PETITION SEEKING VICTORY
While people across the world were busy calling for an unlikely boycott of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, a Winnipegger developed a more fitting solution. In late July, Dayne Moyer created a Change.org petition that asks the Canadian, U.S., British and Paralympic teams to take a stand against discrimination by wearing rainbow pins to the opening ceremonies of the Games. By press time, the petition had nearly 40,000 supporters – but with the signature count plateauing and Sochi Winter Games approaching, Moyer’s looking for a second wind.
This past summer, Russia became home to the anti-gay laws which prohibit “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” and any protests provoked by them. The laws will affect all attendees of the Sochi Games, and many people worldwide are demanding that human rights come before sports.
In the wake of the controversy, Winnipeg GLBTQ* activist and athlete Moyer created the Change.org petition he calls the #GoldMedalMessage. He believes boycotts would harm hard-working athletes and have a negative effect on the GLBTQ* community in Russia. “That’s going to turn into extreme violence against Russians, so the GLBTQ* people in Russia are going to feel the backlash,” said Moyer. “It’s about finding the most practical thing where everyone’s safe and everyone’s competing, while making a stand.”
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) seems certain the Games will be a safe environment. Emmanuelle Moreau, a member of the IOC Media Relations Team, told OutWords that “the IOC has received strong written reassurances from the Russian government that everyone will be welcome at the Games in Sochi, regardless of their sexual orientation. President Putin himself recently offered assurances that there will be no discrimination against gay people during the Games.” The Olympics are also set to be a “neutral environment” for political statements. Moreau said the IOC has “a clear rule in place to ensure the Games remain free from proactive protests and demonstrations of any kind.”
So will wearing rainbow pins to the opening ceremonies result in disqualification? Moyer believes “if athletes come in solidarity and are doing the same thing, they are not going to be penalized. The IOC relies on athletes to come and compete.” Even if they do get disqualified, Moyer believes it will be worth it. “Historically, there have been athletes who have lost their medals because of a political demonstration, but they also did something more important than the Olympic Games.” The IOC judges such actions on a case-by-case basis, but Moreau refused to discuss potential scenarios.
As of press time, Moyer’s petition had over 37,000 signatures – just short of its goal of 40, 000. “Anyone who is experiencing homophobia or difficulty in their life can look at the number and go, I’m really not alone. There’s a huge power in that number,” said Moyer. And every time a goal has been reached, the bar has been raised.
The real victory would be getting the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) to come forward and say they support their athletes taking a stand. Despite getting notified of each signature through emails, the COC have not responded. And with the petition’s signature count slowing, Moyer fears the chance of hearing from them before the Games begin in February is fading. “If the people of the COC feel like the people who have signed have gone off and changed their mind or aren’t focusing on it anymore, they aren’t going to worry as much.”
Victory or not, Moyer’s petition is a success. Pascal Zamprelli, director of communications for Change.org in Canada, said “when Sochi hit since the law was passed, there’s been every conceivable petition: boycotts, move the Games, boycott the sponsors.” But Moyer’s stood out and was promoted by Zamprelli’s Change.org team.
“He definitely had a very compelling argument to make, he had what looks like the right act, getting the people not to abandon the Games in Russia but rather make a big splash,” said Zamprelli. “His petition had a huge role to play in other petitions popping up and Change.org staff generally thinking this would be the right kind of option.”
There are now 41 petitions proposing similar options, with over 520,000 signatures combined. Zamprelli and Moyer decided the next step is to pressure the COC and IOC by getting athletes to say they will make a stand and wear a rainbow pin to the opening ceremonies.
Zamprelli said, “If enough athletes do this and you’re getting this critical mass of athletes willing to wear the pin, then the COC or IOC might be compelled to say something about it.” However, no athletes have responded to their efforts yet and it’s unclear whether individual teams or athletes are even allowed to step forward in support.
Moyer also has the backing of Pride Winnipeg. Jason Douglas, community liaison director of Pride Winnipeg, was looking to get involved and liked Moyer’s campaign. “He’s not asking people to boycott, which I think is an unrealistic idea,” said Douglas. “The Olympics are going to happen. They happened in the Holocaust, so it’s going to go on regardless.” Pride Winnipeg just created what they call the “Sochi Task Force,” after coming back from an international Pride conference in Montreal. “One of the biggest things that came out of there was how to make impact,” said Douglas. “We’ve drafted a letter, which we’re sending out to Pride organizations across Canada and we’re going to be asking them to support the #GoldMedalMessage, as well as contact their government within each province so we can take it to the next level.” Pride Winnipeg plans to help Moyer get a response from athletes too.
The Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics create an opportunity for people attending to take a stand against Russia’s anti-gay laws on a global stage. Moyer believes wearing rainbow pins in solidarity at the opening ceremonies presents a safe and realistic way to do this. As Moyer pushes for his petition to pick up again, he continues looking for athletes to endorse his message and corporate sponsors to help produce rainbow pins.
You can sign and share the #GoldMedalMessage at Change.org/GoldMedalMessage and find related petitions by searching “Sochi 2014” on the website. Will human rights win at the Olympics?
– Graeme Coleman is OutWords’ entertainment editor
Change.org is the largest petition platform. It’s been used to win some major victories for the GLBTQ* community. Here are some Canadian-related victories it’s brought us:Victory: Tell Ontario’s Party Leaders to Support All Students – Queer or Straight. www.change.org/en-CA/petitions/tell-ontario-s-party-leaders-to-support-all-students-queer-or-straightVictory: Support Bill 18 – Safe Schools Amendment /Anti-Bullying Bill/GSA Inclusion (Manitoba).
https://www.change.org/petitions/support-bill-18-safe-schools-amendment-anti-bullying-bill-gsa-inclusion– For related petitions, search “Gay-Straight Alliance” or “GSA” on the site.Victory: Carly Rae Jepsen: Denounce the Boy Scouts’ policy banning gay youth and parents.
https://www.change.org/petitions/carly-rae-jepsen-denounce-the-boy-scouts-policy-banning-gay-youth-and-parents– For related petitions, search “boy scouts” on the site.Victory: Miss Universe Canada, Donald Trump: Reverse the Unfair Disqualification of Jenna Talackova! www.change.org