Obama, Biden Won't Go To 2014 Olympics, But Gay Athletes Will

LGBT activists are hailing the Obama administration's choice of a delegation to attend the Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. It doesn't include the President or Vice President or their wives or even cabinet secretaries. Instead the delegation includes prominent gay athletes. This is seen as a rebuke of Russia's new anti-propaganda law that targets those who are LGBT.

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The Obama administration is sending a not-so-subtle message to Russia that it doesn't approve of the country's new anti-gay propaganda law. President Obama has named a delegation to the Winter Olympics in Sochi this February. It includes two high profile gay athletes and no high-ranking administration officials. As NPR's Tamara Keith reports, this pleases activists who've been calling on the president and others to take a stand.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: The delegation to the games won't include the president or the vice president or their wives for the first time in seven Olympics. But it does include tennis legend and LGBT activist Billie Jean King, as well as Caitlin Cahow. She's an Olympic silver and bronze medallist in women's ice hockey who is also openly gay. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.

JAY CARNEY: This delegation represents the diversity that is the United States. Every member of that delegation is extremely accomplished, either in government service or in civic activism or, most especially, in sports.

KEITH: And although Carney wouldn't say whether the goal was to make a statement, this sort of thing is exactly what human rights activists both in America and Russia have been asking for. Anastasia Smirnova is the coordinator for the coalition of Russian LGBT organizations.

ANASTASIA SMIRNOVA: It is really the time for everyone involved in the games to do something and to say that it is not OK with us and we cannot take it, and we do not want to be associated with the games that can go down in history as anti-LGBT Olympic games.

KEITH: She was speaking at a briefing on Capitol Hill aimed at bringing more attention to Russia's anti-gay propaganda law. It makes talking about, quote, "nontraditional sexual relations," if children might hear it, illegal. President Obama was asked about it back in August.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Nobody is more offended than me by some of the anti-gay and lesbian legislation that you've been seeing in Russia.

KEITH: Some called on him to push for a boycott of the games, but President Obama said that wouldn't be fair to the athletes.

OBAMA: 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 I think would go a long way in rejecting the kind of attitudes that we're seeing there.

KEITH: Questions remain about whether athletes and others visiting Russia for the games will be affected by the propaganda law. Russian authorities insist visitors will be safe and the International Olympic Committee has been assured those participating in the games, either as athletes or spectators, won't face discrimination.

But given the propaganda law and Olympics rules, it's still not clear what athletes will be allowed to do if they want to protest the law or demonstrate support for LGBT people in Russia. Four-time gold medal winner in diving Greg Louganis has a suggestion for athletes.

GREG LOUGANIS: Most every one of them has a gay aunt, a gay uncle, a gay cousin, a gay friend, a somebody. But to dedicate their performance to that gay individual who has supported them, this is a personal support of the LGBT community on a personal level that I don't know that the IOC can argue with.

KEITH: Louganis is openly gay and has struggled over the years with feelings of not belonging. He described the Russian activists he appeared with at the Capitol Hill briefing as courageous.

LOUGANIS: I mean, I can't imagine being born in Russia and having my government saying that, you know, there's something wrong with me or I'm not of value. I can't imagine that.

KEITH: The Olympic Games are the ultimate global stage, with television viewers everywhere watching as elite athletes compete at the very highest levels. Russian gay rights activists hope these games will also draw attention to their plight. Tamara Keith, NPR News, the Capitol.

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