Rachael Orey, GSA President
In light of the mounting gay rights controversy revolving around the Sochi Olympics, the Highland Fling decided to have a word with none other than Rachel Orey, student president of Helix Charter High School’s Gay-Straight Alliance, which works to make the school a better place for all kinds of students. Here’s what she had to say about the issue.
Fling: How much have you heard about the anti-gay laws controversy in Russia?
Orey: I’ve heard a lot from foundations, such as the Born This Way Foundation. The anti gay movements that are happening in Russia have also been in social media a lot.
Fling: You know a lot of people are protesting?
Orey: Yeah, it’s definitely brought up some controversies within our country and within the world, except, we fail to realize the problems we face in the United States, because we think we’re so much better…even though in reality we definitely have our fair share of issues related to gay rights, maybe less, but they’re definitely still here.
Fling: People have protested in a lot of different ways, but what do you think the appropriate course of protest would be, considering it was the Russian government that passed the law?
Orey: Do you mean protesting of the Russian anti-gay law? … I feel like it’s not just Russia; in order to face the problem correctly, we need to face the problem as a whole, because in just facing Russia, we’re only solving part of the problem. We’re solving the part of the problem related to government, because government is, technically, supposed to be a response to what the people want. If we all just do simple things, such as being more accepting…that, in and of itself, is a protest of the laws that the Russian government is holding against gays.
Then we can take our problems and protest to our government, who can further act upon it in helping to solve it. If each person was more accepting, I feel like the whole world would move towards a greater equality, which would in turn be the best way to solve those problems.
Fling: If you were gay, would you feel safe going to the Sochi Olympics, either to watch or as an athlete? Would you even feel safe going there, even if it was just for the Olympics?
Orey: I wouldn’t feel safe going to Russia at all. I don’t feel safe going to a country like that. Even though we are hearing about all the protests, the country still has a record of just attacking people for being who they are. I probably would go, just to protest it; I feel like if people go, that is standing up for something, but no, I wouldn’t feel safe going.
Fling: What do you think the oppressed Russian LGBT community should do in their situation, where it’s very unlikely that Russian society will just stop being homophobic and be more accepting of them?
Orey: Well, as we’ve seen throughout the twentieth century, like in 1900s United States, they were, like, completely homophobic. 50 years ago, we were where they [the Russians] are now, and what the people of the American LGBT community did was they came together, and they created a movement from that; if any individual tries to stand up for something, the Russian government will shut them down. In order for them to make a movement, it has to be done as a group, because if they do it as a group they will have strength, but individually, it definitely wouldn’t work.
Also, not denying themselves, because if they try to conform, it will only lead to their unhappiness, and it will only be part of the problem. But if they stand up for themselves…I think that’s part of the solution.
Fling: If the US government theoretically passed a national anti-gay law, like the one in Russia, how do you think the American people would respond to it?
Orey: I don’t think the American people would let it happen. We have come a long way to where, in denying gay people their rights, we’d also be denying our own rights. Part of what we view ourselves as Americans is free, and even for straight people, it’s not fair to them. I feel like we appreciate being able to say that we live in a country where people are so liberal…in our country I don’t think we’d let it happen. If it got passed, it would definitely be protested more vehemently than how we’re protesting in Russia. It would be crazy.
Fling: Do you think the Russian government will at all stop with their backwards laws due to all the protests, or do you think they’re just going to keep on going with their “master plans” to standardize society?
Orey: I…don’t think they [the Russian government] can. Maybe for the next twenty years or so, they might be able to. In the short term, I don’t know how much they’re going to do. They are stuck in this belief where they are the complete power over society; I don’t think Russia can stay that behind. I think within the next 50 years their government won’t have that much power, because either the US will step in, or people within their country are going to start standing up, so no…I think the Russian government is going to try to keep denying people their rights, but I don’t think it’s going to work.
Fling: What could a regular student do to help the gay rights cause in Russia, or anywhere? What could ANYBODY, anywhere, do?
Orey: Like I said earlier, it’s definitely the problem at large, which is what we need to be facing. In order for the world to make it less of an issue, to make the LGBT community feel more accepted, we need to change simple things: like the language we use, like “that’s so gay.” If you hear someone say it, using it as a derogatory term, stand up to it. Do little things to show that they are viewed equally.
If you’re at Helix, you could come to GSA meetings to show your support (held Thursdays at Lunch in Room 1630), and if you come, it shows the LGBT community there are people there for them. Little things you change about the way you view society, the way you view people; if you simply adapted an equal mindset, I feel like that’s how things will get better, is if you change how you view the world.
Fling: Final thing: do you have any words of encouragement for the Russian LGBT community, or any gays who feel like they’re being oppressed in the same manner?
Orey: It definitely does get better. Right now it may seem really hard, and it truly is…but it really does get better. From people I’ve known who have come out, it doesn’t stay hard for long. Denying who you are as a person is going to feel a lot worse than having a few people who don’t like you or don’t appreciate you. If you appreciate yourself, that’s where the true happiness is going to come from.
Reaching out to the people who you feel are close to you is going to be where you can finally feel secure with yourself. If you accept yourself, then so many good things are going to come along with it. Just work towards accepting yourself and reaching out to others to make them feel better as well.