Brittney Griner, one of the current WNBA superstars, has been detained in Russia for about a month. It is terrifying to think of the harm that could befall her while in Russian custody, especially with the possibility of her being used as a pawn in the current conflict.
It’s impossible not to worry about Griner’s safety as an openly queer black woman who doesn’t 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 considered “LGBTQ+ propaganda.” In 2013, Russia passed a law that allows imprisonment for “insulting the feelings of believers”. The impact of laws has been seen as a de facto way to criminalize LGBTQ+ culture. There has also been extreme violence, so much so that in 2017 the UN Human Rights Council condemned a wave of torture and killings of gay people in Chechnya.
It is complicated to criticize other countries and the treatment of their people because the history of the United States – and the current treatment of its people – is deeply inequitable.
Griner’s experience in the United States as a queer woman is complicated. On the one hand, Griner was bullied at school and tried to use his platform to bring attention to the ongoing issue of anti-LGBTQ+ bullying. On the other hand, she is the first openly gay athlete ever to receive an endorsement deal from Nike, and she is able to model clothes that become “menswear”.
American LGBTQ+ politics is complicated. Same-sex marriage has been considered a basic right, but the Supreme Court has struck down laws on topics such as health care to combat discrimination because opponents allege the laws violate their religious beliefs.
Texas is trying to pass a policy to criminalize parents, supportive adults, and doctors who provide gender-affirming care to trans or non-binary children. Other states are following Texas’ lead.
Florida is in the process of passing a “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which would criminalize discussion of same-sex families and relationships, similar to Russia’s law against LGBTQ+ propaganda.
The movement for authoritarianism is global. It targets marginalized and vulnerable groups. It is vital that we understand that the war on our doorstep is deeper than Ukraine, oil prices, gas prices or inflation. We must fight for the democracy that we have never fully realized and against the return to a union and a less perfect world.