Don’t Worry, Mr. Putin! We’re Not Mad!

russia lgbt law

There’s an old and terrible homophobic joke that I first heard when I was a young teenager, still many years away from coming out.

A flaming queen goes up to a marine in a bar and makes a pass at him. The marine is so offended that he beats the queen to a bloody pulp, then tosses him out the door into the alley next to the dumpster.

A few hours later, the marine leaves the bar and walks past the beat-up faggot, who’s still lying on the ground, bleeding, next to the dumpster.

As the marine walks by, the queen calls to him: “Yoo hoo! I’m not mad!”

I thought of that joke when I read Frank Bruni’s  “Striking Olympic Gold, ” his 5 August 2013 OpEd in the New York Times.

In it, Bruni suggests that, as a protest against Russia’s draconian anti-gay laws, U.S. athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, should carry small rainbow flags “no bigger than a handkerchief” and wave them at the cameras during opening ceremonies.

Writes Bruni, “This silent show of solidarity would wordlessly mock recently enacted Russian legislation against so-called [gay] propaganda.”

That’s it. No protests. No demands that the International Olympic Committee take a stand. No product boycotts (Bruni calls the Stoli boycott “imprecise”). No statements by politicians. No intervention by the UN. And certainly no American boycott of the games themselves, because that would “punish athletes who’ve been training and dreaming and sacrificing for years. It might redirect the conversation from how Russia treats gays to whether the United States overreacted.”

Right. Because, being more concerned with the “sacrifice” of 500 American athletes than we are with the violence experienced by tens of thousands of Russian lesbian, gay, and trans people, not to mention hundreds of thousands of others around the world … that’s not overreacting.

And because arresting people for holding hands in public isn’t an overreaction. Throwing your citizens into labor camps for daring to say anything about queer people that isn’t offensive and defamatory … that’s not overreacting.

No, Mr. Bruni, we wouldn’t want the United States to overact by going so far as to condemn, in some direct and meaningful way, anti-gay bullying, pogroms, violence, murder, and even state-sponsored executions … the sort of thing that happens daily in South Africa (here and here), Zimbabwe, Haiti, Libya, Jamaica (here and here and here), CameroonSaudi Arabia, Belize, Iran … and Russia.[1]

I mean, It’s not like we’re talking about an international human rights issue or anything.[2]


Sure, Bruni calls the recent Russian legislation “an outrageous act of hatred.” Which is the least one might expect from an openly gay man with an ounce of self-respect.

It’s unclear whether Bruni is naïve, has been poisoned by assimilationism, or is simply trying to steal the Mugwump mantle from Andrew Sullivan, but “Striking Olympic Gold” is an outrage.

Bruni has a forum many of us would die for. In fact, a lot of queer people around the world are dying for it.

And the best he can come up with is waving rainbow flags at the opening ceremonies.

(Which, by the way, would violate IOC rules and subject athletes to expulsion from the games.)

As Steve Packard commented with catty accuracy, “if I were Putin and an Olympic athlete silently waved a rainbow hanky at me, I would certainly be so mortified over passing anti-gay laws that my only choice would be to resign from office.”

Or maybe Russia’s president would understand the real message behind such a gesture: “Yoo hoo, Mr. Putin! We’re not mad!”


[1]  Masha Gessen’s piece about anti-gay violence in Moscow, Gay Bashing Inside the Garden Ring,” appeared in the Times, ironically enough, on the same day as Bruni’s OpEd.)

[2] See, for example, Gara, John. “76 Countries Where Anti-Gay Laws Are As Bad As Or Worse Than Russia’s.” 9 August 2013, <> or <>


Posted on 6 August 2013, in Queer ... Plus All Those Acronyms, You Can Always Count on a Little Homophobia and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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