Out Hockey Player Caitlin Cahow On Going To Sochi: “Hope Isn’t a Weakness”

 
 

NewNowNext.com

Fresh from serving on the official U.S. delegation to the Winter Olympics in Sochi, two-time Olympic medalist and three-time World Champion women’s hockey player Caitlin Cahow is sharing her observations about the people, politics and stories surrounding the Games with NewNowNext. (Read her first column for us here.)

cahow-press

Since my first column, I have been asked whether I am naïve enough to believe that my experience in Russia was characteristic of the Russian LGBT experience. Some have gone so far as to suggest that my words of praise are complicit in furthering Russian LGBT discrimination.

I am happy to clarify.

I agreed to write about my experiences to highlight something truly extraordinary. In 2014, my president chose openly LGBT individuals as representatives of what it means to be American. This would never have happened four years ago. In the time since the Vancouver Games, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell has been repealed, the Defense of Marriage Act has been overturned, hate-crime legislation has been signed and same-sex marriage is becoming legal in more and more states every day.

Taking this into the context of the Olympics, I got off the plane in Sochi knowing that I might experience a hostile environment. But unlike citizens of other nations, I also knew that my country would do whatever it took to keep me safe. My country valued me as a person, and as a citizen. My country values the message we carried as a delegation.  And that message, in no uncertain terms, comes from my president, who, on any number of occasions, has made it clear that the United States has no patience for discrimination—LGBT or otherwise.

My arrival in Sochi came just days after the Mayor of Sochi declared that there were no gays in the city. I guess when Brian Boitano and I got off the plane, Sochi was plus two gays. We understood the significance of being accessible to Russian media. We were interviewed on Russian television by Russian reporters who were very open and inquisitive about our delegation’s message. I am hopeful we reached both those suffering in silence and those with minds open to change.

I have reported my experiences in Sochi as being positive, was because they were. Despite my fierce disagreement with Russian policy, and the damage it continues to inflict, I will never fabricate stories to bolster the truth of my own beliefs. More importantly, my experiences were positive because I allowed them to be. I made a concerted effort to give everyone I met the opportunity to surprise me. I made myself vulnerable ,in hopes that my humanity might shine through.

And I never gave up on the belief that you can’t predict what is in people’s hearts.

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Dale Hansen

Just the other day, I was humbled by Dale Hansen, the longtime Dallas sportscaster who spoke out about Michael Sam. At first, I saw a thumbnail of an older white gentleman from Texas and held my breath as I clicked the link. Mr. Hansen put me and my preconceptions to shame. Quoting Audre Lorde he said, “It is not our differences that divide us, it is our inability to recognize, accept and celebrate those differences.”

I couldn’t agree more. To think, I feared the worst from this man when he was ready to accept and celebrate the differences between us.

Universal human rights isn’t a concept to be gleaned from a book and mastered forever. It is everyday work. It is honest work. It is courageous work. It is hopeful work. No nation has cornered the market on it. No single formula is the key. As Mr. Hansen said, “I don’t always feel comfortable when a man tells me he is gay. I don’t understand his world, but I do understand that he is part of mine.”

This achingly vulnerable sentiment feels very familiar, thinking back on my time in Russia.

We value freedom of speech in this country, but we sometimes forget the power of one-to-one conversations in reshaping the world. Looking to the history of my own nation—the hurt we have inflicted on one another, the obstacles we have overcome, and the forgiveness we have been able to find—I can see the power of individuals to combat even the most entrenched preconceptions. The heroes of our nation have rarely been on the side of power and influence. The greatest victories have come at the hands of the underdog.

So, no, I am not so naïve as to think that my respectful conversation with an Olympic volunteer in the parking lot will end discrimination in Russia tomorrow. But I will always choose to focus on the rays of light peeking through the darkness.  Hope isn’t a weakness. It isn’t ignorance, it’s not naiveté. It is the one thing capable of keeping dreams alive in the darkest hours.

And I will never apologize for being hopeful.

 
 

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