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'.
Lesbian 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.