do. At least it’s something. Go to a demonstration or human rights event. Write letter after letter to your Congress-people and your President. Tell them to step in and say something, do something, while we still can.

I’ll end with Pastor Martin Niemoller because – well, because I have to. Niemoller, if you aren't familiar with him, was a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler, and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps. (You know where I’m going … raise your voice and join in, if you wish.)

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out-- 
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out-- 
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak for me.
  




Ok, darlings. That's what I have to say about it. I'm even working on something a little more concrete, which I'll announce when I get it closer to finalized (because Unicorns love mystery!). What do YOU have to say? Let me know. Let me know how you feel, why you care (or don't), and what you think YOU can do. You do NOT need an account or a sign-in to comment, and you can even be anonymous if that's what you prefer.

Let's babble! And, as always, be fabulous to each other! 

4 comments:

  1. Very powerful, as always!

    ReplyDelete
  2. “Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights and keep them. Our strength is our unity of purpose. To that high concept there can be no end save victory.”
    ― Franklin D. Roosevelt

    Only the unity of all nations can liberate the world and end bigotry and its abuses among our people. With all our differences, in ideas, desires and dreams, politics and faiths we are still the same and responsible for each others well being. We share the one earth. And one day we may all need to come together to preserve it. I hope we are ready.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Very well said. Thank you for the comment!

      Delete

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Please be kind to each other - I welcome discussion and conversation, but if you're deliberately nasty to someone, that makes kittens cry. Let's keep it fabulous!

~ The Unicorn