Gold medallists team Russia kiss and celebrate at the women’s 4×400 metres relay victory ceremony during the IAAF World Athletics Championships. (REUTERS/Grigory Dukor)
“A Tommie Smith/John Carlos moment.” My inbox became flooded yesterday with variations of that phrase after two Russian 4X400 Gold medalists, Kseniya Ryzhova and Tatyana Firova kissed on the medal stand at the World Athletics Championships in Moscow. This led to widespread pronouncements—not speculation but pronouncements—that their kiss was in fact a protest against Russia’s recent brual wave of anti-LGBT legislation. People across the world, alarmed at the repression and violence in Russia, were comparing the kiss with ecstatic joy to that moment in Mexico City in 1968, when Carlos and Smith raised their black gloves to the heavens in the name of anti-racism and universal human rights.
This enthusiasm was understandable. The still photos of Ryzhova and Firova appeared like a dramatic rebuke of Vladamir Putin’s criminalization of LGBT life. The kiss also came on the heels of protest efforts at the Championships by Swedish athletes Emma Green-Tregaro and Moa Hjelmer—who painted their fingernails in rainbow hues—as well as public statements of solidarity from US 800 meter runner Nick Symmonds. Symmonds dedicated his silver medal to his LGBT friends back home saying, “Whether you’re gay, straight, black, white, we all deserve the same rights. If there’s anything I can do to champion the cause and further it I will, shy of getting arrested.”
With the coming Sochi Olympics and calls to boycott Russia, ban Russia from competition, or use the Olympics as a protest staging ground for Pride Marches and athletic activism, there is simply no arena more alive with resistance to Russia’s draconian legislation than sports. This can be best understood as the culmination of a historically unprecedented level of confidence amongst LGBT athletes and allies. As Robbie Rogers, out and proud professional soccer player proclaimed, “It’s awesome to be part of a movement that’s changing the world.”