Obama Sends Gay Athletes in Presidential Delegation to Sochi Olympics

President Obama will not attend the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, but he is sending some openly gay athletes in what's being seen as a message to that nation about diversity and acceptance in the face of Russia's laws banning 'gay propaganda'.

KingLesbian tennis legend Billie Jean King will attend the opening ceremonies in a delegation led by former Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano. Michael A. McFaul, United States Ambassador to the Russian Federation, Robert L. Nabors, Assistant to the President and Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy, and figure skater Brian Boitano will join them.

Out lesbian Caitlin Cahow, Olympic silver medalist and bronze medalist in women’s ice hockey will join the delegation for the closing ceremonies, led by William J. Burns, Deputy Secretary of State. Joining them are Michael A. McFaul, United States Ambassador to the Russian Federation, Bonnie Blair, five-time Olympic gold medalist and one-time bronze medalist in speed skating, and Eric Heiden, five-time Olympic gold medalist in speed skating.

Neither First Lady Michelle Obama nor VP Joe Biden will attend.

Said Catow to USA Today:

"It's obviously a statement that's being made, but I think it's an incredibly respectful one. Basically, the White House is highlighting Americans who know what it means to have freedoms and liberties under the constitution. That's really what we're representing in Sochi and it's not at all different from what's espoused in the spirit of Olympism. So I think it's just a great group of people. I can't believe I've been named one of them because it's a remarkable roster and I just think that we're going to represent what the best America can be. Hopefully, it will unify all of Team USA and send a message of love and acceptance to the world."

The AP adds:

The decision follows a public campaign by gay rights groups to urge the White House to include gays, lesbians and their supporters in the delegation in hopes of drawing attention to Russia's national laws banning "gay propaganda." Those laws and the broader issue of discrimination against the LGBT community in Russia have become a flash point as the world looks to next year's Olympic Games in Sochi.

The Human Rights Campaign, one of the groups that wrote the White House last month asking Obama to include gays and lesbians in the delegation, applauded the unveiling of the delegation Tuesday.

Comments

  1. says

    Unimpressed ..sorry. In fact disgusted. USA should not be supporting the SOCHI games at all. There should be no delegation. Our athletes should refuse to go. THIS IS not a stand . Boycotting sports contributed to the fall of apartheid. But I guess we as Americans find it easy to participate in SOCHI because we do not care about full equality for Lgbt Americans …yet.. right? .. Self marginalizing reigns as we as a community and movement have yet to set the benchmark in THE USA… so yea let’s support institutionalization of homophobia. That’s about right isn’t it…

  2. BreckRoy says

    @Nathan. China is one of the most notorious abusers of human rights in modern history. England was at the forefront of drone strikes that killed hundreds of Afghan children, as well as and wireless wiretapping (right alongside the US as our staunchest partner). Brazil has a surprisingly high rate of police violence, documented torture and summary execution of the very poor in favelas, and worker exploitation (far higher numbers of poor are tortured and executed by police than Russian gay citizens each year) anf various laws have existed, if not against gays then women or other minorities, in various host countries. Not saying any of this is acceptable, but what is the cut off for when the world should boycott? Are Russia’s gays more important than Afghan children or Brazil’s poor? And what happens to the Olympics when they can pretty much only be held in Canada every two years (a country must be able to meet the highest of global human rights standards AND afford to host the games, yes?). The games transcend their hosts in a way, but also in many ways bring spotlights on their hosts’ failings–would the world be talking about Russia’s anti-gay positions at the level and to the extent they are without the Olympic glare? There is no one good answer and the IOC typically avoids the Muslim world with their strict enforced views and authoritarian dictatorships…today’s Russia would never have won the Olympics but what is done is done. But if every Olympics must be boycotted by every country who disagrees with any of their human rights actions, the Olympics would quickly cease to exist as would the global spotlight it brings and I don’t accept that.

  3. Rafael says

    Sending gay delegates is a good start. But I wish they would articulate their message to the Russian people. Despite failed leadership from the Putin administration and from the IOC, the Games provide an opportunity for people and athletes to come together and get past this institutionalized prejudice which sole intent is to divide them and keep them apart.

  4. Mike Ryan says

    Sending gay athlete means nothing. The Russian press is not going to mention any of these people as being gay. We will know they are gay but no one in Russia will know, unless they know privately.

    Obama is making (another) mistake by not boycotting the Sochi Olympics completely. We are handing Russian more than 300 billion dollars and they are laughing in our faces as they burn down gay clubs, beat gay people to death, destroy the lives of those teachers they perceive to be gay. It is disgusting. Of course Obama et al will not go but they will do little to nothing to save the lives of gay Russian citizens.

    If you are one of those people who say “it’s okay that we attend… it’s our duty to attend… we are depriving our own athletes of the honor… then I say bullpucky. If we can’t get together as nations and do so with equality then we shouldn’t be getting together at all.

  5. WW says

    Has Brian Boitano come out?

    In a May 2013 interview with CNBC, he still says, ”I don’t discuss my private side.”

    If Boitano, 50, is gay, he’s been put to shame by LGBT teen athletes who ARE out.

  6. daws says

    That’s the making of a good action movie: gay olympic delegation goes to homophobic russia only to be captured and imprisoned. They manage to escape using their unique skills. Boitano, for example, is cornered by a group of guards and does a triple lutz over them to safety.

  7. bandanajack says

    it would be especially nice, if brian boitano, an absolutely beautiful skater in his day, who, the last i had heard, was hosting a cooking and lifestyle cable tv show,were to finally come out, even if incidentally, a la jodi foster and victor garber and that ilk. his privacy has been respected long enough.

  8. FFS says

    @PALTO: But that accomplishes nothing except giving the US something to pat ourselves on the back over.

    In terms of affecting change, gay delegates accomplishes less than squat. The Putin regime view of LGBT Russians is that they’re so much trash to be incinerated. What makes you think they’ll hold American LGBTs in any higher regard.

    And these are people who hold no name recognition for the majority of Russia’s citizenry. Do you think they’ll be mentioned (if they’re mentioned at all) in the state controlled media, over there, as “openly gay [such and such]?” Think again.

  9. 604Brian says

    The Russians may not get to know most of these out delegates, but they will know Obama chose not to come, and they may ask why.
    And the rest of the world may get to know why, and be more informed about the way that Russia is treating their own people.

  10. FFS says

    If they were to ask that question, Brian, the answer would be, “It isn’t customary for the American President to travel abroad just to attend the Olympic games.”

    That’s less of a statement as it is just business as usual.

  11. andrew says

    @Mike Ryan: You would do well to listen to Shawn Gaylord and other LGBT leaders in the U.S., who are in touch with actual Russian LGBT leaders and taking there cues from them, as to the proper responses to Czar Putin’s tyranny. Gaylord and other American LGBT leaders have also been in contact with the White House and giving their advice to the President’s people as to the proper responses. Surely there are many proper ways to respond to Russian Anti-LGBT laws. The French and German Presidents and others have chosen not to go. That’s great. Our President, Vice President and First Lady have chosen not to go and to send a delegation made up of famous out and proud gay athletes or former athletes to the Olympics. I think the In Your Face showing that the USA respects LGBT people is also great.

  12. NY2.0 says

    This response is absolutely fantastic, send a delegation comprising of gay achievers in place of government officials. These gay athletes will be sitting where high level US government official are suppose to be seated. A middle finger to Putin!

  13. oncemorewithfeeling says

    For heaven’s sake, there’s actually people here who are debating whether Napolitano or Boitano are “out”? Or “if” they’re gay? Do you really have no idea how ridiculous that sounds?

    Grow up, be an adult, and stop pretending you don’t know what you know. It’s the 21st Century, so stop playing this childish “out” game. They’re gay, you know it, they know it, everyone knows it. The end.

  14. MaryM says

    How do King and Boitano and Napolitano etc plan to show their open disgust at the fascist persecution of Russian gays by the Putin dictatorship.

    The situation in Russia is beyond the point where their presence there will suffice (that appalling quislinh Uncle Tom Roberts proved that when he went to Russia for his personal financial benefit and insulted anyone with a brain by making the ludicrous claim that his physically being in Russia was activism).

    I want King to confim how she plans to protest.

    Silence = Death.

    If King remains silent then she deserves utter contempt and condemnation for collaboration with the Putin regime.

  15. MaryM says

    Why thank you Crispy.

    Are you one of those pathetic ‘mos who believe that a gay American who will be invisible as such to every single Russian person is an effective way of protesting.

    Uncle Tom Roberts disgraced himself with his quisling behaviour in Russia.

    Billie Jean King needs to realise that unless she blatantly opposes this law then she is collaborating with fascism.

    It really is that simple.

    Obama doesn’t have the bottle to condemn these laws (his corporate bosses forbid him from doing this) so he engages in PR games by sending some gay athletes.

    Fine.

    But if they think their presence in fascist Russia is activism then they need a rude awakening.

    At the current time King is no better than appalling traitors Johnny Weir and Uncle Tom Roberts.

  16. MaryM says

    Obama has really let the LGBT community down here.

    This is a meaningless PR stunt designed to placate the US LGBT community and has absolutely no consequence for the situation in Russia.

    I want to hear an unequivocal condemnation of Russian fascism from Obama and the financial consequences the dictatorship will face if these fascist laws are not overturned.

    We all know that’s not going to happen as our human rights are so much less important than money is to Obama and his corporate masters.

  17. crispy says

    Mary, sweetie, I know your feeble brain lacks the basic motor functions to comprehend anything approaching simple logic, but the point of sending a gay delegation in place of Obama to the Sochi Olympics isn’t to reach the Russian people. The purpose is to send a message to Russian lawmakers. And you’d have to be stupider than most of us here believe you to be if you don’t think that Putin and his cronies won’t get the message loud and clear.

    But do continue rolling around on the floor beating your hands and feet against the ground and squealing like a 6-year-old girl who’s just had her dolly taken away. It’s endlessly amusing to the mature among us.

  18. robroy says

    How can we in the US do something ‘of consequence’ to Russia? Lob a couple of nukes at them???

    And lets get real- not a single one of us tapping away in the comments section of a niche website has room to cast an ounce of shade on Billie Jean King. She has taken more heat/more hatred/more financial consequences for advocating for gays/women/minorities than anyone on hear. The idea that she is a sellout or setting us back is effing absurd.

    And the idea of a boycott would simply be a twist on the gays disappearing because Russia wants them to. Tell me who made a bigger impact- Owens in Germany or the 1980 US athletes who didn’t make the trip?

  19. Bill says

    @WW: the only male figure skaters who have to “come out” are the straight ones as everyone “knows” that all male figure skaters are gay.

    Seriously, though, there are legitimate reasons to not want to discuss one’s private life, including having a boyfriend who is a bit shy and not comfortable being followed by the media.

  20. jar says

    This strikes me as nothing more than a PR move to provide some cover to NBC and the Olympic sponsors. Let’s send some token gays (that would be two by my count; including Brian Boitano in the number is an affront as he is not out. Russia probably has fewer problems with closeted gays who hide who they are from public view) to show sensitive we are. If the pres wanted to make a statement he should send a delegation of average gay American citizens, like Edie Windsor and Dan Choi. That’s a delegation I could get behind.

    Ultimately, I think the best course for these Olympics is for the US to boycott the opening and closing ceremonies in protest, encourage the athletes to fly into Russia for their events and immediately fly out of the country, thereby denying Russia the Olympic buzz and income, while respecting the athletes’ rights to compete. That would send a message.

    To some of the commenters, BJK has not been a leader in the fight for gay rights. By her own admission, she did not become comfortable with herself (due to a homophobic family and self-hate) until her 50’s. Those in the streets in the 80’s can well rememeber BJK’s absence and silence as we fought to make our lives better. None of this takes away from her legendary status as the woman who almost single-handedly created professional women’s sports in the US.

  21. andrew says

    @MARYM: Who the f##k are you to demand anything of Billie Jean King, Brian Boitano or anyone else? Lady, that stench you smell is your fetid breath blowing back in your face. You disgusting pig!

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