The last few weeks have seen Russia viewed with a magnifying glass. A new law passed in June 2013 banning the promotion of homosexuality to minors (under 18s), combined with various violent acts committed against young queer men in Russia and compounded by the country hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics and naturally everyone is getting a little bit anxsty. This has lead to various public figures wading in to have their say on the Olympics, British celebrities suggesting the Olympics be moved, whilst politicians reject the proposal of a boycott. Most importantly slowly but surely athletes have begun to take action to oppose this homophobia in what is essentially their event.
First the Swedish high-jumper Emma Green Tregaro painted her nails like a rainbow to mark out her support for LGBT athletes. She was reportedly then reminded of the International Association of Athletics Federations that she could be violating their code of conduct and instead changed them to red “for love”. American athlete Nick Symmonds has also spoken out against the homophobic laws. So it was no surprise that when this week Russian relay athletes Ksenia Ryzhova and Yulia Guschina kissed on the podium after winning Gold at the Women’s 400 meter relay that the world took this as an act of overt political resistance.
International media speculated that this kiss was the athletes taking an opportunity to send a clear message to the world that Russian athletes did not support the country’s homophobic laws. It did not take long for the athletes to put us right. Both came out to reject the media’s claims, saying that the media were writing ‘dirt’ about them, and that they were both happily married (to other people, I was confused for a moment too). The basic jist being that the media was making a big fuss about nothing.
But were they?
The athletes seem to believe that because their action was not in their perception amorous in any way that they weren’t making a political statement. Because they did not apply meaning to the kiss that the world would not. Now I am not suggesting for a moment that the athletes are in a relationship of any sort, in fact I would go as far as to say that I could not care less whether they are or they aren’t. What I care about is that they, in front of the world, ‘committed’ a homosexual act. And whether they like it or not, given the context, that is a big deal.
I think that actions of resistance do not need to be marked out as such by those that enact them. In the the lead up to the Winter Olympics, given the context of Russia’s political climate, the watchful eye of the world is examining the everyday experiences of queers in Russia. With public figures in increasing numbers making statements both spoken and in small gestures against the state-endorsed homophobia, the athletes much appreciate that such an overt act of same-sex affection is part of the political struggle against the day-to-day oppression of Russia’s queer people whether or not they want it to be. Their action not only heightened the profile of Russia’s anti-gay laws, if it truly was an act of celebration between two team mates then it only serves to show how ridiculous the laws are. How blurred the lines are between the so-called categories of right and wrong. The hypocrissy that says the same action from two married athletes and two teenagers is viewed in such different lights by the same people. Whether or not they like it, Yulia and Ksenia you are part of our resistance.