Obama Appoints LGBT Athletes to Sochi Delegation

There has been much controversy over the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia because of that country’s brutally authoritarian anti-gay laws. I’ve been opposed to a boycott, which was never going to happen no matter how loudly people screamed for it, from the start. And I really like this move by President Obama:

Tuesday, Obama took a step forward in showing that example, selecting tennis legend and former U.S. Olympic coach Billie Jean King, a lesbian who has long been an LGBT equality advocate, to be a part of the delegation that will represent the White House at the opening ceremony on February 7. Hockey player Caitlin Cahow, who is also openly gay, will be a part of the delegation to the closing ceremonies on February 23.

King became the first major female athlete to come out in 1981. Cahow came out in an interview in November.

The White House did not, of course, list King or Cahow’s sexuality or advocacy as a reason for their inclusion. King is a Hall of Fame tennis player and a member of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition, and Cahow is a silver and bronze medal-winning Olympian, so both are worthy selections on their athletic achievements alone. But whether it was a reason for their selection or not, their place in Sochi will demonstrate exactly the point Obama said he hoped American athletes would make.

“The U.S. Delegation to the Olympic Games represents the diversity that is the United States,” the White House said in a statement.

“It’s obviously a statement that’s being made, but I think it’s an incredibly respectful one,” Cahow told USA Today. “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.”

It’s purely symbolic, of course, but symbols matter. And I still hope that there will be a mass protest by athletes at the opening or closing ceremonies using other symbols as well.

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  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    I at least hope one or two American athletes whip out a rainbow flag when they get medals.

    A more serious protest action — which I hesitate to advocate because it’s not my ass on the line — would be for Americans (gay or not) to talk to Russians about these issues outside of their compound, and see if local authorities follow through on the law’s promise to arrest them for it.

  • Thumper: Token Breeder

    I really like this move by Obama. It’s sort of taking a stand in a way that Putin can’t really object to. It’s clever, and I bet it’s annoyed him and the Orthodox church greatly, which I find amusing.

  • garnetstar

    Brian Boitano was also appointed, and he just came out today as a result. He was in three Olympics, I forget what medals he won, but one was gold.

    Very clever!

  • roggg

    I’ll be interested in how conservative pundits react to this. On the one hand it sticks it top the Russians, which should appeal to the cold warriors and hawks. On the other hand it treats homosexuals as normal people which goes against all that the religious right stands for. I suspect the latter wins out over the former, even on a bad day, but add to that the fact that everything Obama does is wrong, and I probably know the answer already.

  • Abby Normal

    Well there’s a switch, me making a “not bad” face at Obama.

  • http://www.facebook.com/eo.raptor.3 eoraptor

    Brian Boitano? I didn’t know there was any doubt about his being gay. I hope Putin-Tat gets his undies all in a roast over this.

    On the downside, however, there’s no reason to believe that the US would stand behind any American was was arrested on gay related charges. Way back when I was a boy, and ABC televised the olympics on stone TV’s, people used to believe the U.S. Marines would come get you. Not any more.

  • Synfandel


    Brian Boitano was also appointed, and he just came out today as a result.

    Some people are out many years before they come out.

  • Wylann

    This is some serious high level trolling. For a good cause, mind you. I approve!

  • garnetstar

    I mean, Boitano has never before publically confirmed his orientation. He’s always refused to discuss it. Today he did make a statement.

  • timberwoof

    “It’s obviously a statement that’s being made, but I think it’s an incredibly respectful one,”

    I’m glad he didn’t say it was literally incredibly respectful.

    “there’s no reason to believe that the US would stand behind any American was was arrested on gay related charges”

    There are good reasons to believe that. That’s what countries do: when someone of a foreign nationality is arrested, they are generally assisted by someone from their embassy or consulate. If the US throws Americans under the bus for such actions, then it’s over.

  • whiskeyjack

    Wouldn’t it be neat if they only sent female diplomats to Islamic states, now?

  • matty1

    @10 There’s assistance and assistance. The standard if you are arrested abroad is that the embassy will find you a local defence lawyer and translator, which you may have to pay for yourself, and help you contact your family back home but they will not petition for your release on behalf of your government and certainly aren’t going to send marines to bust you out.

    Standing behind athletes in the current context would mean some high level public demands for an arrested athlete to be released and given the publicity there would be I would expect that. Failing to make such demands though would not indicate that normal consular assistance as described above wasn’t available.

  • http://polrant@blogspot.com democommie

    Brian Boitano coming out is one of the least surprising events of the last bazillion years. Now, if Dick Button was to do so….

    Years ago, a DJ on Boston’s WBCN began his “Olympic Coverage” with the line:

    “Last night, in Gay Men’s Skating…”.

    I like that Mr. Obama did what he did. Why did he do it? I don’t know, don’t care, can’t be bothered to assign Machiavellian motives to his action.

  • Michael Heath

    democommie writes:

    Brian Boitano coming out is one of the least surprising events of the last bazillion years.

    We’ve reached a wonderful state of moral progress in one respect. That’s when the surprise is not when a gay person comes out of the closet, but instead, the surprise is that that the person coming out was disclosing something previously unknown to the point they felt a specific announcement was required.

    There’s been a handful of those this past year, I see Brian Boitano as being one, Anderson Cooper a second, and I bet there’s more people that I just can’t recall at the moment.

    Some would argue that there’s an even higher standard than the one we’ve just reached, and that’s where a person’s sexual identification is not a factor used to describe them. The best analog argument I’ve seen was the South Park show where the kids couldn’t understand who the adults were referring to when they used only race as an identifier; i.e., the kids didn’t see skin-color as an attribute of a person. I’m not sure that holds with gay people since our sexual identities largely defines how most of us partner-up romantically. I suppose generations from now defining us by our sexual identities might be considered absurd; such a future will probably be a far better one than our present reality.

  • http://helives.blogspot.com heddle

    If the olympics were not already politicized I would have preferred that any protest for any reason was left to the athletes, a la Mexico City and the wherever it was the Czech athletes protested the Soviet invasion of Prague. However, that ship (the politicizing of the olympics) having long sailed, I think Obama was spot-on here. I hope Putin is miffed. Nevertheless I suspect this action will not be as remembered and will not be as effective as protests from individual athletes–if that indeed happens.

  • http://polrant@blogspot.com democommie

    I think that heddle’s got it about right.

    I remember being in Omaha when the Mexico City Olympics were on and how horrified a lot of people were about Tommie Smith and John Carlos BLACK PANTHER SALUTE, OMFG 1LEVENTTY!! Oh, did I mention that all of the horrified people were WHITE and were often the same people who thought that Jesse Owens had done the “right thing” in 1936. The “right thing” being that he delivered a superb athletic performance and won the Gold, but kept his fucking mouth shut about American Apartheid.

  • jnorris

    This means God will withdraw his protective hand from our Olympic team.

  • dingojack

    Demo – and who was the (white) guy who came third, which country did he come from? It was he who lent them the pair of black gloves (which is why they are raising opposite hands).

    :) Dingo


    BTW he was a Sally.

    PPS None of them were allowed to compete again.. ;(

  • caseloweraz

    The people President Obama appointed will not be competing. Still, this conjures up memories of Jesse Owens disproving the inferiority of African peoples at Berlin in 1936.

  • http://polrant@blogspot.com democommie

    “Demo – and who was the (white) guy who came third, which country did he come from?”

    Bill O’Reilly? Rush Limbaugh? Sean Hannity? C’mon it musta been one of MurKKK’as true patriots.