Transformation through Sports:An Interview with the Russian LGBT Sport Federation

This paper focuses on the transformation of LGBT communities in Moscow, Russia. Firstly, the personal transformation of Konstantin Lablotckii, the founder of the Russian LGBT Sports Federation1, will be presented. Secondly, the transformation that appeared in the LGBT communities will be discussed. This section particularly concentrates on the conflicts between Russian society and the LGBT communities. Thirdly, an alternative way of thinking—think outside the box—will be suggested in order to develop an educational transformation among the young generation so that a society without violence and discrimination can be achieved in the future.

Konstantin Lablotckii, a thirty-two years old man who is in charge of the LGBT Sports Federation in Moscow, Russia, has an interesting coming-out story to share with us. According to Konstantin, 2010 was the year that changed his destiny in life. That was the first time he participated in the Gay Olympic Games that were held in Cologne, Germany, and he won a gold medal among the fifty other competitors who came from various countries. His news of winning was spread over the European countries, although it was still kind of a taboo to talk about this in his homeland. However, through this event, Konstantin came to realize that instead of repression, the confirmation of one’s sexual orientation (identity) is more important than anything else in the world. This realization led him to create the LGBT Sports Federation, an organization that attempts to unite all the sexual minorities (LGBT) through playing sports, though it has not been easy during the past years. In the beginning, the chemistry teacher Konstantin was being discriminated against in his work place, which is a high school for disabled students. At the risk of losing his job, Konstantin continued to strike for LGBT rights and organized more than sixty sports festivals in five years. It is suggested that the discrimination that

Konstantin encountered derives from the perception of masculinity in Russia. Apparently, this macho myth is dominant in the whole nation and to break through this thick wall requires time and a lot of understanding. What Konstantin is doing right now is a transformative act as it strikes to change the perception of masculinity in Russia. Besides discrimination, the organization is also facing another big problem, which is the lack of funds. Unable to gain financial support from the government, the organization relies on donations from foreign countries, which creates a great deal of pressure for the organizers due to this instability. Nevertheless, Konstantin remains positive in coping with all the problems and at the same time focusing on gender, cultural and social transformation: connecting the LGBT culture with the mainstream culture through sports. The reason why Konstantin sees “sport” as a key factor for transformation is that sport plays a role in bringing communities together, which results in a decrease in crime and discrimination. As a result, he is confident that a society that is based on respect for human dignity regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity can be formed in Russia.

In order to achieve this goal, the LGBT Sports Federation has connected itself with some other local LGBT organizations such as the Rainbow Association in Moscow, the “Coming Out” LGBT Group in Saint Petersburg, and international organizations such as the Equal Rights Trust, Freedom House and so on to form an LGBT Network. According to the Russian LGBT Network Annual Report in 2014, the network has provided a variety of services such as supporting the survivors of homophobic hate crimes, assisting new community centers in some regions of Russia, providing free legal and psychological consultations for the LGBT community all over Russia, and so forth. Since April 2006, “the network itself has become the sliver of light that illuminates the path in LGBT activism” (Russian LGBT Network Annual Report 2014). The communities in the Russian LGBT Network believe that one day the supremacy of human rights will become the basic value in Russia and until then what the network must do is to provide constant support and care to everyone who needs it.

Unfortunately, Russia’s State Duma passed article 6.13 on June 26, 2013. This law bans the distribution of “propaganda” of “nontraditional sexual relations” to minors. Here, the ban on gay propaganda is effectively prohibiting all LGBT demonstrations, which, according to the European Court of Human Rights, follows a troubling trend of Russia’s recent suppression of human rights (“Human Rights in Russia” LinkTVWorldNews). The main reason that the government justifies the ban is that the majority of Russians, about seventy-four percent of the population, disagree with homosexuality (qtd. in Polsdofer 1085). The second reason given by the government is that LGBT might influence children in a negative way (Polsdofer 1092). However, a recent study found that when families reject LGBT youth, it increases the risk of poor physical and mental health for those youth, noting that LGBT youth whose families rejected them were 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide and 5.9 times more likely to become depressed (Reardon 2009). Another report shows that adolescents and adults who conceal their sexual orientation have lower relationship satisfaction, faster HIV progression, fewer job promotions, greater negativity about their jobs, and higher levels of stress, suicide and so forth (Legate et al. 2012). Therefore, instead of repressing the LGBT dimensions, the government should provide education and support on LGBT issues if their primary concern is the young generation. This is the only way to protect children from discrimination and violence.

Here, a question emerges: what kind of ideology is needed in promoting the acceptance of LGBT? It is suggested that the idea of “think outside the box” should be introduced at a young age. As we know, human beings have a habit of putting each other into boxes the moment they see each other. We tend to create a mental picture of everyone we meet and put them into the boxes we have set up in our minds: he is a businessman, she has two daughters. The second time we meet, we may get more personal about it: he is gay, she is bisexual. They are different from ordinary people, so they should be put into the box labeled LGBT. The problem I want to point out is that there is no clear line between people who are heterosexual and homosexual or bisexual or other. Where do we draw the line? If we must draw a line to define every single person in the world, then one must declare that there are not enough boxes in the world.

It is understandable that we tend to a draw line between others and ourselves in order to confirm our own identity. However, problems such as fighting and discrimination appear when we define other people as “others” and put them into boxes—for instance, heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual, transgender—that we think exist. According to Edward W. Said, by defining non-Westerners as “other,” Westerners came to construct themselves as developed, rational, flexible, and superior, while the non-Westerners as backward, sensual, inflexible and inferior (Ranjan 86). We should not define people as “other” because every human being is equal. “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal”—it is written in the Declaration of Independence (The Heritage Foundation). Equality is unachievable if the concept of “other” remains in this world.

However, if no boxes existed in this world, the whole world would be in trouble because the system of hierarchy is needed to maintain discipline and control. If we must make boxes to run the system, I think there are too few boxes. Where should we put those who have had one or two homosexual experiences but claim themselves to be heterosexual? Today in many places people can legally be fired just for their sexuality. People who are inside the box of LGBT are facing problems such as not having the right to raise a child, not having the right to get married. Why should anyone be classed as a second-class citizen? We should not take away others’ rights for the sake of our own happiness and prejudices. To conclude, human beings are not one-dimensional. Today there are a limitless number of people who are not hundred percent straight. So now is the time to make more boxes, or no boxes at all, for the sake of everyone’s right: all men are created equal.

Once again, it is suggested that this kind of norm shall be introduced inside the classroom to young students so that they can have a better understanding toward gender, cultural and social diversity in the world. After all, education plays the most crucial role in transforming the world in which we are living into a better place. Regarding the ban of gay propaganda in Russia, it is claimed that repealing the ban puts Russia on the right track to catch up with its neighbors, as more and more European countries and democracies around the world continue to expand LGBT rights. Hence, the role of the Russian LGBT Sport Federation has become more crucial than ever: reducing racial/gender/sexual violence and discrimination through engaging in sports and communication.



Note: 

1 This interview was held on March 3, 2016 at LGBT Sport Federation in Moscow, Russia. The Cross-Boundary Innovation Program, Osaka University, funded the research trip. However, the paper itself does not reflect the voices of the interviewees but the author of this paper.

References:

“Human Rights in Russia.” LinkTVWorldNews. Accessed December 2, 2016. http://news1.linktv.org/topics/human-rights-in-russia.

Legate, Nicole., and Ryan, Richard M., and Weinstein, Netta. “Is Coming Out Always a ‘Good Thing’? Exploring the Relations of Autonomy Support, Outness, & Wellness for Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Individuals.” SAGEpub.com. 145, 146 (2012), Available at http://www.selfdeterminationtheory.org/SDT/documents/2012_LegateRyanWeinst ein_SPPS.pdf.

Polsdofer, Stephan. “Pride and Prejudiced: Russia ’s Anti-Gay Propaganda Law Violates the European Convention on Human Rights.” American University International Law Review 29.5 (2014): 1068-96. Accessed November 25, 2016. http://digitalcommons.wcl.american.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1831&context=auilr.

Ranjan, Priyansh. “Edward Said’s ‘Orientalism’: A Post-Colonial Culture Study.” IOSR Journal Of Humanities And Social Science 20. 9. Ver. 2 (2015): 85-88. Accessed December 5, 2016. http://iosrjournals.org/iosr-jhss/papers/Vol20-issue9/Version-2/M020928588.pdf.

Reardon, Christina. “Family Acceptance Project—Helping LGBT Youths.” Social Work Today. 9. 6 (2009): 6. Accessed December 2, 2016. http://www.socialworktoday.com/archive/112309p6.shtml.

Russian LGBT Network Annual Report 2014. Accessed November 20, 2016. https://issuu.com/svetlanazakharova0/docs/web_preview_lgbt-net_2014_eng___08-.

“The Declaration of Independence.” The Heritage Foundation. Accessed November 5, 2016. http://www.heritage.org/initiatives/first-principles/primary-sources/the-declaration-of-independence.

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This paper has been presented in the GALE Forum at JALT Conference on 26 November 2016: Conference Information

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