Stephen Fry’s Open Letter to David Cameron and the IOC

I’ll just push this out into my little corner of the blogosphere.  For those unaware: former Lieutenant Colonel of the KGB and current President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, has signed into law a bill that bans the promotion of “homosexual propaganda”.  For the children, see?  Furthermore, a climate of violence against the LGBT community has…well, I don’t know how much it’s increased because really, Russia’s never been too gay friendly, but there’s certainly much more of a general awareness of Russia’s hideous legacy of anti-gay violence.

Bear in mind that the 2014 Winter Olympics are being held in Russia, this coming February.

Bear in mind that Putin won’t guarantee the safety of Olympic athletes or visitors (note to the IOC: those reassurances you got from the Russian government that their law won’t affect the athletes or visitors? They’re LYING.  Wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened.).

Seriously, Dimi, WTF?

And so Stephen Fry, an extremely talented, thoughtful, and openly gay actor, wrote a letter to Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the body that governs the Olympics, asking them to rethink their decision to hold the Olympics in Russia, or boycott the games if they aren’t moved.  And it’s so good I’m reposting the whole thing, in its entirety.

An Open Letter to David Cameron and the IOC

By Stephen Fry

August 8, 2013

Dear Prime Minister, M Rogge, Lord Coe and Members of the International Olympic Committee,

I write in the earnest hope that all those with a love of sport and the Olympic spirit will consider the stain on the Five Rings that occurred when the 1936 Berlin Olympics proceeded under the exultant aegis of a tyrant who had passed into law, two years earlier, an act which singled out for special persecution a minority whose only crime was the accident of their birth. In his case he banned Jews from academic tenure or public office, he made sure that the police turned a blind eye to any beatings, thefts or humiliations afflicted on them, he burned and banned books written by them. He claimed they “polluted” the purity and tradition of what it was to be German, that they were a threat to the state, to the children and the future of the Reich. He blamed them simultaneously for the mutually exclusive crimes of Communism and for the controlling of international capital and banks. He blamed them for ruining the culture with their liberalism and difference. The Olympic movement at that time paid precisely no attention to this evil and proceeded with the notorious Berlin Olympiad, which provided a stage for a gleeful Führer and only increased his status at home and abroad. It gave him confidence. All historians are agreed on that. What he did with that confidence we all know.

Putin is eerily repeating this insane crime, only this time against LGBT Russians. Beatings, murders and humiliations are ignored by the police. Any defence or sane discussion of homosexuality is against the law. Any statement, for example, that Tchaikovsky was gay and that his art and life reflects this sexuality and are an inspiration to other gay artists would be punishable by imprisonment. It is simply not enough to say that gay Olympians may or may not be safe in their village. The IOC absolutely must take a firm stance on behalf of the shared humanity it is supposed to represent against the barbaric, fascist law that Putin has pushed through the Duma. Let us not forget that Olympic events used not only to be athletic, they used to include cultural competitions. Let us realise that in fact, sport is cultural. It does not exist in a bubble outside society or politics. The idea that sport and politics don’t connect is worse than disingenuous, worse than stupid. It is wickedly, wilfully wrong. Everyone knows politics interconnects with everything for “politics” is simply the Greek for “to do with the people”.

An absolute ban on the Russian Winter Olympics of 2014 on Sochi is simply essential. Stage them elsewhere in Utah, Lillyhammer, anywhere you like. At all costs Putin cannot be seen to have the approval of the civilised world.

He is making scapegoats of gay people, just as Hitler did Jews. He cannot be allowed to get away with it. I know whereof I speak. I have visited Russia, stood up to the political deputy who introduced the first of these laws, in his city of St Petersburg. I looked into the face of the man and, on camera, tried to reason with him, counter him, make him understand what he was doing. All I saw reflected back at me was what Hannah Arendt called, so memorably, “the banality of evil.” A stupid man, but like so many tyrants, one with an instinct of how to exploit a disaffected people by finding scapegoats. Putin may not be quite as oafish and stupid as Deputy Milonov but his instincts are the same. He may claim that the “values” of Russia are not the “values” of the West, but this is absolutely in opposition to Peter the Great’s philosophy, and against the hopes of millions of Russians, those not in the grip of that toxic mix of shaven headed thuggery and bigoted religion, those who are agonised by the rolling back of democracy and the formation of a new autocracy in the motherland that has suffered so much (and whose music, literature and drama, incidentally I love so passionately).

I am gay. I am a Jew. My mother lost over a dozen of her family to Hitler’s anti-Semitism. Every time in Russia (and it is constantly) a gay teenager is forced into suicide, a lesbian “correctively” raped, gay men and women beaten to death by neo-Nazi thugs while the Russian police stand idly by, the world is diminished and I for one, weep anew at seeing history repeat itself.

“All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing,” so wrote Edmund Burke. Are you, the men and women of the IOC going to be those “good” who allow evil to triumph?

The Summer Olympics of 2012 were one of the most glorious moments of my life and the life of my country. For there to be a Russian Winter Olympics would stain the movement forever and wipe away any of that glory. The Five Rings would finally be forever smeared, besmirched and ruined in the eyes of the civilised world.

I am begging you to resist the pressures of pragmatism, of money, of the oily cowardice of diplomats and to stand up resolutely and proudly for humanity the world over, as your movement is pledged to do. Wave your Olympic flag with pride as we gay men and women wave our Rainbow flag with pride. Be brave enough to live up to the oaths and protocols of your movement, which I remind you of verbatim below.

Rule 4 Cooperate with the competent public or private organisations and authorities in the endeavour to place sport at the service of humanity and thereby to promote peace

Rule 6: Act against any form of discrimination affecting the Olympic Movement

Rule 15 Encourage and support initiatives blending sport with culture and education

I especially appeal to you, Prime Minister, a man for whom I have the utmost respect. As the leader of a party I have for almost all of my life opposed and instinctively disliked, you showed a determined, passionate and clearly honest commitment to LGBT rights and helped push gay marriage through both houses of our parliament in the teeth of vehement opposition from so many of your own side. For that I will always admire you, whatever other differences may lie between us. In the end I believe you know when a thing is wrong or right. Please act on that instinct now.

Yours in desperate hope for humanity

Stephen Fry

– See more at: http://www.stephenfry.com/2013/08/07/an-open-letter-to-david-cameron-and-the-ioc/single-page/#sthash.GGytmQRL.dpuf

Downton Abbey: Just Wondering, But…?

FYI: THIS IS NOT A FAKE SPOILER ALERT!  OR A REAL SPOILER ALERT!  THERE ARE NO SPOILERS HERE!

This is just me processing last night’s show and wondering what the future will hold for season 4 of Downton Abbey, which is of course one of the soapiest shows ever created.

And for that, Julian Fellowes, I thank you.

OK, well maybe there are some spoilers, but FAIR WARNING if you didn’t see last night’s episode yet!  What are you waiting for?  Here!  Here’s the link so you can watch it online!  Get back to me once you’re caught up.

Now bear this in mind…I have no basis for this except my own speculation…no insider secrets, no connection to anyone associated with the show (oh, how I wish!) (BTW, did you know Maggie Smith is referred to on set at The Notorious M.A.G.?  She tried to change it to Snoop Maggie Mags but it didn’t stick.  I heart her too much.), not a scrap of insight into what the future brings, so if I’m right, then WOO HOO, ME! and if I’m wrong, then who cares anyway?

So, Thomas.  Thomas, the scheming footman/valet at Downton Abbey, has finally been dragged out of the closet by his own doing.

In England in 1920, this was serious.  It was scandalous, sure, but that would have been the least of Thomas’s problems.  It was criminal.  The Buggery Act was in place in one amended form or another from 1533 until its full repeal in 1967, though progress did see its halt as a capital (i.e., death penalty) offense in 1861.  So at least Thomas wouldn’t run the risk of being hanged when found out.  He could just be imprisoned.

Anyway.  Here’s the thing: with all of Lord Grantham’s many recent bloviated, patriarchal posturings–about the Catholics, say, or about the advent of business sensibilities and the management of his tenant farmers, or about Communists, or about his daughter working in journalism, or about his reliance on the advice of the posh trendy titled doctor who didn’t know his daughter over the advice of the country doctor who did which ultimately ushered in his own child’s death, or about the ex-hooker working as a cook in Cousin Isobel’s house–he was surprisingly compassionate when he heard about Thomas kissing Jimmy in the middle of the night, talking about how Nature has shaped him into what he is.  He not only didn’t fire Thomas, he promoted him, protected him from the police and told Carson, “If I shouted blue murder every time someone tried to kiss me at Eton I’d have been hoarse in a month!”

Indeed.

I believe in equality for the LGBT community and frankly can’t believe it’s still a topic for legislation.  And I know this is a TV show that isn’t necessarily lauded for its historical accuracy.  But.  Lord Grantham’s attitude seems incredibly progressive, particularly in light of his reaction to anything that pushes the boundaries of patriarchal propriety.  So what do we think?  Was this Lord Grantham’s one moment of enlightened clarity?  Was this the one way in which his humanity comes through and he rattles the chains of oppression?  Or!  Now that Thomas is beholden to him, back in his employ and deeply, deeply in his debt, will season 4 see Lord Grantham exert his power over Thomas?  Has Lord Grantham stuck one well-heeled toe out of his dressing room?  Reminder: this IS a TV show that’s pretty heavy on the melodrama, so if I were asking what would make for the soapiest plot twist this would be it.  What do you think; will Thomas and Lord Grantham make the love that dare not speak its name?

And OMG, what would O’Brien do about that?

Cynical Soapbox: Chick-Fil-A, Again

I’m sure most of us are sick of hearing about Chick-Fil-A by now, but I’ve been away and I’ve finally got the chance to throw my two cents in. For those of us who live under a rock, their company’s president, Dan Cathy, said he was “guilty as charged” when asked if he supported anti-gay groups, and went on to discuss his belief in the “biblical” definition of marriage, yata yata, yata yata. His statements, understandably, infuriated the LGBT & friends community and have created a political shitstorm.

The most recently sprouted head of the Hydra of Controversy involves the backlash–or support–that Chick-Fil-A is currently undergoing. Notable backlash comes from the likes of Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, who has very publicly told the company they have no business associating themselves with the Freedom Trail, and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who said Chick-Fil-A doesn’t “mesh” with Chicago values.  Considering Chicago’s (and Boston’s!) chequered past, I’m not sure if that’s good or bad.

On the other side of the coin, conservative pundits have become the poster children for fast food. Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin and Rick Santorum, in what looks like the failed-politician equivalent of Dancing With The Stars, have all offered their public support for the company or ventured into CFA storefronts for a bag o’ sammies and waffle fries. And in all of this, there’s been a wave of rhetoric about how this is about “free speech” and “family values” and First Amendment rights and…whatever.

Behold the bastion of civil rights!  Photo from chick-fil-a.com, because why not go straight to the horse’s mouth?

So where’s my problem, right? What’s my big complaint with the whole CFA controversy? Why should I care where Sarah Palin buys her lunch?

The thing is, I don’t. Sarah Palin could open up a string of CFA franchises and I couldn’t care less. Mike Huckabee could have a Chick-Fil-A daily hour of appreciation for the next year and I wouldn’t care.  And Santorum can feed his kids all the Chick-Fil-A sauce he can get his family values-laden hands on. Go for it. I don’t care.

What I do care about, though, is the way the issue of free speech keeps getting twisted back on itself.  There’s a lot of bandying about of the concept of the “thought police”, and that those who vocally, publicly disagree with the president of Chick-Fil-A and are boycotting or urging their friends to boycott, are being discriminatory in their actions, based on the notion that they don’t agree with said CFA president.  Said one Facebook commenter, “Seems like anyone who disagrees with you is a bigot [Ed. note: more on this later]. If you disagree with someone then their [sic] wrong and your [sic] right. who is the bigot???? mmmmm maybe its you thats the bigot. you only have room for your opinion. there are differences of opinion in both sides of the issue and there are bigots on both sides too.”

In some of the other-side comments I read, one woman who thinks the CFA president is in the wrong, said, “It is NOT about freedom of speech, as I keep seeing repeated. It is about not handing money over to an organization that puts that money towards actively persecuting someone for being gay. Christianity is not an excuse for hatred- and most Christians I know do not use it as so, which makes trying to tolerate those who do even more difficult. This is about so much more than chicken. It is about basic human decency and respect.”

*sigh* Sort of.  Yes.  But not really… No.

The real problem that lies at the controversy that surrounds Chick-Fil-A is precisely about freedom of speech.  The CFA president had every right to say what he believes, and to set his company’s policies as he feels appropriate to the conduct of his business.  But speaking freely involves an inherent risk and that is, when you say something, you must expect to be held accountable for it. We suffer from an accountability lack these days; students are not held accountable for failing grades in school, bankers are not held accountable when they crash a global economy. So it should come as no surprise to me, really, that there is a contingent circling their collective wagons around Dan Cathy in an effort to protect him from the words that actually came out of his mouth.

In an ironic-yet-clever linguistic twist as evidenced previously, those protectors are also calling the people who oppose the Chick-Fil-A stance “bigots”.  Interesting.  I’ve pointed out in other arguments that words have meanings, and in this case the good people of Merriam-Webster define “bigot” as such:

a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance.

Thus anyone who opposes Chick-Fil-A’s policies is accused of bigotry, of being intolerant to the company. Which, perhaps, is true, in that I am intolerant of a person or organization who engages in systematically disenfranchising another group and attacking their civil rights based on a personal dislike.  But I don’t try to disenfranchise them in turn, or strip them of their civil rights or the ability to live and love as they see fit. Calling my dislike “bigotry” is akin to saying that opposing racial segregation is “bigotry”, as opposed calling it what it is, which is “decency”.  See the difference in the meanings of the words I chose?  It’s nuanced, but it’s there.

And by “nuanced”, I mean “blatant”.

In the 1927 Whitney vs. California decision, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis initially defined the concept of “counterspeech“, claiming that more discussion about a topic, not enforced silence, was the route to enlightenment and would ensure the continuance of a democratic society. While counterspeech might not have had a formal definition, its principle has lived in the American psyche since Thomas Paine put pen to paper and wrote Common Sense in 1776.  Standing on a soapbox (ahem!) and stating your issues with a given situation is as American as a bald eagle carrying a flag made out of apple pie.  Calling someone who disagrees with you–solely on the fact that they disagree with you, without evaluating their argument–a bigot, is the adult equivalent of a second grade schoolkid calling someone else a poopoohead on the playground, because Sir Poopoohead likes the Mets instead of the Yankees.  Ad hominem rebuttals solve no problems, open no discussion, and reinforce the idea that the person who is legitimately involved in bigoted behavior has no real interest in reaching a mutually satisfactory conclusion. That person only wants to walk around, fingers in the ears, singing “La la can’t hear you la la.”

Dan Cathy is absolutely welcome to his opinions, and he is absolutely allowed to speak his mind.  And in no way am I obligated to quietly accept what he says.

No, Chick-Fil-A doesn’t discriminate against the LGBT community in that they are allowed to eat in their stores, and I’m sure at least one or two gay employees have manned their counters and have walked away relatively unscathed.  The bigotry comes in when you realize that in 2009, for example, CFA donated nearly $2 million to anti-gay groups (including one they founded themselves). And in the same way that Chick-Fil-A can set their own policies and run their own advertising and say what they want in public, people can set their own policies. I can choose–freely–not to go to Chick-Fil-A if I don’t want to. I can choose to dislike them, I can choose to tell my friends.  I can stand in the middle of Boston Common–like our forefathers did before us–to speechify about the civil injustice embraced by  Chick-Fil-A management, and I would be entirely within my rights.  I can write a blog. What I can’t do is spread vicious lies about them–if I said they made their food at the Soylent Green facility, it would be slanderous and I could get in trouble for it. But I’m only basing my words and action on what the president of the company has said in public, and the actions by which they express their values.

For those of you who object that a chicken sandwich has become politicized and the media and other people (like me) are making too much of a big deal about this issue, I’d like to remind you that the person who politicized this to begin with was the person who has donated millions of dollars in company money to further his political agenda. Not HIS money, mind you. If he’d just donated his money, then what sort of controversy would there be?  (Answer: None, because he can do what he wants with his money, and while I may disagree with his personal politics it’s not like I’m going to boycott his house.  See my previous statement about how people can set their own policies.) But no.  Dan Cathy donated an organization’s money–an organization that needs public patronage for its survival.  And he made his controversial statements while acting not as a private citizen but as a representative of that company. Isn’t part of the principle of the free market supposed to be that the buying public can choose to support a company (or not) as they see fit?  Individuals ruin companies all the time; why should Chick-Fil-A be exempted from facing the court of public opinion?

Geez.  If only we could work up this sort of public passion about the energy industry. Fast food? That’s what gets us going?  *sigh*

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