For the last seven years, WNBA star Brittney Griner has played in women’s professional basketball leagues in Russia.

And then the unimaginable happened.

Russian authorities arrested her on Feb. 17, 2022, at the Moscow airport after they allegedly found vape cartridges containing oil derived from cannabis in her luggage. She has been locked up ever since.

After three months – amid Russia’s ongoing assault on Ukraine – the Biden Administration finally said Griner had been “wrongfully detained.”

As Rokeshia Ashley, a scholar of Black women’s bodies, points out, one of the primary concerns for Griner is whether her identity as a gay Black woman makes her a good or bad pawn in prisoner exchanges at a time of deteriorating relations between the U.S. and Russia.

“Historically and even now,” Ashley writes, “Black women have been represented as less than normal by white feminine standards, making the value of Black gay women even less.”

Trevor Reed, a white former Marine, was finally released from Russian detention after serving three years on charges stemming from an alleged fight with a Russian police officer. Another American, Paul Whelan, who is white, remains in Russian detention after more than two years since his 2020 conviction on espionage charges.

The question now is how hard the Biden Administration will fight to secure the release of a high-profile gay Black woman.

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  • Howard Manly

    Race + Equity Editor

    Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner before a WNBA game in 2015. Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    After initial silence, the Biden administration is making moves to free WNBA star Brittney Griner from Russian detention

    Rokeshia Renné Ashley, Florida International University

    At 6 feet, 8 inches tall, Brittney Griner has become an international basketball star. She is now locked up in a Russian prison after what US officials describe as “wrongfully detained.”

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