The White House announced Tuesday that two of its delegation members for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia will be openly gay athletes. Many media outlets are stipulating that this was done intentionally as a message to Russia and its leader, Vladimir Putin, regarding the country's ban against "homosexual propaganda for minors."
The two openly gay athletes who will be representing the U.S. include Tennis great Billie Jean King, a 39-time Grand Slam title winner and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and hockey player Caitlin Cahow, who won a bronze medal at the 2006 Winter Games and a silver medal at the 2010 Winter Games. Cahow will attend the games' closing ceremony.
Other members of the opening ceremony delegation include Former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Ambassador Michael McFaul, White House deputy chief of staff Rob Nabors, and Former Olympic gold medalist figure skater Brian Boitano. American representatives at the closing ceremony will include Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, McFaul, and Olympic speedskaters Bonnie Blair and Eric Heiden, both of whom have won five Olympic gold medals each.
President Barack Obama said the delegation he chose "represents the diversity that is the United States."
"Our delegation members are distinguished by their accomplishments in government service, civic activism, and sports. We are proud of each and every one of them and think they will serve as great ambassadors of the United States to the Olympic Games."
The White House also announced Tuesday that none of the major political figures in the U.S., including the president, the first lady, the vice president, nor a current cabinet secretary will be in attendance at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. This is reportedly the first time since 2000 that a U.S. president, vice president, first lady or former president has not been a part of the opening ceremony delegation.
The White House said in a statement that the president will not be able to attend the games due to a scheduling conflict in Washington. "President Obama is extremely proud of our U.S. athletes and looks forward to cheering them on from Washington," the statement said. "He knows they will showcase to the world the best of America -- diversity, determination and teamwork."
The U.S. has previously made it clear that although it will be sending athletes to the Sochi Games, it does not agree with Russia's law, passed earlier this year, than bans the spreading of homosexual propaganda to minors. "I can be very clear that our views on the issues that you mention with regard to Russia's civil rights record have been abundantly clear, and we've made it clear that we expect Russia to conduct the Olympics in a way that respects the rights of all participants," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said last week, according to Politico.
Although some gay athletes have expressed concern that Russia's ban on homosexual propaganda would affect them when they're visiting the country, Russia has argued that the law is directed only at protecting children and would not impact an adult homosexual's life.
After officials visited the site of the upcoming games in Sochi back in September, the International Olympic Committee released a statement saying that it is "fully satisfied" with Russia's law on homosexual propaganda and finds it does not break the Olympic Charter regarding discrimination.
"The Olympic Charter states that all segregation is completely prohibited, whether it be on the grounds of race, religion, color or other, on the Olympic territory," Jean-Claude Killy, chairman of the IOC's Co-ordination Commission, said in a statement in September.
"That will be the case, we are convinced," Killy added.
The chairman went on to say that the laws of a country are not really a concern of the IOC and should not be publicly discussed, as long as they don't violate the Olympic Charter. "Another thing I must add: the IOC doesn't really have the right to discuss the laws in the country where the Olympic Games are organized. As long as the Olympic Charter is respected, we are satisfied, and that is the case."
Others, including Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, argue that pro-gay activist groups in the U.S. are spreading untrue propaganda about the mistreatment of homosexuals in Russia.
"Please understand what's really going on in Russia and cast aside all of the propaganda that you hear in the United States and elsewhere. It's just not true," Ruse said while speaking at a symposium hosted by The Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society in mid-November.
He went on to say that gays in Russia do not agree with the suggestions of some pro-gay groups in America that the U.S. boycott the Olympic games due to Russia's ban on homosexual propaganda. Ruse recalled attending a panel on Russian television alongside gay rights activists who urged Americans to "let the Olympics go forward," adding "you guys have a big misunderstanding about the way we live our lives."
Ruse said that Russians do, however, resist the spreading of homosexual culture to younger generations of Russians because they feel it is "harmful to children and society."
The Winter Olympic Games will kick off Feb. 7 in Sochi.