NORMAN — President Barack Obama sent Russia a clear message about its treatment of gays and lesbians with who he is — and isn’t — sending to represent the United States at the Sochi Olympics.
Billie Jean King will be one of two openly gay athletes in the U.S. delegation for the opening and closing ceremonies, Obama announced Tuesday. For the first time since 2000, however, the U.S. will not send a president, former president, first lady or vice president to the Games.
Russia has come under fierce criticism for passing national laws banning “gay propaganda.” Though the White House did not specifically address the Russian laws in making its announcement, spokesman Shin Inouye said the delegation “represents the diversity that is the United States” and that Obama “knows they will showcase to the world the best of America — diversity, determination and teamwork.”
The White House said Obama’s schedule will not permit him to attend the Games.
“It’s a positive sign to see openly gay representatives in the delegation,” said Michael Cole-Schwartz, spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, which recently sent a letter urging Obama to include gays and lesbians in the delegation. “Hopefully it sends a message to the Russian people and the rest of the world that the United States values the civil and human rights of LGBT people.”
King said she was “deeply honored” to be named to the delegation.
“I am equally 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,” said King, who will attend the opening ceremony.
Hockey player Caitlin Cahow is the other openly gay representative to the delegation. She’ll attend the closing ceremony.