Some years ago, I was fascinated by a story that branched between the United States and Russia, the story of 10 spies leading relatively inconspicuous lives in New York and New Jersey who worked for the Russian government. Like much of the country, I was glued to any news I could get a hold of concerning these spies, seemingly of yesteryear, and how even in 2010 Russia and the United States were continuing to use Cold War tactics for information about one another.
The fascinating tale of intrigue and entrapment was straight out of a classic whodunit that I might read on long airplane trips. While the general public, myself included, doesn’t know who has spies and where they are, it is plausible that the majority of the world is spying on everyone else – the United States included. I gather that this is public knowledge for the most part because I, like the rest of America, watch “Homeland.”
Spies are seen as traitors, as slimy weasels who go above and beyond to commit acts of treason against their host nation or company. Treason is a crime that is punishable by life imprisonment in the United States. Perhaps then you can imagine my honest surprise when just a week ago, I was accused of acts of treason against the American LGBT community and possibly the entire United States for having attended a gala that happened to have been co-hosted by the Russian Consulate in New York City.
To set the stage for you: In 2010, a few months after Anna Chapman and nine other spies were arrested and sent back to Russia, I attended a gala to support the Russian Children’s Welfare Society and to help raise money to buy sports equipment for orphanages across Russia. In attendance were many sporting luminaries including Russian and American Olympians and sporting champions. The gala took place at an auction house and was hosted in collaboration with the Russian Consulate General in New York. I wore an ivory blazer and chatted with as many people as possible. Understanding sports as I do, being able to give the gift of athletics to orphans seemed a worthy cause. As with any charity I choose to support, I placed this information on my Twitter and website to bring more possible attention to this cause.
A week ago – in the midst of utter social turmoil, having idiotically called a group of protestors “idiots” during a speech I was giving at a university – an LGBT expert and activist chose to create an entire story surrounding my involvement with this charity and possible ties to the Russian government as an official employee. While I can’t claim that the wordage used to describe my involvement on one of my many web profile pages was not slightly misleading, in no way did it pertain to my work as a Russian government official or spy. I have never worked for any foreign government or agency.
The barrage of hate and bullying was instantaneous. Over the past several months I have fought a very public battle, most times against people from my own LGBT community, and even among those in my inner circle, concerning my abilities and my beliefs in what should be done in Russia for our LGBT brothers and sisters, and how the athletes and the Olympics can play a role in creating change. While my stance has not been the popular one – no boycott of Sochi, no boycott of Russian products, and no boycott of our talented athletes – I have been fighting for my side of the argument and it really has taught me a lot about the fight for equality and civil rights not just for Russia, but also in my own country.
Whether you practice aggressive or passive activism, everyone has an opinion and a voice. Everyone deserves to be heard. Everyone has the right to be wrong, just as much as they have the right to be right. While I see the world in pink, someone else may see it in blue. A quote that one activist told me to describe how she would go about fighting the Russian anti-LGBT propaganda law was: “I will go to Russia, I will beat up a police officer and I will start a riot because the only way to create change is through war.” While I don’t agree with anything she said, she deserved to say it and be heard and maybe someone out there supports it. Perhaps in the same vein, someone supports my stance of quiet demonstration of normalcy and strength as a community.
It hurts to get negative press, whether it be on an international scale or between your own friends, and from this hurt you must find a way to cope. Honestly, throughout my entire life, I have never felt like giving up more than I did last week. I was prepared to give up speaking publicly and privately about the gay community and our rights, I was prepared to simply do the jobs I was hired for and do them quietly and slowly dissolve into suburban normalcy. I was prepared to be not only the person these bullies hated to have at the forefront with an opposing opinion, but also to not fight for them with my opposing opinion. I had had it.
It took me many hours but I ultimately realized that I am made of stronger stuff. Growing up gay, as an athlete, in the spotlight of high school bullying, Olympic judging and constantly apologizing under public scrutiny, I have developed a very thick skin. I have developed the tools to fight for anyone I believe is worth fighting for and no amount of bullying or bad press or hate can change that, it only makes my belief in myself, stronger.
I thank God that there are so many opinionated people who will ultimately stick to their guns and promote change, that there are people who believe in war, and those who believe in peace. While we may not agree, I have learned that fighting inside oneself and bullying others to adhere to group-think are the single easiest ways to alienate people and lead them to quit. I refuse to quit, now or ever. I will fight for change in my way and will support those who fight in their way. Something I’ve learned, especially in the past months, is that the only way you can be bullied is to allow yourself to be bullied, so I say fight on, fight the problem, not just those who oppose you.