President Obama, unhappy with Russia’s antigay stance, sent a resounding message with his appointment of U.S. delegates for the Sochi Olympics: openly gay athletes.
He and Vice President Joe Biden will not attend the Games, the first time the First Family or Vice Family will not be present at the Games since 2000. The White House said Obama’s schedule will not permit him to attend.
Billie Jean King, the iconic female tennis star, will be one of two openly gay athletes in the U.S. delegation for the opening and closing ceremonies. 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.
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 Tuesday, 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.”
“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 people.”
King said she was “deeply honored” to be named to the delegation.
“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,” King said.
Hockey player Caitlin Cahow is the other openly gay representative to the delegation. She’ll attend the closing ceremony.
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 committee recently revised its non-discrimination policy to include sexual orientation.
Earlier this year, Obama rejected the idea of a U.S. boycott of the Olympics despite a number of differences with Russia, including the antigay law.