Billie Jean King
President Barack Obama is sending two prominent lesbian athletes as part of the official US delegation to the opening and closing ceremonies of the Sochi Winter Olympic Games in Russia.
On Tuesday, he announced that the delegates would include tennis legend Billie Jean King as well as women’s ice hockey Olympic medallist Caitlin Cahow, both of whom are openly gay.
The White House said that the delegatation “represents the diversity that is the United States”.
The move has been seen as an expression of America’s disdain for Russia’s oppression of its LGBT citizens, primarily through the notorious ‘gay propaganda’ law that limits their right to free speech and expression.
King said she was “proud to stand with the members of the LGBT community in support of all athletes who will be competing in Sochi and I hope these Olympic Games will indeed be a watershed moment for the universal acceptance of all people”.
King was an acclaimed professional tennis player in the 1960s and 1970s and has 39-time Grand Slam titles to her name. She became one of the first openly lesbian major sports figures in America when she came out in 1981. She was awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.
Obama also confirmed that neither he nor First Lady Michelle Obama will attend the event. France and Germany will also not not send their presidents to the controversial Games.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has insisted that LGBT athletes will not be discriminated against at the Sochi Games. IOC President Thomas Bach also recently announced that public protest zones would be set up at the event.
Nevertheless, human rights activists have pointed out that while participants in the Games may be not be targeted, ordinary Russian LGBT people will continue to face a hostile environment.