I was watching a news report that discussed the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) partnering with Madonna in its #LoveConquersHate campaign, a public awareness campaign to put an end to discrimination against the gay and lesbian community in Russia. The HRC is a grassroots, civil rights organization founded in 1980 that seeks fairness and equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (lgbt) Americans. HRC is focused on extending its efforts to promote equal rights for the lgbt community in Russia. This stems from the Olympic Games to be held in Sochi, Russia in 2014 and the opposition that Russian officials have expressed for lgbt persons and equal rights for that community.
In June, Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin signed into law a statute banning any sexual relationship except traditional relationships as depicted between a man and a woman. It also bans any public or private meetings about gay rights, including any discussions about homosexuality by minors. This has caused gay Olympic athletes and spectators to protest, causing feelings of uneasiness, fearing discrimination and possible arrest. The bigger issue is that this position by Russia violates the International Olympic Committee’s anti-discrimination principles, although Russia claims it isn’t in violation of these principles.
Consequently, the HRC has gotten involved, with Madonna’s help, and pledged to inspire people from all around the world to get involved and speak out in support of lgbt rights and engender a spirit of fairness and equity in Russia, not just for the 2014 Olympic Games but also well beyond into the future.
I used to think that celebrities ought to not get involved in political issues such as this. But I’ve taken a turn, and think that a fringe benefit (an obligation, actually) of one’s celebrity status, is to speak out about and support community causes in ways that the average person would not normally be able to do. We need more people with power and money and prestige to speak out for others who face barriers and whose voice may not be as strong. There are risks involved, but I think it’s something that celebrities should routinely do.
I think back to one of the first memories I have of a celebrity speaking out publicly about a political or social issue is Actress Jane Fonda when she was vocal about many hot topics during the 50s and 60s, including her (1) opposition to the Vietnam War; (2) criticism of the US Government’s decision to seize more than 1 million acres of American Indian land; and (3) support of the philosophies and ideologies of the Black Panther Party.
Fonda was highly criticized for all of her activism, even getting turned down for assignments and losing contracts, attributable to her controversial comments. Some critics called her a traitor, accusing her of siding with the enemy. To this day, some Vietnam-era Veterans still criticize her for her actions and comments.
I am proud of Madonna for taking a stance in this issue. It’s an essential act, and one that could have long-lasting effects not only for American Olympic athletes but also for athletes from all around the world. Kudos to Madonna.