Olympic figure skating champion Brian Boitano came out Thursday, two days after he was named to the U.S. delegation for Sochi along with openly gay athletes Billie Jean King and Caitlin Cahow.
The 1988 gold medalist had always kept his personal life private, saying in a statement that being gay is just one part of who I am. But President Barack Obama’s decision to include openly gay athletes in the delegation for the opening and closing ceremonies – and not send high-ranking officials – was widely seen as a message to Russia about its treatment of gays and lesbians.
First and foremost I am an American athlete and I am proud to live in a country that encourages diversity, openness and tolerance, Boitano said in his statement. As an athlete, I hope we can remain focused on the Olympic spirit which celebrates achievement in sport by peoples of all nations.
Russia has come under fierce criticism for passing national laws banning gay propaganda, and some suggested the United States should boycott the Sochi Olympics in protest. Obama rejected that idea, saying a stronger statement could be made by gay and lesbian athletes bringing home the gold or silver or bronze.
But his choices for the U.S. delegation left little doubt about Obama’s disapproval of the new Russian law.
For the first time since 2000, the U.S. will not send a president, former president, first lady or vice president to the Olympics. This year’s group is led by former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and others in the delegation include U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, deputy Secretary of State William Burns and presidential adviser Rob Nabors.
Of the five athletes in the delegation, three – Boitano, King and Cahow – are openly gay.
Cahow said Boitano’s decision to keep his sexual orientation private until now was his to make, just as it was her choice to acknowledge hers publicly.
I completely respect that, Cahow said after learning of Boitano’s statement. I think each individual has a right to define who they are. That’s what autonomy is all about.
I think he and I would agree that our goal is to someday live in a world where these classifications aren’t important.
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.