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Speed-Skater Blake Skjellerup On Sochi Olympics: 'I Will Be Myself In Russia'

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Though he is still waiting to find out if his trial times will qualify him for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Blake Skjellerup already has big plans for the games. The openly gay speed skater has said that, despite the consequences it may incur, he will wear a rainbow pin while competing in Russia as previously announced. The pin (noted by Stephen Colbert last night) is a show of solidarity and support for the oppressed LGBT population there, and acts as a pointed message to President Vladimir Putin. Russia's anti-gay propaganda laws have been devastating for LGBT folks thus far, and the extent of the laws' reach under the global gaze of millions during the Olympics is still unknown. One thing's for sure: that rainbow pin will be a bold personal, and global, statement.

The Guardian reports:

"I will be myself in Russia," [Skjellerup] says. "And at the moment that is illegal. My goal is to inspire, encourage and offer support to LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] people in Russia.

"I would love for Putin to get to know me. I would tell him how much I disagree with his oppressive anti-gay propaganda laws, and that he has a responsibility as the president of Russia to represent all the people of his country."

Last week, while competing in Kolomna in Russia, Skjellerup arranged a secret meeting with gay activists to find out how bad things are in the country. While reluctant to give too much information in case it identifies those people he spoke to, he admits the stories he heard "chilled him".

BlakeskatesSkjellerup was able to connect his own experience as a put-upon, closeted teenager in New Zealand with the intense pain LGBT youth must be feeling throughout Russia. 

"School was never very fun," he adds. "I'm not a religious person but I would go home and pray that I would wake up and I would not be gay. Why would I do that? I wanted it to go away. But it wasn't going anywhere and it was never going anywhere. It's who I am. I didn't come out publicly until after Vancouver in 2010. And since then I have been the happiest I have ever been."

Though Vancouver might have been the push he needed, Sochi is a whole different ball game. Skjellerup has said that while he disagrees with the Olympics taking place in a country with a human rights record as poor as this, he also believes that there is power in uniting against that record.

"...Sochi gives us an opportunity to highlight Russia's anti-gay propaganda laws and say: this is wrong. Don't underestimate how powerful that could be."

Skjellerup, should he qualify, plans on selling rainbow pins to support his training and eventual trip to the games--stay tuned for the announcement!


Out Speed Skater Blake Skjellerup Launches Crowdfunding Campaign To Attend Winter Olympics In Sochi: VIDEO

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Previously, out speed skater Blake Skjellerup announced that he would wear a rainbow pin to the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, despite being threatened with penalties by the IOC and Russian government. Unfortunately for him, though, that means actually qualifying for the Olympics, which is much easier said than done for an unfortunately large number of Olympians. Those not fortunate enough to make their way with sponsorships must pay certain costs out of pocket, such as travel, lodging, food, and so on, not to mention the everyday costs of actual training. When asked by Out magazine what it takes financially to get to the Olympics, Skjellerup replied, "bankruptcy". 

Blake SkjellerupThat's why he has taken to Indiegogo to crowdfund his quest to qualify for Sochi. According to the campaign's official page:

"For Blake to qualify for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, he will need to finish in the top 32 at the World Cups this autumn. These four key events are:

Sept. 26-29, Shanghai, China

Oct. 3-6, Seoul, South Korea

Nov. 7-10, Torino, Italy

Nov. 14-17, Kolomna, Russia"

At a minimum, this means coming up with a minimum of $15,000, which the campaign has luckily already raised. In actuality, however, costs for these events will likely be closer to $33,000, which the campaign has still yet to raise. If you're curious as to why costs for competing are that high, the page breaks down precisely where all that money goes:

  • "Travel for Blake, his coach and his physio therapist to all four World Cup events. Without our support, he will travel alone -- in places like China and Russia -- and will not have his coach or physio therapist at any of these crucial World Cup events. Having his support structure with him at these competitions is critical to his success."
  • "His physio therapist with him for the two weeks leading up to the final two World Cup events. Without our support, he has no physio therapist preparing him for the two races that specifically determine whether he qualifies for the Olympic Games."
  • "Accommodations closer to the training center in the two weeks before the qualifiers and before the Olympic Games. To cut costs, Blake lives over an hour away from the training center and must take the train every day. Our support will allow him to save over two hours of travel each day before the qualifiers and the Olympic Games and let him focus exclusively on his training."

The campaign has already received support from organizations such as You Can Play project, Outsports, It Gets Better Project, GLAAD, Athlete Ally, Pride House International, Here Media, and the NOH8 campaign. Perks for the Indiegogo campaign include personal thank yous, personal and/or signed photos, private Skype chats, and corporate sponsorship status. 

Watch Blake himself tell you his story and about his Olympic aspirations AFTER THE JUMP.

You can view the Indiegogo campaign and donate HERE

Continue reading "Out Speed Skater Blake Skjellerup Launches Crowdfunding Campaign To Attend Winter Olympics In Sochi: VIDEO" »


Gay Olympians Blake Skjellerup and Johnny Weir Speak Out on CNN Against Sochi Boycott: VIDEO

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Speed skater Blake Skjellerup and figure skater Johnny Weir are in agreement that a boycott of the Sochi 2014 Games over Russia's inhumane treatment of gay people is a bad idea and speak out about how the presence of openly gay athletes at the Games may send a more powerful message.

Check out their conversation, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "Gay Olympians Blake Skjellerup and Johnny Weir Speak Out on CNN Against Sochi Boycott: VIDEO" »


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

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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.


Out Olympic Speed Skater Blake Skjellerup Speaks Out Against Russia's Anti-Gay Law: VIDEO

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With Russia's new gay "propaganda" ban signed into law last month, LBGT Olympians from around the world are already anticipating the chilling effects that the new law will bring to Sochi.

In an interview with Vocativ, Blake Skjellerup, a New Zealand speed skating hopeful who competed in Vancouver in 2010, blasted the new law for being a major step backwards in terms of Olympic commitments to diversity and LGBT inclusiveness. 

Screen Shot 2013-07-11 at 7.58.20 PMSays Skjellerup:

"I think being in a country like Russia where they've decided to introduce these new laws basically saying telling children that homosexuals don't exist is a massive step backwards for the LGBT human rights movement for the world, not just for Russia."

Unlike the Vancouver Olympics, Sochi will not have a Pride House for LGBT Athletes. Blake says the Pride House in Vancouver made him realize "being out and being open is a great thing, something to be proud of and not something you should hide."

If selected to participate in the 2014 Olympics, Blake plans on wearing a rainbow flag pin as a symbol of pride and defiance. "If it gets me in trouble, then I guess so be it."  

Check out the interview, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "Out Olympic Speed Skater Blake Skjellerup Speaks Out Against Russia's Anti-Gay Law: VIDEO " »


Russian 'Spokesperson' Johnny Weir Tells Gay Olympic Athletes to Tone Down the Flamboyance or Suffer the Consequences

Figure skater Johnny Weir is a self-described 'Russophile' so the country's proposed ban on gay "propaganda" (already passed in St. Petersburg) won't stop him from competing in the Sochi Winter Olympics, but he's warning other gay athletes not to do certain things or suffer the consequences, USA Today reports:

WeirIf he makes the Olympic team, Weir doesn't want to make an issue of his sexuality, he said. For him, the Olympics should be about sport and competition. But he does have advice for gay athletes unfamiliar with the culture.

"My advice would be: Watch what you do when you leave the Village, don't be aggressive, don't wear a big rainbow flag fur coat. If you don't call attention to yourself, attention won't come to you."

Then Weir added, in a way only he can, "I'm not going to be having sex in a Metro station. And if you are doing that, then maybe you deserve to be caught."

Added Weir: "I love Russia and there is nothing that will change that. I'm a true patriot and spokesperson for their country. It's appalling they can censor their public, but I try to do everything I can. I have been in talks with different LBGT organizations in Russia with how I can help."

Out speed skater Blake Skjellerup is more hesitant: "I don't want to have to tone myself down about who I am. That wasn't very fun and there's no way I'm going back in the closet. I just want to be myself and I hate to think that being myself would get me in trouble."

St. Petersburg's restrictive law bans and impose fines ($16,000 on individuals and up to $160,000 on legal entities) on all Gay Pride events, LGBT organizations, and anything considered to be "promotion" of homosexuality.

The federal law, if passed, would enact similar penalties.


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