After President Obama unveiled America's opening-ceremony delegation for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, a third member of the official delegation has now come out as gay. Brian Boitano, who famously won the U.S. a gold medal for figure skating in 1988, offered the revelation in a White House statement Thursday. Boitano's sharply-worded statement, along with pick of two other openly gay members by Obama for the U.S. delegation — Caitlin Cahow and Billie Jean King — make clear that America has no tolerance for Russia's controversial anti-gay law.
The bill banning "gay propaganda" was signed into law by President Vladimir Putin this year. It allows for the banning of gay-rights protests, further limits the constitutional rights of gay Russians, and promotes the country's already-prevalent anti-gay sentiment. Putin's decision to make the bill law has spurred a diplomatic crisis, with many calling on Olympic nations to boycott Putin's Winter Olympics — held next February in the Russian city of Sochi — entirely.
While Obama and other nations haven't gone as far as to withdraw from 2014's Olympics, the president's decision to nominate an American delegation featuring openly gay athletes is very deliberate. "In the selection of this delegation, we are sending the message that the United States is a diverse place," noted White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.
Boitano's statement makes clear that he won't stand for Russia's complete and utter lack of tolerance.
"First and foremost I am an American athlete and I am proud to live in a country that encourages diversity, openness and tolerance," reads the statement, released through the White House in another example of Obama's support for the delegation's gay members. "As an athlete, I hope we can remain focused on the Olympic spirit which celebrates achievement in sport by peoples of all nations."
In a further snub to Russia and its anti-gay policy, neither Obama nor Vice President Biden will attend the Olympic ceremony. It's the first time in a decade that a member of the First Family, or a former member of it, hasn't attended an Olympic opening ceremony — and you better believe that's deliberate.
Russia's relationship with America has splintered this past year. In September, Obama cancelled a scheduled meeting with President Putin (partially in protest of the country's anti-gay law, partially over Syria) but no move has been as direct as yesterday's snub:
“no patience for countries that try to treat gays or lesbians or transgender persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them,” but he’s issued no direct condemnation of Russia.
“The inclusion of gay athletes is incredibly important and sends a potent message about the inclusive nature of our democracy,” said Human Rights Campaign spokesman Fred Sainz. The organization had written the White House last month to ask Obama to include openly gay members in its delegation.
For an inside look at what it's like being a gay man living in Russia, you can read Leo Neuringer's story here.