Category Archives: same-sex marriage


When I drive through the Central Valley on I-5 or Highway 99, there’s a stretch of freeway where I can’t get clear reception from either the Sacramento or the Fresno NPR stations. In fact, on my way back from Fresno this weekend, the clearest signal I could get on the dial was a conservative talk radio station. So I tuned in – just out of curiosity. (This isn’t the first time my curiosity has led me to conservative talk radio stations. Regular readers of The Active Voice probably know this.) This particular station was airing an interview with Chelsen Vicari, a young millennial who was talking about her new book, Distortion: How the New Christian Left Is Twisting the Gospel and Damaging the Faith. Her argument, in a nutshell, is that Christianity is being hijacked by leftist apologists and homosexual sympathizers, and that Christians need to reclaim their faith and take back the Gospel. Here are some examples of what Vicari had to say:

On the issue of the “evangelical left”: When I say “the evangelical left,” I’m really talking about those within the church who are pushing a political, leftist agenda cloaked in Christianity. And when I say “cloaked in Christianity,” I mean using the Bible and twisting it to justify a leftist political agenda that actually goes against what Scripture talks about in many ways, for example, marriage, and life, and liberty.

On the issue of homosexuality: It is arguably the biggest, most hostile issue millennial Christians are faced with. Whenever we talk about same-sex relationships, we are either labeled as bigoted or uncompassionate, or we’re dismissed if we hold a view of marriage that is between one man and one woman.

On challenging the evangelical left: I absolutely believe that we can have revival, not just in the evangelical community but the church at large. But to do that, it’s going to start within our homes. It’s going to start by teaching our children exactly what Scripture says and how to defend it. Oftentimes the millennials are willing to compromise because, honestly, they don’t know enough about their faith to speak up about it.

So I’m listening to this, and the hair on the back of my neck is standing up. I wasn’t at all surprised by Vicari’s beliefs – listening to conservative talk radio is an exercise in redundancy. No, the thing that was getting me weirded out was that her arguments sound exactly the same as what you’d hear from an LGBTQ social justice activist. Except just a little different. Consider what Vicari was essentially saying in her interview:

1. People are taking our Scripture and twisting it around to satisfy a political agenda. (Just like people who fight for social justice argue that the religious right twists the Bible to fit their beliefs.)

2. If we “come out” as Christian, we face intense discrimination, especially if we state our true beliefs about marriage, homosexuality, and abortion. (Coming out and discrimination? Those terms have their roots in the LGBTQ community.)

3. If things are going to change, we have to stand up for what we believe in, and teach our children how to do the same. (We are a community of experts when it comes to teaching our LGBTQ children – or children growing up in LGBTQ families – to accept themselves unconditionally and to stand up for who they are.)

You listen to this stuff long enough, and you almost start to believe it.

This is an old manipulative tactic. A defense mechanism, really, if you want to use psychological language. Melanie Klein, a neo-Freudian whose work dates back to the early 1900s through the 1940s, described a complicated phenomenon called “projective identification.” Here’s how it works: First, a person (Person #1) engages in projection, which is the unconscious act of attributing a negative, distressing part of ourselves onto someone else (Person #2). In other words, we see in other people what we can’t see in ourselves. But then, it goes a step further – Person #1 manages to manipulate the situation so Person #2 actually feels what’s been projected onto them. They’re stuck holding the bag of feelings that wasn’t even theirs in the first place.

Here’s how Vicari does this in her book (and in her interview). Instead of seeing how she and other evangelicals are twisting the Bible for their own purposes, she attributes this behavior to the “evangelical left.” Instead of acknowledging how the religious right has engaged in systematic institutionalized oppression, she turns it around and frames the religious right as the oppressed and the “evangelical left” as the oppressors. And instead of making amends and practicing restitution, Vicari says that true evangelicals need to stand up and fight back against this appropriation of the Bible.

Crazy stuff. But believable, if you listen to it long enough. And that’s why projective identification is such a powerfully effective defense mechanism. You can get rid of your shadow self, throw it onto another person, and make that person believe that the shadow self was theirs all along. It’s ironic, really, that Vicari chose the word “distortion” for her title. While her readers may begin to believe that liberals, leftists, and social justice activists are distorting the truth, the truth is that Vicari is the one who’s the master distortionist.

For those of you who are college students taking an introductory psychology class (or thinking about taking it in the future), I have some advice for you. When you get to the Freudian stuff, listen up – even if you think he and his followers were complete whack jobs, snorting cocaine and talking about sex all day. (There’s some truth to that.) It will give you powerful tools to understand the dynamics of the oppressor. What I just described above is a perfect example.




Filed under activism, coming out, homophobia, human rights, religion, same-sex marriage

Fighting a losing battle

As I’ve said repeatedly since I began blogging, we’re in the midst of rapid-fire change when it comes to LGBTQ rights. Sometimes I read the news headlines, or scan my Facebook news feed, and I feel like Billy Joel’s singing a contemporary version of “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” (Pennsylvania, Oregon, trans exclusions all gone! Football, RuPaul, Hedwig’s angry inch. Not bad, huh?) This week, three of those events caught my attention:

  • Last weekend, the Texas Republican Party adopted a party platform for 2014 that includes support of reparative therapy, a psychological approach that claims, despite being heavily discredited, to be able to change a person’s sexual orientation from gay to straight.
  • This past week, the Wall Street journal ran an opinion piece written by Dr. Paul McHugh, former chief psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins Medical Center. This piece was likely written in response to the Obama administration’s decision to reverse a 1981 policy that excluded gender reassignment surgery from coverage under Medicare. McHugh, in contrast, believes strongly that being transgender is “a mental disorder that deserves understanding, treatment and prevention.”  (A New York Times editorial, which ran a few days earlier, provided a much more pro-transgender perspective on this issue).
  • And last Thursday, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was interviewed by Terry Gross on Fresh Air. In that interview, when asked about her decision to include transgender rights along with lesbian, gay, and bisexual concerns, she said, “LBGT includes the “T,” and I wanted to stand up for the entire community. I don’t believe that people who are the L, the G, the B, or the T should be persecuted, assaulted, imprisoned, even killed for who they are.” (Full disclosure: She then, in a heated exchange with Gross, embarked on a clunky defense of her initial opposition to same-sex marriage.)

So hold on a minute. The Texas Republican party is supporting reparative therapy, even though a lot of highly respected professional organizations have issued public statements about how dangerous it is? A major news publication is running a piece declaring that transgender people are, by definition, mentally ill – even though the DSM-5 doesn’t include “transgender” as a mental disorder? Except for Hillary Clinton’s breath of fresh air (pun absolutely intended), these news articles seem like they could have been written 30 years ago.

Except they weren’t. This is happening today, in 2014. After the Supreme Court has overturned DOMA, and so many states have legalized same-sex marriage. After two states have banned reparative therapy for minors. After we’ve been closer than ever to passing an inclusive version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). Of course, lots of people have continued to believe that being gay, or lesbian, or bisexual, or transgender, or in any way gender nonconforming, is sinful, wrong, or sick, and that granting rights to LGBTQ people merely enables our “condition.” But coming out publicly, on large political and media stages, and stating these views is rising to new levels. It’s almost like the anti-LGBTQ rights folks are saying, This shit’s gotta stop. Time to end this nonsense. 

Some might say that this is a perfect example of a backlash – a powerful, almost violent, reaction against progressive change. Back in 1991, Susan Faludi wrote a bestselling book titled Backlash: The Undeclared War on American Women, in which she discusses the conservatism of the 1980s as a reactive response against the gains of various social movements of the 1960s and 1970s. But I’m not sure “backlash” is the most accurate term. It’s more like a last, desperate gasp for air. These folks see that “one-man-one-woman” marriage statutes are tumbling down like dominoes. They see that ENDA now has bipartisan support in Congress. They see transgender rights gaining serious traction. And then they see Laverne Cox on the cover of Time magazine (oh, HELL no!), and seeing how close they are to the tug-of-war pit, they gather up every last bit of strength and start yanking on that rope as hard as they can.

What makes people dig their heels in so deeply, even though they know they’re fighting a losing battle? Why doesn’t someone like Paul McHugh budge – even just a little – on his beliefs, even when they conflict with the scientific consensus? Why does some factions of the Republican Party swing further to the right, even though they’re losing constituency groups? They’re on a sinking ship – why don’t they jump off?

I’ve scoured the psychological literature, in search of an answer to this question. And unfortunately, it hasn’t offered much. Some researchers point to personality characteristics, like the “authoritarian personality” – what psychologist Theodor Adorno thought reflected the “potentially fascistic individual.” From this standpoint, certain types of people are just more likely than others to dig in their heels and stay there. Other researchers view this stubbornness as a variation of the fight-or-flight response, a reaction to a perceived imminent threat. What that threat is certainly is up for debate; it could be a threat to one’s status and power, or it could be a more intrapsychic threat – a threat to one’s masculinity, for example, or a threat to one’s heterosexuality. Perhaps it’s a form of aggrieved entitlement, a variation of fight-or-flight and a concept I’ve written about in past blog posts – a feeling that one’s identity, status, and culture is being taken away from them, and a need to stand one’s ground against those changes.

Maybe it’s all of these. Or perhaps it’s none of these. Either way, research isn’t offering me great answers. At least, nothing that’s making me feel better.

When I’m surrounded by disturbing, uncomfortable, or distressing behavior, I tend to seek solace in the intellectual. If I can explain it, my reasoning goes, then perhaps I can have some control over it – and understanding is a form of control. Freud called this “intellectualization,” or “flight into reason.” (Freudian scholars, just to be clear, don’t see this as a particularly healthy form of coping.) To be honest, I’m distressed by the GOP’s party-line endorsement of reparative therapy. I’m distressed by Paul McHugh’s pathologizing statements about transgender people and surgery. And here I am, trying to explain their behavior, partly in an attempt to educate, but mostly in an attempt to just feel better. Because having large groups of people hating on you and wanting to fix you just feels yucky.

How did the song go? Rock and roller cola wars, I can’t take it anymore! The Cola Wars may be over (or perhaps, in light of the New York City soda ban, we’re in a new Cola War), but I can absolutely relate to feeling overwhelmed by political attacks. Especially when those attacks my identity, and my family, and my community. Often, intellectualizing pulls me through. Direct action works wonders too. But sometimes, as odd as it sounds, giving myself the space to just feel yucky helps move me forward. Because really, the only way out of the yuckiness is through it. If I’m fighting a losing battle with my feelings, I’m being just as stubborn as the people that are causing me distress.




Filed under activism, gender nonconformity, homophobia, human rights, mental health, psychological research, reparative therapy, same-sex marriage, transphobia

Strength in numbers

Laws and policies protecting sexual and gender minorities are changing so quickly, it’s enough to make my head spin. This past April, the California Department of Managed Health Care ordered California’s health plans to remove blanket exclusions of coverage based on gender identity or gender expression – a health and insurance disparity that transgender people have battled for decades. In mid-August, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the School Success and Opportunity Act (AB 1266) into law – and if you read last week’s blog post, you know how much reactivity there’s been in response to that law. In late August, the courts upheld a California law that was passed back in April of 2012 and then immediately challenged. That law, SB 1172, bans the practice of sexual orientation change therapy with minors.

And that’s just in California. On October 21st, New Jersey became the 14th state to legally recognize same-sex marriage. On Monday, the U. S. Senate is scheduled to vote on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which, if signed into law, would prohibit discrimination in hiring and employment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. This is BIG STUFF. And that’s not even including the Supreme Court decisions that took place this past June.

These are the policy decisions that have made screaming headlines. They involve basic human rights – access to education, health care, jobs, and relationship recognition. Because of that, conservative and evangelical groups are fighting back HARD against these policies. They see where this is all going, and they desperately want to stop the train.

And yet, a “sleeper law,” if you will, was passed a few weeks ago in California. On October 4, Gov. Brown signed SB 274, an amendment to the California Family Code that allows children to have more than two legal parents.

More than two legal parents!!!

According to Sen. Mark Leno, who authored the bill, the law enables people in non-traditional families to share custody and financial responsibilities in raising their children. It clearly benefits parents who have divorced and remarried, regardless of the sexual orientation of the people involved. But it also benefits those who are polyamorous – relationships that openly and intentionally involve more than two people. And even though there have been a few negative reactions to this law (for example, the title of one conservatively-slanted article referred to Jerry Brown as “Governor Moonbeam”), there just hasn’t been a lot of buzz about it. Which surprises me. A LOT. 

If you think about it, the anti-LGBTQ contingent’s worst fears are being realized. Back in 2004, the Family Research Council (a conservative Christian organization) published a booklet titled The Slippery Slope of Same-Sex Marriage, which lays out the argument I’m sure you’re all familiar with. If you allow same-sex couples to get married, the argument goes, what’ll happen next? Will someone want to marry their horse? (This is the example given in the pamphlet.) Will families become like frat houses with revolving bedroom doors? Will people actually think that polyamory is okay? Where will we draw the line?

Well, from their standpoint, we’ve crossed that line. But there’s no Chicken Little running around, screaming that the world is coming to an end. Surprising, particularly since their whole argument against same-sex marriage hinged on the “slippery slope” concept.

I’ve been musing on this ever since I heard about this law. Why is everyone so quiet about this?  Ironically, I think it’s because the traditionalists have hung themselves with their own argument.

Consider this: Who do conservative groups consider to be a threat to the traditional family – besides “the homosexuals” and the “gender variants”?

Single mothers. 

In July 2012, the New York Times published a controversial article titled, “Two Classes, Divided by ‘I Do’,” which compares the experiences of two women, one of whom is married with children and financially stable, the other of whom is a single mother struggling to get by. Over 1,000 comments were logged in response to this article, including the following:

Marriage builds a strong foundation financially, spiritually, psychologically and physically. Getting married is one of the most important, life-changing, and powerful steps a person can take. It’s a powerful thing to build a family.

The family is the foundation of any society and these stats painfully demonstrate that the American family is crumbling upon the quicksand of birth without marriage.

I thought that the portraits of the families were very intriguing and basically confirmed what has been known for millennia: raising children without the assistance of a partner or extended family is extraordinarily difficult. 

Whether these commenters knew it or not (and I’m very aware that readers of the New York Times tend to lean liberal), they were echoing the “traditional marriage and families” argument, and reinforcing the idea that single mothers are a threat to society. In fact, a large body of research lends credibility to that argument as well. For example, the Fragile Families and Child Well-Being Study, a longitudinal study of single parents and their children conducted jointly through Princeton University and Columbia University, reveals a dizzying array of disturbing findings. According to findings from this data set, single parents tend to have less reliable social support networks. Single fathers who drink and who experience parenting stress are at risk for neglecting their children. Single mothers who work nights tend to have children with higher levels of aggressive behavior, as well as symptoms of anxiety and depression. If single mothers are depressed (which is not uncommon), their children are at risk for long-term impaired cognitive, behavioral, and health outcomes. Single parenting coupled with economic stress is associated with a higher frequency of spanking – and a greater likelihood of being contacted by Child Protective Services.

These findings are not pretty. Contrary to what the “traditional family values” people say, the researchers are clear that it’s not because single parents are bad parents. In fact, many single parents are excellent parents, but they lack the individual and institutional support that married couples take for granted. But traditionalists take this data and use it as a weapon, marking their singledom as a weakness.

The New York Times article made a telling statement, in reference to the financially stable married couple who was profiled: “The secret to their success resides in part in old-fashioned math: strength in numbers.”

Strength in numbers. If you’re a traditionalist who believes that single parents are the bane of society, and you also believe that healthy and successful families are a team effort, then how do you argue with SB 274?

You don’t. I think that’s why this law has been such a sleeper.

A new book is coming out later this month titled The Polyamorists Next Door: Inside Multiple Partner Relationships and Families. The author, Elisabeth Sheff, is a researcher who has conducted a longitudinal study of polyamorous families and their children for over a decade. For those families who live in California, SB 274 validates and gives leverage to their strength in numbers.

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Filed under children, gender nonconformity, health, homophobia, human rights, LGBT families, polyamory, psychological research, relationships, religion, same-sex marriage, transgender

The power of fear

Earlier this year, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed the School Success and Opportunity Act (AB 1266), which provides protections for transgender students by requiring schools to allow students to participate in all school activities, sports teams, programs, and facilities (such as bathrooms and locker rooms) that match their gender identity. Almost immediately after the law was signed – surprise! – several groups began to fight to overturn it. Their tactic is similar to what they did with Proposition 8 – gather at least 500,000 signatures so they can get a referendum on the ballot, and then convince people to vote to overturn the law. And they’re moving fast – signature-gatherers, both paid and volunteer, have been spotted throughout the state of California, mostly on college campuses and in front of Wal-Mart stores and other shopping centers.

Who are these people? They’re the usual suspects. Frank Schubert. The Capitol Resource Institute. The Pacific Justice Institute. If you followed the Proposition 8 battle, you might be familiar with these names. Frank Schubert was the political strategist who successfully ran the Proposition 8 ballot campaign. The Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) is a conservative legal defense organization that, in addition to unsuccessfully defending Proposition 8, has also unsuccessfully opposed bans on sexual orientation change therapy. The Capitol Resource Institute (CRI) is a conservative watchdog organization that was another one of the Proposition 8 players. Now Schubert is directing the anti-AB 1266 efforts, and PJI and CRI are contributing money, manpower, and bandwidth. (As an aside, Frank Schubert was born, raised, and still lives in Sacramento. Both the PJI and CRI are also in Sacramento. These people are in my freakin’ backyard.)

These groups lost the Proposition 8 battle. And they lost hard. Now they’re turning their attention to the transgender community – and they’re out for blood. You see, they might have lost, but they learned some important – and dangerous – lessons along the way. Probably the most important thing they took away from the 2008 campaign is that fear is a very effective persuasion tactic. So effective that, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis, in the final weeks of the 2008 campaign, it was parents with children under the age of 18 who were most likely to change their minds and switch to a “yes” vote. And why was that? Because the Proposition 8 supporters saturated the airwaves with fear-based television ads targeting children – and more than 687,000 voters changed their minds because of those ads.   

So now, with AB 1266 under fire, these folks have now upgraded to Fear Tactics 2.0. A perfect example of this is the site launched by PJI called, which provides information about the “School Bathroom Bill,” and then supports that “information” with the following vignettes:

Picture this … your 7 year-old daughter comes home from school in tears. You ask her what’s wrong and she says she’s afraid to go to the bathroom at school because a boy comes in while she’s there. Outraged, you call the school to demand an explanation. You’re told that your daughter is telling the truth, but because the boy says he wants to be a girl, their hands are tied. “It’s the law.”  Sound far-fetched? Think again. This is exactly what lies ahead under new legislation pending in the California legislature. But there’s more … much more. 

The next section is titled “Camping Nightmares,” and the scenario goes like this:

Imagine your 12 year-old son goes on an overnight camping trip with the Boy Scouts. The Scout troop leader nervously tells you that one of their newest members has been assigned to his tent, and even though she has lived most of her life as a girl, everyone needs to treat her like just another Boy Scout, since that’s now what she wants and “it’s the law.” 

The last section is titled, “Dreams Shattered,” and it states the following:

Finally, think about your teenage daughter … a star athlete whose basketball team is poised to make a deep run in the playoffs. Until, you learn, their main rival has recruited a hulking center who decided he could break more records and block more shots by identifying as a girl.

Think this could never happen? That’s exactly why it’s happening. Frustrated citizens have tuned out their lawmakers, fed up with politics as usual that only seem concerned about taking care of special interests and big donors. But now we have reached a line in the sand—a degree of insanity that calls for action. We can’t stay on the sidelines anymore. We have to let our lawmakers know that we’re not going to let them destroy the last remnants of common sense through mindless “gender identity” mandates. 

These people are pros – and they’ve been doing their homework. Their tactics are a textbook example of Michigan State University communication professor Kim Witte’s Extended Parallel Process Model (EPPM), a theory of the effectiveness of “fear appeals” – scare tactics, if you will. If a fear-based campaign is going to be effective, according to this theory, the first thing you need to do is scare the daylights out of people with a tangible threat. Then you have to (1) give people a sense of self-efficacy –  essentially convince people that they have the power to do what’s necessary to eliminate the threat; (2) give them a perception of response efficacy – that taking action will be effective, and not a fruitless waste of time; (3) create a sense of susceptibility – that the threat is likely to impact them personally in some way; and (4) convince people of the severity of the threat.

If you go back and read the vignettes from, you’ll see clear attempts to induce fear and to encourage all four response factors. If all four factors are present, the outcome, according to Witte, is danger control. And danger control is exactly what the anti-AB 1266 people are after.

I’m not a fear-based person – rather, I tend to live in the realm of optimism and empowerment. However, I am a realist, and I know that LGBTQ activists, advocates, and allies can also learn a thing or two from the Proposition 8 battle. Two lessons, right off the bat:

(1) Don’t get complacent. Supporters of marriage equality really didn’t think Proposition 8 was going to pass – until it did. Even if gathering 500,000 signatures before November 7th seems like an impossible task, don’t let that be an excuse for inaction. More than one million people signed the petition to get Proposition 8 on the ballot. Anything can happen.

(2) Don’t ever assume that someone else will fight the fight for you. Get out there and get active. Carry flyers with you – the Transgender Law Center has a good one – and be prepared to hand them out if you see signature-gatherers. Join the Facebook group “Support All Students. Decline to Sign!” and use the flyers posted there, which are very clear and to the point. Check out the resources available at If you’re a college student, go to your campus LGBTQ group and get them active.

The bottom line is this: If we don’t do what it takes to prevent people from signing that petition, we’ve got another Proposition 8 on our hands. And the opponents of AB 1266 aren’t willing to lose again.

How’s that for a scare tactic?

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Filed under children, gender nonconformity, human rights, psychological research, Sacramento, same-sex marriage, transgender, transphobia, Uncategorized

A powerful tool, or a weapon of the weak?

OK, so LGBTQ people don’t have it perfect in the United States. Marriage equality has not been secured in all 50 states and U.S. territories. The concept of “transgender health care” remains an oxymoron for many transpeople. Congress is still engaging in a decades-long debate about whether to grant employment protections for LGBTQ people.

But you know, it could be worse. What if NO legal recognition existed for same-sex couples? What if NO laws existed that protect LGBTQ people against discrimination or harassment anywhere? What if you could be thrown in jail for disseminating educational material about LGBTQ people, or fined for something as simple as clicking a Facebook “like” button about some LGBTQ issue?

Well, that’s how it is for queer people in Russia. And Sochi, Russia is where the 2014 Winter Olympics will be held. In case you’re wondering, Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko made clear last week that we shouldn’t expect these laws to be suspended just because the Olympics are taking place. In fact, these were his exact words:

No one is forbidding an athlete with non-traditional sexual orientation from coming to Sochi, but if he goes onto the street and starts propagandizing it, then of course he will be held accountable.

That’s a pretty formidable warning, in my opinion. And my sense is that it’s not just the government that would hold people accountable. According to 2013 polling data, public support of same-sex marriages is at 16% (compared to about 54% in the United States). Additionally, 74% believe that homosexuality should not be accepted by society. Given those attitudes, I wouldn’t just be afraid of law enforcement; I’d be wary of how I might be treated by the locals.

So it’s not surprising that there’s been a call for the United States and other nations to boycott the 2014 Olympics. The rationale is three-fold: to protect the safety and well-being of LGBTQ athletes and spectators; to make clear that anti-LGBTQ policies won’t be tolerated; and to pressure the country of Russia to consider repealing these oppressive laws. But this call to action is hotly controversial. Some say it’s a necessary move. Others think it’s pointless, and won’t make a difference. And still others feel as if the athletes are the ones who end up being penalized the most.

So is it pointless, or a necessary move? It’s true that certain conditions need to be present in order for a boycott to be effective. According to Brayden King, a researcher at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, if a boycott is going to pack any kind of meaningful punch, the company, organization, or entity they’re targeting (in this case, the Russian government) needs to be vulnerable to change. For example, the 1955 Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott was effective because (1) it hit the city of Montgomery below the belt financially, and (2) it was, in many ways, the straw that broke the camel’s back, propelling the country into the modern civil rights movement. Montgomery, Alabama – and the United States – were vulnerable to change.

But is Russia vulnerable to change in the same way? Given that several of their anti-gay policies were passed very recently – and given the low level of acceptance of LGBTQ people in the general populace – my answer would be no. In fact, Vitaly Mutko issued his statements directly in response to the International Olympic Committee’s call for non-discrimination of sexual and gender minorities. Clearly, Russia stands by its laws, and is prepared to defend them. If the goal is to get Russia to eliminate its anti-LGBTQ policies, it’s doubtful that a boycott would have any effect whatsoever in achieving that goal. In fact, if we use history as our guide, the only thing the Soviet Union did in response to the 1980 boycott was to go tit-for-tat and boycott the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

Moreover, there’s concern about how a boycott would affect the athletes themselves – the people who have spent enormous amounts of time, energy, money, blood, sweat, and tears training for their shot at Olympic gold. According to researchers Jane Crossman and Ron Lappage, who interviewed 24 Canadian coaches about the effects of the 1980 Olympic boycott, being denied the opportunity to compete caused the athletes considerable distress. They were angry. They experienced grief reactions. They felt powerless – especially because the Canadian government had made the decision for them. They felt like they were cheated out of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – and being told that they could participate in alternative competitions was hardly a consolation prize. Fast-forward to the present, and we already have several athletes – including figure skater Johnny Weir – who have made quite clear that they oppose a boycott and want to compete.

So I don’t have a clear answer as to whether or not a boycott is the way to go. But I do have several thoughts. So here they are:

Thought #1: Activism can occur in many forms. A strategically planned boycott can be very effective. Yet, to borrow the words of researcher Brayden King, “Boycotts are a weapon of the weak” – a passive form of activism, in his opinion. In contrast, consider openly gay speed skater Blake Skjellerup’s decision to go ahead and compete in Sochi – and to wear a rainbow pin while doing so. It’s a risky move, to be sure, for simply wearing a pin could land Skjellerup in jail. But it’s brave, bold, honest – and certainly not weak. Bringing your same-sex spouse to the Games and holding hands publicly would be a seriously bold move.

Thought #2: The effects of activism aren’t always immediately apparent. There may be zero interest on the part of Russian officials to repeal anti-LGBTQ laws. However, if the U.S. ultimately decided to boycott the Olympics, and if enough nations join in and generate good momentum, the resulting bandwagon effect might effectively advance pro-LGBTQ policies here in the U.S. and in other nations.

Thought #3: Some action needs to be taken – whether or not it involves a boycott. What if the entire U.S. Olympic team decided to join forces and collectively wear rainbow pins? What if a large-scale LGBTQ ally movement took place in Sochi during the Games? The possibilities are endless. But it’s clear to me that silence in the face of oppression is unacceptable.

Activists are creative. We find ways of getting the message across. And if the message isn’t heard in one form, we find another way to convey it. It might occur in the form of a boycott. But it might also occur in the form of something even more creative, powerful, and effective.

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Filed under homophobia, human rights, same-sex marriage, Uncategorized