What the Hell Happened at the Olympics LGBT Town Hall Meeting Last Night?

August 15, 2013 | Marina Galperina

“Johnny Weir is a traitor! He’s a self-proclaimed Rusophile and he’s going to Russia to fuck and eat red caviar,” yelled the best-dressed man in a room. At the Chelsea LGBT Community Center’s town hall meeting of about 150, Michael Lucas of Lucas Entertainment (link NSFW) declared an all out Olympic boycott as the only option. Two days ago, the very openly gay Olympic skater Johnny Weir adjusted his non-confrontational position: Of course, he’s still going, but he’s willing to be arrested for being gay.

Maybe Lucas hadn’t read that yet. It takes 45 minutes of mic passing just to catch up to the plot so far — in Russia, LGBT people are arrested, beaten up and killed and gay and “pro-gay” public behavior is punishable under the “anti-homosexual propaganda” bill, applicable to everyone attending the Winter 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi. There are gasps from the 60+ crowd when they show a mild video of attacked protestors, followed by a clip of disapproving President Obama firmly waffling about Olympics. Now what? The proposed options included…

“Obama should go to Russia and wear gay… rainbow… pin!”
“The main thing we have to concentrate on is defeating this law!”
“We can’t. We have to stop the Olympics!”
“No, go and protest!”
“No, ban the Russian Olympic team!”
“Speak into the mic! We can’t hear you!”
“Petition EU to ban homophobic politicians’ visas!”
“Don’t ban things. Support support groups!”
“Speak into the mic!”
“It’s beyond the Olympics! *General, enthusiastic proclamation of humanist concerns!*”
“The reaction of the IOC has been shit. I couldn’t be fucking worse! Shame them!”
“I heard that So-and-So from the International Olympic Community is a closetted lesbian.”
“Boycott Citibank!”
“Boycott Coca Cola!”
“Boycott Russian Vodka!”
“Boycott all Russian products!”
“Russia doesn’t produce anything at all. All their vodka is made in Latvia!”

There was some consensus, mostly to the effect of “things are fucked.” A few decades ago, an act of homosexuality was a crime — in theory, punishable by years of hard labor in prison; in practice, punishable if you displeased the Soviet Party in some other way. “No one cared. No one asked,” someone recalled. Now, Putin one ups Stalin was this incomprehensible “gay propaganda” ban.

Another person talked about her friends being beat up for looking like “faggots!” in Moscow that month, then the murders, the torture, the government-sanctioned hate… Clearly, things got a lot worse very quickly, just like Putin planned, as in Problems? What problems? Russia’s fine but HEY LOOK AT THOSE GAYS OVER THERE PROPAGATING GET ‘EM!

The best part about the meeting last night is that there was a meeting last night. There were reps from ACT UP, RUSA LGBT, Children 404, and 27th District State Senator Brad Hoylman. There were ideas. Outrage, concern, enthusiasm.

The worst part about the meeting last night is that there was too much enthusiasm and yelling. Someone even suggested we should feel proud for ourselves for being there. Someone suggested there should be an It Gets Better project for youth in Russia. Someone pointed out that yes, there was and that they were sitting right there. Someone (me) said there needs to be a place to aggregate all this information — news, updates, activism — and one of the Queer Nation organizers replied, “Yes, we’re going to do that here after the discussion.”

I meant, a place on the internet. Analog activism is slow and frustrating.

There are going to be a lot of issues and it’s not going to be as easy as a couple of articles, sit-ins and town hall meetings. We can’t learn everything from the boycotts on Olympics for atrocities decades back because their sentimental human rights poster campaigns are now our quick memes, agitating over Reddit, then fizzling out, forgotten. But even though internet is closer to Russia than this town hall, but it’s still very, very far away. And mobilizing activists over the communication channels laid down by Occupy Wall Street would be awkward now, because the #Occupy prefix has been high-jacked by Russian “Occupy Pedophilia” skinheads who are luring, torturing and videotaping gay young men all over Russia. It’s fucked. Everything’s fucked. Start over.

“This is a multi-strategy campaign.” RUSA LGBT’s Nina Long said in the most truly inspiring sentence of the night. If you don’t want to boycott, protest. If you don’t want to protest, talk. But right now, I’m frustrated, useless. Gone is the oomph. Now what?

“They doesn’t like negative PR,” a former Moscow news anchor said of Kremlin. “They want to look perfect.”

They really don’t.

And they won’t.





 (Photos: Marina Galperina/ANIMALNewYork)