President Obama’s Big Gay Message to Vladimir Putin’s Sochi Olympics

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President Obama and Billie Jean King
President Obama and Billie Jean King
The United States will be participating in the Sochi Olympics in February 2014 despite calls by some to boycott the games in response to Russia’s human rights violations (Republicans, of course, want to boycott because Russia took in Edward Snowden). President Barack Obama rejected those calls in August. He said a boycott would hurt American athletes.

But even if the United States will not be boycotting the Olympics, President Obama has found a way to get his disapproval of Russian anti-gay legislation across.

There are two ways of saying this, as good news, and as bad news, for Vladimir Putin. The good news is expressed by the USOC’s official statement:

An impressive group of officials and iconic athletes will represent our government at the upcoming Olympic Winter Games in Sochi. We’re honored to assist their participation in any way that we can and certain that America’s elite athletes will put on a great show.

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The bad news…well, as Business Insider’s headline puts it: “Obama Isn’t Sending Top Officials To Russia For The Olympics — But He Is Sending Lesbians.”

In other words, Vice President Joe Biden will not be representing the U.S. as he did the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games. And First Lady Michelle Obama will not be representing the U.S. as she did the 2012 London Summer Olympic Games. Janet Napolitano will head the delegation, but let’s not mince words: Lesbians will be representing the U.S. at the Sochi Winter Olympics.

Specifically, tennis great Billy Jean King, winner of 12 Grand Slam singles titles, and hockey player Caitlin Cahow, who won a bronze medal in 2006 as part of America’s Olympic women’s ice hockey team, and a silver in 2010.

Billy Jean King can’t be considered a light-weight: She is not only a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom but a Member of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition. And Caitlin Cahow certainly has credibility as an Olympic athlete. But because since 2000, the United States has always sent, if not the president himself, a Vice president or a First Lady to the Olympics, and though the White House’s December 17th press release matter-of-factly listed the delegations to the opening and closing ceremonies, Obama’s message sure not to be lost on Vladimir Putin.

President Obama is not alone in boycotting the games. Germany’s president, Joachim Gauck and France’s president Francois Hollande are with him there. But Gauck doesn’t run Germany – Chancellor Andrea Merkel does that, and Gauck’s is therefore on the order of a personal decision that doesn’t compare to that of a head-of-state. Barack Obama’s solution has the virtue of being…unique, to say the least.

To say the most, Truthwinsout.org called Obama’s decision a “brilliant response.” Christine Brennan at USA Today Sports calls it “a stroke of genius”:

What better way to show the nation’s disgust for President Vladimir Putin’s anti-gay propaganda law than for Obama to send an American cultural icon and sports legend who also happens to be openly gay?

Indeed.

Billie Jean King said she was “greatly honored,” and USA Today Sports reports that Cahow, who is a law student at Boston College, “was studying for her Constitutional Law exam (talk about irony) when the White House released the names of the delegation.” She told them,

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

So I think it’s just a great group of people. I can’t believe I’ve been named one of them because it’s a remarkable roster and I just think that we’re going to represent what the best America can be. Hopefully, it will unify all of Team USA and send a message of love and acceptance to the world.

When President Obama rejected calls to boycott the Olympics he made it clear that his decision did not mean he wanted American participation to be taken as tacit support for Russia’s treatment of gays and lesbians, saying at the time,

“Nobody is more offended than me by some of the anti-gay and lesbian legislation that you’ve been seeing in Russia.” He added that, “One of the things I’m really looking forward to is maybe some gay and lesbian athletes bringing home the gold or silver or bronze, which would go a long way in rejecting the kind of attitudes that we’re seeing there. And if Russia doesn’t have gay or lesbian athletes, then it probably makes their team weaker.”

The United States Olympic Committee agreed, with chief executive Scott Blackmun saying in a statement.

The Games bring people together. They unite the world and break down barriers. The Games demonstrate how it is possible to compete fiercely but respectfully. They demonstrate how people with disparate views can come together and celebrate what they have in common, most notably the will to be the best you can be. As the President suggested, the diverse group of athletes representing our nation next winter makes us a stronger and a better Team USA.

It is difficult not to think back to Jesse Owens at the 1936 Berlin Olympics and what his triumph said about Adolf Hitler’s racial conceits. Perhaps, in 2014, we can send the same message to Vladimir Putin about his gender identity conceits.

Image from TheObamaDiary.com

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