By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
For many, the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi have been a source of controversy rather than celebration because of Russia’s anti-gay legislation, and actor/activist George Takei is among those saying the games should be moved somewhere else.
President Vladimir Putin is under fire from human rights groups for laws he has signed to ban adoption of Russian-born children by gay couples, allow police to arrest foreign nationals suspected of being gay or “pro-gay,” and prohibit “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relationships” to minors.
“In September, the IOC (International Olympic Committee) had their meeting in Buenos Aires and selected a new chairman, Thomas Bach,” Takei said in a phone interview. “A petition was presented that had over a quarter-million signers. They were not responsive to it.”
“At the last Winter Olympics in Vancouver, they had a Pride House where LGBT athletes and their supporters could go to celebrate their victory. The reverse of that is true in Russia, where they have this homophobic law, which has given license to hoodlums to accost people that they perceive to be LGBT, humiliate them and attack them, and in some cases attack so viciously that two people have been killed. IOC claims that they are satisfied with conditions for LGBT people in Russia. It’s outrageous.”
Takei wants to keep up the pressure on Russia, but doesn’t advocate boycotting vodka, as some businesses have done. “It’s made in Lithuania … It’s not punishing Russia … so that’s misdirected.”
The U.S. and some of its allies, including Japan, boycotted the Moscow Olympics in 1980 because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan; four years later, the Soviet Union and its allies boycotted the Los Angeles Olympics. Takei, who carried the Olympic torch in 1984, said, “I don’t think boycotting the Olympics is the way to go because then we’re punishing the athletes. The athletes have prepared for competition for years. They’re reaching their peak. That should not be taken away from them. It has to be more targeted at Russia. It’s got to be thought through.”
In his blog, Takei wrote, “Many believe that such a call to move the Olympics out of Russia goes too far. Would this be their opinion if the law instead called for the arrest of any Jews, Roman Catholics or Muslims should they display any sign of their religion, such as a wearing a yarmulke or praying while facing Mecca? Discrimination in any form is a blight upon the Winter Games, and it must not be tolerated.
“NBC and the corporate sponsors of the Olympics should be paying close attention, too, and should get behind the ‘Move the Olympics’ movement now, while there is still time to do so. If the Winter Olympics proceed in Sochi, Russia, all of the goodwill they have spent millions to build will evaporate in noisy protests, boycotts, and terrible publicity. I personally will be beating this particular drum loudly, as will many other LGBT actors, activists and allies. Trust me, if you are a corporate brand, you do not want to be associated with the Sochi Olympics …
“If Russia hopes to stand with the international community, it must accept and adopt international principles of equality and non-discrimination.”
Takei, who married his partner Brad in 2008, also continues to support campaigns for marriage equality across the U.S. In Hawaii, he noted, “(Sen.) Mazie Hirono particularly has been very active there and it looks very promising. The governor (Neil Abercrombie) has said that he will sign it.
“It’s going to be very interesting to see what happens in northeastern states like Virginia, where they have a governor’s race going on right now … Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic candidate, has a slight lead there now. He is pro-marriage equality … Northern Virginia is very urbanized, part of Greater Washington, D.C. Equality is a very strong issue there … I think Virginia is going to be strong contender for equality next.”
Pointing out that only one-third of the country has marriage equality, Takei commented, “We have a divided nation, unfortunately … Despite the happy news we got from the Supreme Court in June, we still have our work cut out for us.”
For example, he said, even with the Defense of Marriage Act and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” struck down, some base commanders still deny same-sex couples marriage leave “for no reason at all.”
Also on the agenda is the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, “a federal bill that would make it illegal for employers to fire arbitrarily LGBT people simply because they’re LGBT,” Takei said.
On Oct. 12 in Denver, Takei received the Making a Difference Award from the Matthew Shepard Foundation for his outspoken advocacy for sexual orientation and gender identity minorities. The awards dinner was both a celebration of progress that has been made and a reminder that more work needs to be done. It was held on the 15th anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard, the victim of a vicious anti-gay hate crime in Wyoming.