Out Speed Skater Blake Skjellerup Plans On Wearing Rainbow Pin To Olympic Games In Sochi

Blake Skjellerup
Openly gay New Zealand speed skater Blake Skjellerup has already made his feelings known on Russia and the anti-gay laws it recently passed. According to the International Olympic Committee, athletes competing at the games have nothing to worry about. Whether or not that will actually be true remains to be seen, especially now that Skjellerup plans on wearing a rainbow pin to the games, according to Canada's Daily Xtra

In light of recent human rights atrocities taking place both in Sochi and throughout Russia, many LGBT and human rights activists are calling for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games taking place in Sochi. Athletes like Skjellerup and figure skater Johnny Weir disagree. The speed skater told Daily Xtra that, "I think visibility is the best possible solution, as opposed to hiding away and not attending." He went on to explain…

“For me it’s less about taking a stand and more about just being myself…I have no interest in going back into the closet in Sochi…This is not about defiance. This is me standing up for what I believe in.”

Nevertheless, his small statement would almost certainly be in violation of Russia's anti-gay "propaganda" law, which prohibits:

“Spreading information in order to form non-traditional sexual desires in children, describing such relations as attractive, promoting the distorted understanding of social equality of traditional and non-traditional relations and also unwanted solicitation of information that could provoke interest to such relations." 

Sochi olympicsTowleroad readers will remember that this law applies to foreigners as well, and that it was recently used as grounds for the arrest of four Dutch LGBT activists. Thus, should Skjellerup decide to make good on his promise, he would certainly be placing a great deal of faith in the IOC. As was noted by Daily Xtra, the Canadian government's travel advisory warns travellers to Russia to “exercise a high degree of caution.” 

RUSA LGBT, a Russian LGBT group based in New York, has expressed support for Skjellerup and his idea, and are even taking it upon themselves to manufacture rainbow pins for even more athletes travelling to Sochi. Yelena Goltsman, the group's founder and co-president, encouraged tourists to boycott the region. However…

"It’s not fair to ask athletes not to go. It’s not their fault. But maybe they can make a statement, and that can come from many counties.”

Goltsman also encouraged LGBT advocates to boycott major sponsors of the Olympics, including "Coca-Cola, Omega Watches, VISA, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Procter & Gamble, Samsung, McDonalds and Panasonic."

Is Skjellerup's idea worth pursuing? Or is boycotting still the best course of action? Will the rainbow pins pose a risk to any athletes who might choose to wear them? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


  1. Gus says

    Wearing the pin outside of the Olympic Village could get you in trouble. Inside the Village it will not be that big of a deal…unless your country’s committee bans any additions to your ‘uniform’

  2. Louis says

    This is clearly more of an opportunity to show support. The pressure should not be on countries to boycott, it should be on advertisers, athletes, and spectators/tourists to now, more than ever, show your support for the LGBT people of Russia.

  3. David From Canada says

    Russia is beginning to implode so badly with its own stupidity and immorality that I’m not sure if it will even survive until the 2014 Winter Olympics.
    But kudos to Blake and his rainbow pin!

  4. Nemo says

    I like the idea of the athletes going & showing support, and the spectators staying home. The athletes bring little money to the host nation, but the visitors do.

    If they athletes that support us skip they will just be replaced by homophobes & that will be what people see on TV around the world. But if our supports go and show support that is what the world will see. Defiance in the face of oppression. If the Russians behave badly towards the athletes it will only cause more backlash for them.

    So, I support the Athletes going & showing support & I support spectators boycotting the games. That will make news & highlight the issue more than anything!

  5. Doug says

    I’m not completely sold on the idea of boycotting, but I do like the idea of wearing a rainbow flag pin to show support of gay issues. What these athletes should be doing is to encourage all their teammates—both gay and straight—to wear flags, especially outside the Olympic village. Stick it in Putin’s eye and see what happens. He can’t throw all the athletes in jail. Then he’d really have an international incident.

  6. David says

    If 1000 or 2000 athletes show up at the opening ceremonies with rainbow pins and flags, who is going to arrest all of them? Let’s go, boys and girls, it’s time to get organized!

  7. Caliban says

    At first I was torn boycott and protest. One of the greatest moments in sports history was Jesse Owens winning multiple medals at the 1936 Olympics in Germany, beating Hitler’s perfect “Aryans.” Gay athletes and allies identifying themselves as such and wearing insignia (it would be cool if that button or patch was uniform and easily identifiable) and competing, FORCING the media to comment on it might be very effective.

    But in light of Russia’s (big surprise) widespread corruption, abuse of foreign workers, and escalating oppression and abuse of LGBT people I really think it’s time to say, “You know what? Go fvck yourself, Russia. We’re sitting this one out.”

    It was a mistake to have chosen this backward sh!thole as the venue in the first place.

  8. gus says

    @ Vint

    I think they should integrate their Peacock logo with the colors of the rainbow flag (which it looks like already)& keep the colors loud & bright! 😉

  9. excy says

    The government of Canada has issued a travel advisory : July 26, 2013: The Laws and Culture tab was updated – LGBT travellers.

    Although homosexual activity is not illegal in Russia, a federal law has been passed that prohibits public actions that are described as promoting homosexuality and “non-traditional sexual relations”. This law could render any homosexual and pro-homosexual statements punishable. Public actions (including dissemination of information, statements, displays or conspicuous behaviour) that contravene or appear to contravene this law may lead to arrest, the imposition of a fine and deportation.

    Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender travellers, as well as their friends and families, have been targets of harassment and violence.

  10. Alex Parrish says

    I’d like to see as many rainbow pins and badges on athletes as possible, and not just athletes from New Zealand and the US; athletes from international teams — gay and straight — anyone supportive of LGBT rights. Whole teams (or at least all who are supportive) in and out of the village. It should be an international campaign and rainbow badges should be worn 24/7.

  11. Mark Twain says

    Athletes should go
    Athletes and officials and commentators should express support to LGBT and human rights in Putins face, in russian language on russian medias, on Youtube etc
    People should stay home – dont go to Sotchi, it’s a hole anyway.
    People should boycott advertisers and sponsors and make it known to them
    People should shame IOC for selling games to regressive countries and their dictators

  12. Dan Mc says

    Hit them where it will hurt the most. The U.S. and Russia are in the same group for ice hockey and every Russian will tune in to watch that game. The U.S. team should wear rainbow jerseys for that game.

  13. Rich F. says

    @ Dan MC: That’s actually a good idea… any interest in starting a petition to have USA Hockey put rainbow patches on all of the Team USA sweaters? Perhaps Team Canada, too? So many of the players on the two teams are in the NHL, and the league is really pushing the “You Can Play” Foundation.

  14. MateoM says

    Null, so your answer is both that you’re a troll and that there’s something wrong with you? Because that’s one of the craziest things I’ve ever read on this site. All athletics incite homophobia? Gay athletes are traitors? That’s an absurd perspective. Get lost. You contribute nothing to this comment section except nonsense.

  15. dw says

    Reality: NBC nor the various Olympic orgs are EVER going to allow a boycott of an Olympics again for ANY reason. The economics are hugely different today from in 1980, by a factor of 20, roughly.

    If individual athletes boycott it’ll have ZERO media impact.
    However, if LGBT athletes attend and speak out publicly against Russia’s policies and violence against us, THAT could have tremendous impact. (Even wearing a rainbow flag pin could generate media coverage and put the Russians in an awkward position).

  16. rodger says

    One thing that we learned on the path to marriage equality is that visibility matters. The more visibly out or supportive folks who are at the games, the better.

    Outside of the Olympic games, I’d like to see cities in the US and other countries start shunning the Russians by pulling out of sister city relationships. Wikipedia shows that 14 California cities have Russian sister cities. Seems a place like Berkeley would be ripe to give up its two Russian sisters.

  17. lukebrux says

    Boycott, press the sponsor to withdraw, a little pin almost invisible to the cameras won’t make Russia change, the only language they know is money, so strike there.

  18. NullNaught says

    You never see riots after someone proves something mathematically; say Fermat’s last theorem. You see riots after sporting events. Do you really deny that sports incite violence? Name a team sport where it is safe for the gay athletes to be out?
    Inciting homophobia is a traitorous action. Gay athletes are therefor traitors.
    I don’t suppose you have anything but ad hominem? Otherwise, I might ask what YOU are contributing?

  19. Ken says

    The question to ask is will a boycott actually work to change anything? The answer is no, the 1980 boycott did nothing to change Russian policy. The best course of action is to go to the Olympics and try to use them as a platform to speak out against what is happening in Russia.

  20. anon says

    Unfortunately, the number of political issues that could have various forms of protest at the Olympics is quite vast. Gay rights are not the only issues in the world right now, and if everyone protested the games would devolve into a mess. The IOC and NBC also don’t want to be shown to support various political agendas and will do everything to suppress such protests. Essentially, the choice is down to the individual athletes on whether or not they will participate in the games.

  21. Randy says

    “Is Skjellerup’s idea worth pursuing? Or is boycotting still the best course of action? ”

    This is not an either/or choice. Some should boycott. Some should go, out and proudly.

  22. ripper says

    “as empowering as it was to have Jesse Owens win that medal…the Holocaust still happened…”

    And had Jesse Owens and the U.S. team boycotted the Berlin Olympics… the Holocaust still would have happened.

    Which action achieved more?

  23. Nirgal says

    While I understand Johnny Weir’s position about not letting go what might be the biggest chance in your life, I think Blake is being way more human and courageous with this attitude. Kudos to him.

  24. gomez says

    @nullnaught. you are seriously cracked with your anti-athletic/sports “gay athletes are traitors” shpiel.

    i’m sorry you were apparently bullied in school, get help for that.

  25. andrew says

    The USA is not and should not boycott the 2014 Olympic Games. We did that in 1980 and the only thing it accomplished was to punish our own first class athletes who had been preparing for years. Find other ways to focus on Czar Putan and Russia’s abysmal record on Human Rights.

  26. proud pflag person says

    I applaud Blake’s plan of action. Rather than a boycott, how about if EVERY single person who attends; athletes, coaches, media, tourists
    …ALL wear a rainbow pin. Putin doesn’t have enough jail cells for the hundreds of thousands who may attend. If someone wants to market these pins and send the donations for them to a worthy cause which supports all human rights everywhere it could be a powerful opportunity. No one has to say a word – just wear the pin whether you’re LGBT, Heterosexual, Asexual, undecided or ?. Just wear a pin. Sometimes a silent message speaks the loudest.

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