President Barack Obama has announced that neither he nor Vice President Joe Biden will head to Russia for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Instead the White House is sending a delegation comprised of at least two gay athletes, veteran tennis player Billie Jean King and hockey player Caitlin Cahow, who won the bronze in the 2006 Winter Olympics.
Also in the delegation: Former Olympic ice skater Brian Boitano and former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, and presidential adviser Rob Nabors.
Both Napolitano and Boitano have been the subject of gay rumors for years.
“I am equally proud to stand with the members of the LGBT community in support of all athletes who will be competing in Sochi,” said King. “And I hope these Olympic Games will indeed be a watershed moment for the universal acceptance of all people.”
This marks the first time since 2000 that the United States is not sending a current or former president , First Lady or Vice President to the Olympic Games. White House 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.”
Obama’s absence was blamed on his schedule.
“It’s a positive sign to see openly gay representatives in the delegation,” said HRC’s Michael Cole-Schwartz. “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.”
Frankly, this seems like almost exactly the right move. We’re not sure why Boitano and Napolitano are going—except maybe they really, really wanted to go—but having openly gay athletes at the games will force the networks (if not the world) to keep the issue of Russia’s LGBT community alive while everyone’s busy cheering on the athletes.
Had Obama decided to send no one, the silence wouldn’t gotten lost in the shuffle.