Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Johnny Weir Goes on ‘Olbermann,’ Gets Blasted by GLBT Critics Over Anti-Sochi Boycott Stance

with 2 comments

It’s not every day that you see someone as articulate, passionate and honest as figure skater Johnny Weir go on Keith Olbermann’s new show (called simply “Olbermann,” natch), then get blasted.

You see, Weir appeared on Olbermann this past Monday to discuss why he is against boycotting the 2014 Sochi Olympics over Russia’s official anti-gay laws.  Weir, a proud American, a former Olympian, and a three-time United States National Champion (not to mention a World Bronze medalist), believes it’s far more important to go to Sochi and “represent” than to stay home.  Weir spoke with authority on this issue because he’s gay and married to a Russian-American lawyer, Victor Voronov, and has been known as a Russophile from the beginning of his career.

Mind you, Weir is far from the only athlete to stand against any proposed boycott of the Sochi Olympic Games.  There are a number of NHL athletes who are prepared to go to Sochi and perhaps get arrested due to their open opposition to these laws.  Former USSR pairs figure skaters Lorisa Selezneva and Oleg Makarov, now American citizens, also are opposed to this boycott**, as are Greg Louganis, Martina Navratilova and Blake Skjellerup.

All of these men and women have said what amounts to the same thing as Johnny Weir — that it’s much more important to go to the Sochi Games and participate than to stay home.  Going to the games will help highlight the problems that Russia’s outrageous, shocking and offensive new laws have brought into being, while staying home will do not one bit of good for anyone (save, perhaps, for Vladimir Putin).

Yet only Weir has brought condemnation down on his head by saying so, perhaps because during his recent appearance on Olbermann’s show Weir had the temerity to wear a Russian military uniform.  (Technically, I think it’s a Soviet-era military uniform, but I’m not up on contemporary Russian military uniforms.)  Why is this?  Well, it mostly seems to be more about how Weir looked than by what Weir actually said, though at least one commentator is more hung up over Weir’s language choices (calling his marriage a “union” rather than a marriage, for example).

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m far more interested in the substance of what Weir’s said than by what Weir looked like while he said it.  Boycotting the 2014 Sochi Games would be fruitless, just as Weir said, because it harms Olympic athletes while failing to help the Russian GLBT activists who truly need it.  Whereas if the United States and other countries’ athletes — some of whom are GLBT — do take part in the Sochi Games, perhaps that will do some good.  Watching GLBT athletes win medals will do more to make it clear that GLBT people deserve neither condemnation nor fear merely because of being what they are than any boycott could ever do.

Look.  I’m not gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered.  I am also not an athlete.  I don’t know any Russians personally, whether Russian-American or not.  And all of that can’t help but make my own opinion be less important and less informative than someone who is any of those things.

However, Johnny Weir’s opinion should be heard and appreciated (regardless of appearance) precisely because he has so much credibility in this particular area.  Weir is married to a Russian-American man, has competed in Russia many times, and took lessons in Russian so he could better speak with his coach, Galina Zmievskaya.  Because of all this, Weir has to understand just how harmful these new laws have been in Russia.  Weir has said firmly that he is opposed to them##, but he also doesn’t understand how boycotting the Sochi Games would help anything — and this is a stance I can’t help but agree with.

You don’t have to like how open Johnny Weir is now about his sexuality after years of telling everyone that it was none of their business.  (Personally, I understand both stances.  But not everyone does.)  You don’t have to like how Weir dresses.  You don’t have to like how Weir does anything at all, in fact, if you don’t want, because this is a free country and we’re allowed to speak our minds without hindrance.

But you should agree that Weir has a right to say what he wants.  And in this particular case, where Weir’s far from alone (Athlete Ally is also against a proposed boycott, as is the LGBT Sports Coalition), it seems really odd that Weir would be condemned while all the other voices saying the same thing would be ignored.

———-

** Some people would probably say that a straight, married pair of retired figure skaters — even if they’re from Russia and know intimately the problems Russia has — have nothing to say about a proposed Sochi boycott.  For those people, I have nothing but contempt.

## In August of 2013, Weir said he will not wear a rainbow flag pin in Sochi, while Skjellerup said he definitely will wear one.  Weir not being willing to wear a rainbow pin at this time may be what’s really upsetting people in the GLBT community.  But if so, I’d rather that they just came out asked Johnny Weir directly, “Why won’t you wear a rainbow pin?”

Because really, anything would be better than the current, nasty Internet flame wars going on right now.  Especially among people who are normally reasonable.

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2 Responses

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  1. Very, very well-said Barb! Excellent synopsis; excellent points you raise. Thanks for adding your voice to the conversation. Re: Johnny’s refusal to wear a rainbow pin: As Jenn Kittler brilliantly points out in a comment on another excellent piece (http://paper-bird.net/2013/09/12/queer-quislings-getting-russia-wrong/), Johnny’s huge, multi-banded diamond wedding ring that he wears so proudly makes a far stronger equality statement on him than any rainbow pin ever could.

    • You’re welcome, MM. Glad you enjoyed it. 🙂

      I have seen Johnny Weir’s wedding ring. (Not in person, but still.) Your point is well taken.

      Barb Caffrey

      September 14, 2013 at 5:10 am


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