WNBA All-Star Brittney Griner was arrested a week before Russia invadedUkraine. On February 17, the Russian Federal Customs Service detained Griner at Sheremetyevo International Airport for allegedlytransporting cannabis-derived vape cartridges in her luggage, and was charged with drug smuggling. Griner said she had no recollection ofpacking the cartridges and told the judge, “I made an honest mistake, and I hope that in your ruling that it doesn’t end mylife here.” As a strategy, Grinner pleaded guilty to the charges to expedite her trial, hoping it would open dialogue about apossible prisoner exchange and it’d be her get-out-of-jail card. Also, a guilty plea might gift Griner a lesser sentence andavoid retribution from prison guards while detained. Griner’s attorneys have filed an appeal for her nine-year sentence as sheserves time in a “gulag-like labor camp.” Tragically, Brittany has become a geopolitical pawn for both Russia and the U.S.,highlighting Putin’s ruthlessness and America’s hypocrisy. And, her problems are compounded by being a Black lesbian.

Why is Brittany in Russia? Many have questioned why Griner was in Russiain the first place. But the answer is simple: U.S.’s persistent and systemic gender pay gap affects women in every profession. Grinerbeing in a Russian prison is a direct consequence of the gender-pay disparity, even in professional sports.

Since 2016, Griner has played for the Russian oligarch-funded UMMCEkaterinburg team. The gender salary gap between the WNBA and NBA players is insulting, forcing female players to compete overseasduring the offseason to play in Europe, earning them four to five times their U.S. salaries.

The revenue disparity highlights the following: the lack of money pouredinto women’s basketball, unlike in Russia and other European countries, and female players’ dependence on supplemental workrather than compensating these professional athletes appropriately.

Geopolitical pawn

Griner is no stranger to Russian basketball enthusiasts. But the deafeningsilence from the UMMC Ekaterinburg team is hypocritically revealing on many fronts. And Griner’s intersectional identities placeGriner in the wrong place at the right time during Putin’s war against Ukraine.

Griner being an out lesbian is no secret here or in Russia. Russia’snotoriously anti-LGBTQ+ laws and attitudes are no secret, too. The UMMC, however, has been able to insulate and protect its queerplayers. And, the UMMC has not stepped up on Griner’s behalf. Some critics contest that Russia’s anti-queer propaganda lawsare now being used to weaponize and harass LGBTQ+ people, activists, and organizations to deflect attention from the war. Other critics ofthe UMMC’s silence state Griner’s utility to the team expired the day she was arrested.

However, where’s the LGBTQ+ support for Griner in the states? Many inthe LGBTQ+ black community have expressed dismay at the deafening silence from the larger white LGBTQ+ community. Some wonder ifprofessional soccer player Megan Rapinoe were in a Russian prison, would there be a louder outcry and more robust activism from whitequeers and organizations. The ongoing effort, however, to bring Griner home has mainly come from African American women. Anintersectional and intergenerational group of 1,200 prominent Black women have asked in a letter to Biden and Vice president KamalaHarris to “make a deal” to bring Brittney Griner home.

LGBTQ+ people in the U.S. and Russia are marginalized differently. WhileAmericans can look at Russia’s draconian laws and attitudes toward its LGBTQ+ citizens, America isn’t looking so good thesedays. Along with Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay Law” passed this year, anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination in the U.S. has taken ahard-right political turn since Trump. With Roe v Wade overturned this year, many of us are worried about what will happen to the goalsof reproductive justice, marriage equality, our right to same-gender intimacy, and the fight to combat over 300 anti-LGBTQ+ legislationbills in 28 states this year alone.

Russia likes to exploit tensions of race and racism in America, especiallywhen it can expose America’s hypocrisy as a paragon of democracy on the world stage. It’s clear that Brittany iswrongly detained in Russia. However, regarding the number of wrongful convictions, the U.S. leads all nations. The U.S. incarcerates Blackand brown people at five times the rate of whites. Over 2400 people have been exonerated in the United States since 1989.

Who wins the get-out-of-jail card?

Rev. Al Sharpton has asked Biden to arrange for him and a group of faithleaders to meet with Grinner. Former NBA player Dennis Rodman said he was going to get her. Their hopes have not panned out. Griner,however, is not the only American who’s run afoul of Russia’s strict drug laws. Last year, Maryland teacher Marc Vogel, 60, wassentenced to 14 years for entering with medical marijuana to treat chronic pain. In 2018, former Marine Paul Whelan, 52, was sentencedto 16 years on suspicion of spying, and there are others. Is Brittany a good political bargaining chip? Biden needs the black vote forre-election and must uphold his promise to black America. But what will it do for our fraught race relations here?

Moreover, a prisoner swap might encourage more hostage-taking. No trade, Grinermight languish in a Russian prison. Griner’s imprisonment has highlighted Russia’s and America’s ongoing powerstruggle. Also, her marginalized intersectional identities in America - race, class, gender, and sexuality - have highlighted the reasonwhy she’s over there in the first place.

BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member and Columnist, The Reverend Monroe is an ordained minister, motivational speaker and she speaks for a sector of society that is frequently invisible. Rev. Monroe does a weekly Monday segment, “All Revved Up!” on WGBH (89.7 FM), on Boston Public Radio and a weekly Friday segment “The Take” on New England Channel NEWS (NECN). She’s a Huffington Post blogger and a syndicated religion columnist. Her columns appear in cities across the country and in the U.K, and Canada. Also she writes a column in the Boston home LGBTQ newspaper Baywindows and Cambridge Chronicle. A native of Brooklyn, NY, Rev. Monroe graduated from Wellesley College and Union Theological Seminary at Columbia University, and served as a pastor at an African-American church in New Jersey before coming to Harvard Divinity School to do her doctorate. She has received the Harvard University Certificate of Distinction in Teaching several times while being the head teaching fellow of the Rev. Peter Gomes, the Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church at Harvard who is the author of the best seller, THE GOOD BOOK. She appears in the film For the Bible Tells Me So and was profiled in the Gay Pride episode of In the Life, an Emmy-nominated segment. Monroe’s coming out story is profiled in “CRISIS: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social, and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing up Gay in America" and in "Youth in Crisis." In 1997 Boston Magazine cited her as one of Boston's 50 Most Intriguing Women, and was profiled twice in the Boston Globe, In the Living Arts and The Spiritual Life sections for her LGBT activism. Her papers are at the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe College's research library on the history of women in America. Her website is irenemonroe.com. Contact the Rev. Monroe and BC.

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