Formula One driver Romain Grosjean during the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix at the Circuit de Monaco. Stephane Mantey/Presse Sports via USA TODAY Sports
The sleeping bear that has been Russia’s interest in motorsport is waking up, and it’s probably not a good thing if you work in Formula One and you’re gay, gay friendly, or just believe that gay people shouldn’t be beaten within an inch of their lives. Despite increasing the @Lotus_F1Team following by ten-fold, the team’s marketing director Stephane Samson claimed he was fired by the team’s Russian investors after a tweet or two that was pro-gay and took a swipe at Russia’s anti-gay culture.
The Samson’s tweet has since been removed, but according to Jalopnik On June 15 he tweeted out “Just been told I was sacked because of my supporting tweet towards gay athletes at Sochi. Lotus=Putin. Please retweet. People must know.” A tweet posted June 16 cryptically apologized for posts being taken down.
In an era where companies comb their appearance on social media like a metrosexual boy before prom, the Lotus Twitter feed was actually interesting, before Samson was fired. Under Samson the twitter stream was irreverently funny, now, not so much. Now their twitter feed is filled with a bunch of pictures of their cars.
The tweet in question read “Ahead of the opening ceremony, we would like to wish all athletes a successful 2014 Olympic Winter Games #Sochi2014,” attached to a picture of two guys kissing.
Lotus took down the tweet in question, issued an apology and apparently fired Samson. Normally the hiring and firing of Formula One support personal isn’t something I follow, but when you put this in context with what’s going on the world from a GLBT perspective it’s disturbing. If you thought NASCAR was the most homophobic motorsport in the world you’re wrong, it’s Formula One.
Russia is a power on the rise in the motorsport world. Russian investors own a stake in Sauber F1 and is looking at buying into the Lotus F1 Team. SMP Racing, also known as “Russian Bears Motorsport” is supporting Mikhail Aleshin in the Verizon Indycar Series and has its hands in several other levels of racing. Nothing is wrong with Russia coming to play in international sport, but when lines begin to blur between sport and intolerance it’s wrong.
As a former writer for a GLBT newspaper I see a constant stream of horrifying news out of Russia. Most of it centers around young Russian men beating the crap out of gay kids. Very often these attackers will take pictures and post them on the internet without the slightest fear of legal action because Russia has a law where even telling someone that you’re gay can get you arrested. This is a policy that F-1 boss Bernie Ecclestone is completely okay with, telling CNN:
"He hasn’t said he doesn’t agree (with homosexuality) just that he doesn’t want these things publicized to an audience under the age of 18… I completely agree with those sentiments and if you took a world census you’d find 90% of the world agree with it as well"
While it’s illegal to say, “Maybe we shouldn’t beat up gay people,” it is totally legal to post pictures of you and your friends beating up gay kids. Here is just one story of a gay teen being tortured over the course of several hours while his attackers took selfies while they beat him. That’s just one story and there are thousands just like it. If you know how to use Russian social media there are probably millions of gay-beat-down-selfies out there.
Here’s twenty minutes of raw video showing Russian men harassing a gay teenager, which I’ve been told by a Russian friend that this is an incredibly mild example of what happens to gays in Russia right now. So, I’m not surprised that Russian investors reached out to silence someone who tweaked Russia for, ya’know, being rabidly homophobic. I’m all for international competition. I’m happy to see Russia starting to take their place in autosport, but no culture should use sport to impose their values on others.
For some reason straight people really care about the idea of gay athletes in sports like NASCAR or the NFL. I personally am at a loss to explain why straight guys are so interested in men who have sex with men, but they are. I don’t get, I don’t understand it, but straight guys are really concerned about men having consensual sex with other men. The story I wrote that asked if a gay man could survive in NASCAR has been the most popular article I’ve ever written for BTF, and continues to generate hits.
So, I have no idea why straight guys pay so much attention to who’s gay, but they do, they care a lot. I don’t know why someone loving someone of the same gender is so interesting to straight guys, but is, and I’m tired of it. Weirdly no one seems to object to lesbians as much.
Obviously Lotus’ actions will have a chilling effect on any gay driver, or crew, who would like to race in Formula One. As Russia’s homophobic grasp widens there will be fewer teams willing to take on a gay driver, even one who brings money. Renault and Sauber are dependent on Russian funding. Marussia is Russian owned. India criminalizes gay people to the point where sodomy can result in a lifetime in jail, so I have a hard time believing that Vijay Mallya could hire an openly gay driver for Force India, even if he wanted to. Caterham F1 is owned by Tony Fernandez, who would probably face a public backlash in his home country of Malayasia, where again, homosexuality is a crime. Five of the 19 stops on the Formula One schedule have laws that prohibit gay sex, the male kind, not so much the lesbian kind.
I do have to say the blame isn’t entirely Russia’s fault. Last year F-1 legend Sir Stirling Moss was horrified at the idea of a “Poofter,” portraying him an a movie.
Samson’s firing isn’t groundbreaking in of its self, but it does bring one of Formula One’s seedy underbellies to light. Basically what’s acceptable in Monoco isn’t tolerated at a number of other stops on the circuit, and as Russia’s financial influence continues to grow. In racing money is speed, but it’s also power, Russians control three teams, it’s likely their cultural predilections will likely gain more sway in the F-1 paddock.