I was in Brooklyn Banya with Menachem and friends. We were going back and forth between the wet and dry saunas, between the steam room, and the jacuzzi. We were resting in between sweat sessions, Menachem and everyone was sitting at table, dipping chunks of bread in hummus, in avocado dip. I was in the jacuzzi alone.
You could relax and stare into space, which I did. But there was also a television showing MTV. ("MTV still exists?" someone asked. Clearly we all watch our videos on YouTube.) I don't find television particularly relaxing, but I found myself drawn to this video. They were playing a song that I had heard before and liked, "Take Me to Church." I never knew much about the song or Hozier or anything. But the video drew me in. It horrified me and I couldn't stop watching.
I researched it. They made the video when all the homophobic laws were being passed in Russia. It gave me chills and I was almost crying. Here I was, in a Russian banya, unable to stop staring at the homophobia I was witnessing. In some ways, I grew up in a bubble being from New York - I have never seen things like this. My dad likes to say, "People are different outside New York." I know this kind of horrifying violence can happen in New York, but Russia. Matthew Shepard. So many other things.
I'm glad through my job I can do things like educate people about LGBT issues and sexism and diversity, and I think that's so valuable. But the fact that bullshit like this exists today around the world, where there are countries where same sex acts are punishable by death, where hate crimes go unpunished even in our own country - it's enough to make me cry.
At the banya, I watched the video. A lump in my throat. I got out of the jacuzzi, where I had been sitting alone, and sat back down with my friends. I was doing nothing, and that's not a good thing. We always need to speak up. I spoke up to the homophobic assholes in my high school who threatened me senior year after learning my prom date (aka my best friend) was gay. I've spoken up to many people over the years who think using the term "gay" as a substitute for the word "stupid" is okay. I've challenged people in other countries, got into arguments, and cursing fights.
We all need to speak up about these things. It's never okay, and we need to keep fighting until people can be who they are without others thinking it's okay to punish them for what they don't want them to be.