We cannot allow ourselves to forget Brittney Griner as she sits in Russian penal colony | Opinion




Brittney Griner is in a hellhole at the IK-2 penal colony in Mordovia, located several hundred miles from Moscow. It's not an understatement to say she might be fighting for her life. There are many things to think when it comes to Griner, but one tops the list: We should not, under any circumstances, forget about her or the brutality she faces.

But I fear many of us are, indeed, forgetting about Griner. She's been in Russia for months and is serving a nine-year prison sentence for possession of a vape cartridge, and the infamously short American attention span is waning when it comes to her case. You can see it. You can feel it.

She is beginning to fade deeper into our memories. We can't let that happen. Especially now.

It is true that the more notoriety Griner has, the more power Russia possesses in this sick game of chess it's playing with her freedom and life. Yet it's also true that we shouldn't leave our people behind, and she's our people, in more ways than one.

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If the Russians or the anti-LGBTQ monsters can get us to forget Griner, get us to diminish her by stuffing one of the great athletes of our time into a pit and throwing away the key, they can keep blurring that line between empathy and indecency.

"She's very afraid about being left and forgotten in Russia or just completely used to the point of her detriment," Griner's wife, Cherelle, said during an interview last month with CBS' Gayle King. "Because she's saying things to me like, 'My life just don't even matter no more. I feel like my life doesn't matter. Like, y'all don't see me? Y'all don't see the need to get me back home? And just nothing?' "

That was October, and not only have her prison conditions worsened, but her situation has become more distant.

"I wish I could say I'm surprised by the lack of sympathy -- and outright anger -- directed at Brittney Griner," tweeted longtime sports journalist and author John Feinstein on Nov. 11. "She committed a minor crime and is in a Russian penal colony. But because she's not White or male or straight, lots of people don't care or are happy. Sad."

None of this is to say we should ignore the plight of other prisoners like American Paul Whelan, but Griner is a special case at a scary time in this country for LGBTQ people.

The LGBTQ community has been under attack for years now, but recently, the demonizing of that community has become particularly malignant. It has become so ugly it's led to murder.

It's become so ugly that even the United Nations has noticed.

In a press release from August, a UN expert said the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and gender diverse people are being deliberately undermined by state governments in this country.

"Despite five decades of progress, equality is not within reach, and often not even within sight, for all persons impacted by violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the United States," said Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the UN Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Griner, in many ways, is a sort of connective force between anti-LGBTQ forces in America and other parts of the world like Russia. As we battle authoritarianism here and abroad, forgetting about Griner strengthens the hand of people who traffic in hate.

Griner is at a penal colony not only known for its virulent anti-Americanism but also its hatred of the LGBTQ and Black communities. One Russian prison rights advocate said that Griner being "lesbian, American and Black" puts her in particular danger.

That hate-filled view starts at the top. Russian President Vladimir Putin as recently as September railed against the LGBTQ community.

Basketball star Brittney Griner
Basketball star Brittney Griner's appears in a Russian court via videolink during her appeals hearing.  

"Do we want children from elementary school to be imposed with things that lead to degradation and extinction? Do we want them to be taught that instead of men and women, there are supposedly some other genders and to be offered sex-change surgeries? This is unacceptable to us; we have a different future," Putin said.

"It's been part of his rhetoric and, more broadly, the rhetoric of the Kremlin and the Russian regime ... to explicitly connect geopolitics to gender politics and to the resistance to LGBT rights," said Emil Edenborg, associate professor of gender studies at Stockholm University.

Putin sees Griner as a pawn and also a message: This is what we do to LGBTQ people.

If we forget Griner, if we let her fade away, that message gains strength. Putin's power is using people's fear of the other for political gain; our power is not letting him do that.

Our power is greater than his. It's stronger than any missile system or army, stronger than hate, stronger than fear. Ours is the power of unity, and while it's cornball to say, it is absolutely true.

Don't forget that, and don't forget her.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Brittney Griner can't be forgotten as she sits in Russian penal colony

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