This week we've seen a movement swell.
The movement has been to boycott the 2014 Olympics in Russia, in protest against Russia's draconian laws against LGBTQ people. Harvey Fierstein in the New York Times and Nancy Goldstein in the Guardian have both eloquently and rightfully explained why this is something we should speak up about.
Goldstein points out that if Russia had instated new laws about Jewish people, for example, "The American Jewish community and the Obama administration would have (rightly) enacted trade sanctions instantly. There would have been no statement from the State Department like the one issued the same day as the IOC announcement saying that it does not support a boycott of the games."
I'd hope that it wouldn't just be the American Jewish community that would have fought against such laws, but rather that people around the world would have seen fit to argue.
Likewise, I'd expect that if Putin had signed bills against blacks, or Chinese, or Buddhists, or Tatars, or Kazakhs, or any other religious or ethnic group, people in dozens of countries would have been horrified and would have protested.
So why do we allow many countries to continue to have laws that are clearly prejudiced against LGBTQ people?
For some reason, we tend to be cultural relativists when it comes to LGBTQ rights. We act as though it's okay for every culture to make its own rules about which people it will treat with respect and dignity.
We tend to assume and accept that Russian culture might be different and thus that Russians have the right to, for example, not allow same-sex couples to adopt children or act in a "pro-gay" way. We may disagree, but we find it hard to step in and enact sanctions or boycotts. Because, after all, it's their culture, their beliefs.
It's absolutely true that we should be respectful towards other people's beliefs; I may not personally want to belong to any religious organisation or attend services, but I wouldn't want to stop others from doing so, or I may not understand a ritual that a group of people perform, but I wouldn't want to get in the way of them performing it.
But that only goes so far. If someone speaking at a religious service began to rant about a particular group and to incite prejudice and violence against that group, then it is our duty to silence that speaker. If a ritual includes, say, genital mutilation or some other form of mental and physical harm, then we must halt the ritual.
We are often more willing to step in if it's a group that we perceive as having no choice. In other words, for the most part, women don't choose to be women, or brown-skinned people to have brown skin. But one of the reasons why there is so much prejudice against LGBTQ people is that it is frequently, erroneously assumed that you choose to be LGBTQ. And if you choose what many perceive as a sinful, shameful life, then you deserve to suffer.
It is time for us to change these views and to educate more people. No one deserves to suffer. No one deserves to be forced to follow ridiculous laws that infringe on their lives.
We should not let cultural relativism get in the way of us doing the right thing. Not all opinions are equally valid, and a prejudiced one is not owed respect.
Why, then, are we allowing Putin and other politicians in Russia to do this? We can speak up. We can tell the Russian government what we think. And we can show them what we think. Simply sitting back and muttering that we should understand that these are their cultural beliefs is not acceptable, in this or any other situation.
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