LGBTQ+ Russians face homophobic conditions every day, so ending up in a Russian jail as a publicly out person is a terrifying idea—and it’s exactly what WNBA star Brittney Griner is going through right now. As an American during tensions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and a Black woman as well, the situation is concerning.
“I love my wife wholeheartedly, so this message comes during one of the weakest moments of my life,” Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, posted on Instagram on Saturday. “Thank you to everyone who has reached out to me regarding my wife’s safe return from Russia. Your prayers and support are greatly appreciated.”
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Griner, 31, was arrested in February at the Sheremetyevo airport near Moscow for carrying vape cartridges containing cannabis oil. She is being held on drug charges that could carry a sentence of up to 10 years in prison, but the public has very little information about her trial or even the date she was arrested. Griner hasn’t posted to social media since February 5, but Russian customs did not release information about her arrest publicly until March 5.
Griner was traveling to Russia to play basketball for a Russian team, as she and many American players do in the off-season. She has played for UMMC Ekaterinburg since 2015.
Because of Russian-American political tension, the player’s arrest is not a simple individual incident. On Saturday, the U.S. Embassy and Consulates in Russia issued a statement warning all Americans to leave Russia immediately due to multiple reasons, including “arbitrary enforcement of local law” and “the potential for harassment against U.S. citizens by Russian government security officials.” As an American citizen being held by the Russian government, Griner has the potential to become a political pawn. Anti-LGBTQ+ Republican Senator John Hoeven told Fox News: “They better be very careful about how they treat any of our citizens over there.”
The WNBA says, “Brittney Griner has the WNBA’s full support and our main priority is her swift and safe return to the United States.” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, “Whenever an American is detained anywhere in the world, we of course stand ready to provide every possible assistance.”
While same-sex sexual activity has been legal in Russia since 1991, in 2013 laws against “propaganda” promoting “non-traditional sexual relationships” were passed. There are no laws against anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination or anti-LGBTQ+ hate crimes, there is no legal recognition of same-sex couples’ relationships, same-sex couples cannot adopt children, and conversion therapy is legal.
Griner’s wife and agent have asked the public for privacy and patience during this time. Meanwhile, the 2022 version of #FreeBrittney is making the rounds online.