Brittney Griner, one of the current greats of the WNBA, has been detained in Russia for about a month. It is terrifying to think about what harm might come to her while in Russian custody, especially with the possibility that she is being used as a pawn in the current conflict.
It is impossible not to worry about Griner’s safety as an openly queer Black woman who does not subscribe to traditional gender norms. Russia is a country hostile to LGBTQ+ people, ranking as the least protective country for LGBTQ+ citizens in Europe. Homosexuality is not criminalized, but Russia has laws that create monetary penalties for anything viewed as “LGBTQ+ propaganda.” In 2013, Russia passed a law that allows for imprisonment for “insulting the feelings of the believers.” The impact of the laws have been viewed as a de-facto means of criminalizing LGBTQ+ culture. There has also been extreme violence to such an extent that in 2017 the UN Human Rights Council condemned a wave of torture and killings of gay men in Chechnya.
It is complicated to be critical of other countries and the treatment of their people because U.S. history — and current treatment of its people — is deeply inequitable.
Griner’s experience in the U.S. as an out queer woman is complicated. On the one hand, Griner was bullied in school and has tried to use her platform to bring attention to the ongoing issue of anti-LGBTQ+ bullying. On the other hand, she is the first openly gay athlete to have received an endorsement deal from Nike, and she is able to model for clothes that get gendered as “menswear.”
U.S. LGBTQ+ policy is complicated. Same-sex marriage has been deemed a fundamental right, but the Supreme Court has overturned laws on topics like health care to anti-discrimination because opponents allege the laws infringe on their religious beliefs.
Texas is trying to enact a policy to criminalize parents, supportive adults and doctors who provide gender-affirming care for trans or nonbinary children. Other states are following Texas’s lead.
Florida is in the midst of passing a “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which would criminalize the discussion of same-sex families and relationships, which is similar to the Russian law against LGBTQ+ propaganda.
The movement in support of authoritarianism is global. It targets marginalized and vulnerable groups. It is vital that we understand that the war on our doorsteps is deeper than Ukraine, oil, gas prices or inflation. We have to fight for the democracy we have never fully actualized and against the backslide to a less perfect union and world.
Read more of the Mar. 16-22, 2022 issue.