President Barack Obama sent Russia a clear message about its
treatment of gays and lesbians with who he is – and isn’t – sending
to represent the United States at the Sochi Olympics.
Billie Jean King will be one of two openly gay athletes in the
U.S. delegation for the opening and closing ceremonies, Obama
announced Tuesday. For the first time since 2000, however, the U.S.
will not send a president, former president, first lady or vice
president to the Games.
Russia has come under fierce criticism for passing national laws
banning ”gay propaganda.” Though the White House did not
specifically address the Russian laws in making its announcement,
spokesman Shin Inouye said the delegation ”represents the
diversity that is the United States” and that Obama ”knows they
will showcase to the world the best of America – diversity,
determination and teamwork.”
The White House said Obama’s schedule will not permit him to
attend the Games.
”It’s a positive sign to see openly gay representatives in the
delegation,” said Michael Cole-Schwartz, spokesman for the Human
Rights Campaign, which recently sent a letter urging Obama to
include gays and lesbians in the delegation. ”Hopefully it sends a
message to the Russian people and the rest of the world that the
United States values the civil and human rights of LGBT
King said she was ”deeply honored” to be named to the
”I am equally proud to stand with the members of the LGBT
community in support of all athletes who will be competing in Sochi
and I hope these Olympic Games will indeed be a watershed moment
for the universal acceptance of all people,” said King, who will
attend the opening ceremony.
Hockey player Caitlin Cahow is the other openly gay
representative to the delegation. She’ll attend the closing
The U.S. Olympic Committee made no comment about the sexual
orientation of the delegation. In a nod to its disapproval of the
law, however, the USOC recently revised its non-discrimination
policy to include sexual orientation.
France and Germany are among the other countries who will not
send their presidents to Sochi for the Games.
Earlier this year, Obama rejected the idea of a U.S. boycott of
the Olympics despite a number of differences with Russia, including
the anti-gay law.
This move, however, sends a strong signal: In 2010, Vice
President Joe Biden led the delegation, and in 2012, first lady
Michelle Obama held the honor.
This year’s group is led by former Homeland Security Secretary
Janet Napolitano. Others in the delegation include U.S. Ambassador
to Russia Michael McFaul, figure skater Brian Boitano and
presidential adviser Rob Nabors.
King, the iconic tennis player, might be the most recognizable
face in the group.
She’s a 39-time Grand Slam title winner (singles, doubles and
mixed), a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and one of
the most prominent advocates of equality for women in sports and
society over the past several decades.
She’ll attend the Olympics in a country that is creating tension
for several key players because of the laws, including the
International Olympic Committee, which awarded the Games to
Earlier this month, IOC President Thomas Bach said Russia would
set up public protest zones in Sochi for ”people who want to
express their opinion or want to demonstrate for or against
Meanwhile, the IOC approved a letter going out to athletes
reminding them to refrain from protests or political gestures
during the Sochi Games – reiterating Rule 50 of the Olympic
charter, which forbids demonstrations on Olympic grounds.
Bach had previously said he’d received assurances from Russian
President Vladimir Putin that gays will not be discriminated
against in Sochi. But the Russian law has raised questions about
what could happen to athletes who wear pins or badges or carry
flags supporting gay rights.
Earlier this fall, skier Bode Miller was one of the few American
athletes to speak out against the Russian law, calling it
AP Sports Writer Melissa Murphy in New York, and Associated
Press writer Josh Lederman in Washington contributed to this
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