In a way, Johnny Weir has become the only common ground between some LGBT groups and the far-right anti-gay movement. In short, the figure skater isn't gaining very many fans in either camp. To those who see the 2013 Sochi Olympics as an opportunity to draw attention to Russia's oppressive anti-gay laws, Weir's defense of the games — and criticism of calls to boycott them — have been jarring. And now that Weir, an openly-gay Olympian, will be a commentator for NBC's coverage of the Olympics, some anti-gay activists have convinced themselves that the Olympics are no longer safe for children because Weir, a gay man, will be talking during them, possibly about other male figure skaters who also might be gay.
As The Wire has previously explained, male figure skating has an element of the peacock to it. The impressive athleticism needed to pull off an Olympics-worthy routine is often juxtaposed with sparkly, elaborate costumes. This makes Renew America's Louie Verrecchio uncomfortable. He writes:
I've never been a big fan of men's figure skating. I've always kind of figured that any guy that can skate like that should have a hockey stick in his hand and a few less teeth than the rest of us. Even so, back in the day it seemed like breakthroughs in the sport were measured in terms of acrobatics, now they seem to be measured in terms of histrionics as these grown men prance about like little drama queens determined to take flamboyance to here-to-fore unseen heights.
In the real world, it should be noted, the conversation dominating the male figure skating world between the 2010 Olympics and 2014 has been the quadruple jump — in Vancouver, American Evan Lysacek won gold without doing one. As The Washington Post explains, whoever wins this year will almost certainly have the difficult jump in their routine, with an eye on the backlash against Lysacek.
Nonetheless, Verrecchio has a warning for parents: the hiring of Johnny Weir to do Olympics commentary is baiscally the downfall of our society. He writes: "NBC Sports is pleased to hire a flamboyant, cross-dressing, homosexual man who thinks he has a 'husband' in order to provide color commentary (presumably rainbow) to viewers worldwide during the upcoming Winter Olympics." Verrecchio adds: "BE FOREWARNED: If you allow it at all, don't let your children to watch the Olympics without supervision."
Verrechio's apparent belief that the existence of a homosexual man is inherently a threat to the children of the world is akin to the paranoia driving Russia's new anti-gay laws. The laws ban gay "propaganda" — a vaguely defined term — in the name of protecting the country's children. Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a milder version of Verrecchio's comments late last week, when asked about the safety of LGBT athletes and others planning to travel to Sochi for the games: "We are not forbidding anything and nobody is being grabbed off the street," he said to the LGBT individuals of the world. "You can feel relaxed and calm [in Russia], but leave children alone please."
Weir has a complicated relationship to this year's games. While some American LGBT activists have called for a boycott of Sochi to protest Russia's oppressive anti-gay laws, Weir has pledged to stay out of Sochi protests against the discrimination there. In December, Weir dismissed some Sochi protesters as "idiots," adding that he didn't think the Olympics were an appropriate venue for a political protest. He added, "You have to respect the culture of a country you are visiting.” Weir's husband, Victor Weir-Voronov, is of Russian descent, and it's possible that Weir's position could come from the fact that the culture of Russia is not entirely "other" to him. But some LGBT groups have pointed out that Weir's presence on NBC could allow the network to wash over the human rights issues present in the host country for their coverage next month.
Meanwhile, Russia is focusing its anti-gay energy on an American figure skater who will be competing in this February's games: Ashley Wagner. Wagner has previously criticized Russia's propaganda laws, so when the skater was controversially allowed to join the U.S. Olympic team despite finishing fourth, a Russian paper went with the headline, "Pro-gay American Figure Skater Dragged to Sochi."