Los Angeles Gay And Lesbian Center Out In The Cold On Russia

Does one our nation’s largest LGBT organizations seriously think backing away from the proposed Winter Olympics boycott will help oppressed gays in Russia?

On August 6th, George Takei, the well-known gay activist and icon, blogged that the Olympics should be moved?out of Russia due to their sweeping anti-LGBT legislation. ?He was on MSNBC the next day calling for the games to be moved or for some other type of protests to be organized. ?He and Brad, his husband, are also on the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center’s (LAGLC) email list of donors. ?One can only imagine the look on George’s face when Darrel Cummings, Chief of Staff for LAGLC sent out a confusing email recently about their stance on the games and then posted it on their site as a sort of “official position.”

” Sort of'” because no one at The Center will actually go on record as to what their position is. ?The link to the message is here?but most of it is copied below:

We?asked?our Russian LGBT counterparts,?who are on the front lines of this battle,?what we could do that would be most helpful to them and the movement there.?Here is what they said:

1. ?Keep the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.??All Russian LGBT organizations oppose an Olympics boycott, as do at least?five international LGBT groups.”Calls for the spectators to boycott Sochi, for the Olympians to retreat from competition? would prevent the rest of the world from joining LGBT people, their families and allies in Russia in solidarity and taking a firm stance against the disgraceful human rights record in this country.? ?Russian LGBT Network.
2. ?We need financial support.?? They need our help?now more than ever.When the Olympic torch leaves Sochi, so will the cameras and much of the international outcry.? Perhaps?most LGBT people around the world?will move on to other matters as well.? It will be our community in Russia that remains and if we support them now, perhaps?that community and the LGBT movement there will be better?and stronger?than it is today.

Helping to fund the LGBT movement in Russia may be the most significant individual act any of us can do to be supportive. ?All the proceeds we raise will be sent to the?Russian LGBT Network?and to?Coming Out St. Petersburg.

This is more or less the same wording as the anti-Winter Olympics boycott email sent out by Darrel Cummings on August 20th.

So one of the largest Gay and Lesbian Centers in the country, maybe the world, has now told us that the new activism is to do nothing. Don’t boycott. Don’t ask to have the Olympics moved. That would be, what, embarrassing, because the violence against gays and lesbians in Russia, is just not our business?

An unproductive conversation with Darrel Cummings on the proposed Winter Olympics boycott

I spoke briefly with Cummings on the phone the day LAGLC sent out the bulk email. He said several times during the conversation that “One hundred percent of the Russian Gay and Lesbian groups don’t want the Olympics moved.” When asked that if a Russian saying they support a Winter Olympics boycott may not be good for that person’s health, he quickly assured that, “even in private” they don’t want the games moved.

So from a few meetings Mister Cummings is convinced that people who live daily with the fear of being imprisoned for spreading “gay propaganda” feel they can speak freely? And even if they are speaking freely, does that really matter? If the morality of ?Russian Gay and Lesbians is so strange as to support their own oppression that is their business. We cannot speak for them. However it does seem that those of us who live in the free world and fight daily for dignity and equality should do what we find to be moral and right.

The other issues with both the email and the almost verbatum position stated on the LAGLC’s webpage, regarding the proposed Winter Olympics boycott, are as follows:

  1. One, it somehow makes it seem you can support the GLBT community by doing NOTHING. ?You can show how much you disagree with the Russian governments laws by SUPPORTING the Olympics and keeping the games in Sochi! Would someone draw a logic tree of this argument? And, let’s say Los Angeles gays and lesbians who read Darrel’s email and saw this on the LAGLC site follow this advice? What if ?this supporter, who read the email and then saw that it was the headline story on their site is the ONE person who gets arrested, tortured or killed? What then? ?Would they still say they did the right thing?
  1. The second issue is that the LAGLC position seems to be that the only way to make things right is with a donation. Clean your conscience with a nice cash gift! Selling absolution has always been ?good business. ?What the LAGLC has proposed is that a corporate sponsor, say Coke, or McD’s, can make a generous donation to a Russian GLBT organization to show how much they believe in diversity AND run all the Olympic ads and it’s business as usual. ?Once again please draw a logic tree that shows how there is any chance of this being effective at creating social change.
  1. And then there is this link to the corporate sponsors of the Center. Besides NBC, the network carrying the games, there are several other sponsors who stand to make money off the games, or have probably already done ad buys and design of ads based on the games being in Sochi. While this may have nothing to do with the Center’s position on the issue the fact they have sponsors with a vested interest should have been made clear both in the original email and in the brave call on their website to either do nothing or send cash. Perhaps the Center could replace the gay flag out front of their building with the NBC Peacock during the Olympics to show their support?

In writing this article I spoke to Darrel Williams, exchanged emails with Gina Bingham, the Department Assistant for Marketing & Communications, and one other staffer at the Center, about their anti-Winter Olympics boycott position. They were difficult and awkward conversations, kind of like the conversation you would have with someone you liked and admired but then found out that they went to dog fights on the weekend. That kind of awkward.

Site of the proposed 2014 Winter Olympics boycott in Sochi Russia.
So, now, the gay community is supposed to back away from their proposed Winter Olympics Boycott, because 100% of Russia’s gay athletes and LGBT community supposedly don’t want it? Photo of the 2014 Olympics site in Sochi, Russia from www.competizionedellopera.de.

… And what’s up with that bizarre and rambling anti-Winter Olympics Boycott piece from HuffPo?

Things got even worse when the Center sent out a link to Lori L. Jean’s piece on The Huffington Post, “Think First, Act Second,” where she rambles on about how bad Russia is and talks about the Stoli Vodka boycott, which is, in fact, not even a thing. There is a Russian?vodka boycott in place. It is true that today Stoli claims to be made in Latvia when, in fact, ?before all this happened they claimed to be made in Russia and then bottled in Latvia. She is obviously upset that a company that has supported gay organizations and donated money (or booze), maybe to her organization, is having difficulty because of the Russian vodka boycott. ?Stoli has been a good corporate sponsor to gays. But that is because gays have been good customers. But none of that has anything to do with taking any and all actions to bring pressure on Russia to change course. W. E. B. DuBois is credited for formulating the “green” theory of civil rights. If you’ve got money you can buy rights. And if you deny the people who want money access to it they will change their position. ?Ms. Jean either needs to go back and take a high school history class or perhaps she is simply carrying vodka for a good patron.

Does Ms. Jean really ?believe that if The Miss Universe Pageant in November were moved, that if the Olympics were moved, that Russia wouldn’t have a real conversation about those policies? Instead they just have to avoid going completely off the rails “full Hitler” until AFTER the big events. After they get the pats on the back and the ceremonies. This is WORSE than the “Hitler Olympics” because people, and the world, were still a little naive back then. That is long gone. ?The time for action is when evil happens. Do you stop and think when you see your house on fire or do you grab the things you treasure and try to save them? ?Ms. Jean would have us contemplate the blaze while the ovens in Russia get warmed up.

From the CEO on down the “Center” seems to be showing us its “True Colors” by catering to the CEO class who issue grants and give bequests and that sort of thing. The “small gays” who support a boycott don’t seem to really matter in the grand scheme of things.

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Edited by: SB and JW