Editor’s Note: Billie Jean King is a 2009 recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest U.S. civilian honor, and is a member of the U.S. presidential delegation to the Sochi Olympics. King is a former number one professional tennis player who won 39 Grand Slam titles and was the founder of the Women’s Tennis Association, the Women’s Sports Foundation and co-founder of World TeamTennis. The opinions expressed here are solely hers.
King is one of several gay members of the U.S. Presidential Delegation to Sochi
King says Obama's nomination of several gay athletes to the delegation sends a message
King says she is concerned with treatment of LGBT community in Russia
King: This is not only a gay rights issue but a human rights issue
Over the last few weeks there has been a great deal of media attention given to the members of the United States’ presidential delegation to the Sochi Olympics. Yes, it does include people, like myself, who are openly gay and it also includes delegates who are openly straight. The important part here is the delegation is inclusive and it is representative of the face of America.
Delegate members Brian Boitano, Caitlin Cahow, Eric Heiden and Bonnie Blair are world-class athletes, Olympians who have all won medals when they represented our nation in Olympic competition. Janet Napolitano, William Burns, Ambassador Michael McFaul and Robert Nabors are respected leaders on the world stage. The delegation is an impressive collection of athletes and world leaders and it just so happens some of us are gay.
Our real role in going to Sochi is not to demonstrate or disrupt the Olympics, but to support the men and women of Team USA. I have been traveling to Russia since 1962 and I have complete respect for the Russian people. It is a privilege to be asked to be part of the Presidential Delegation and a personal thrill to be able to watch our Olympic team compete in Sochi.
Is our nation making a statement on Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law by sending gay men and women to represent us in Sochi? Perhaps we are. As Brian Boitano said in a recent interview, “I think the statement is already being made by us being on the delegation — Billie Jean and Caitlin — and us standing together, united as gay people showing that there is freedom of speech and we are successful human beings and athletes. I think that speaks measures.”
While I am not planning to protest or demonstrate, I am concerned with the treatment of the LGBT community in Russia and throughout the world. I want the LGBT community living in Russia to know they are not alone and I hope others realize this is not only a gay rights issue, but a global concern for human rights and equality.
As I said when I was named to the U.S. delegation, I hope these Olympics will be a watershed moment for the universal acceptance of all people.
Sometimes it is hard to do the right thing, especially if it may not be the most popular thing. The mere mention of the gay members of our delegation has people talking and you don’t make progress in anything without having a constructive dialogue.
I have a saying that 98 percent of winning is showing up. So we will show up in Russia. We will support our athletes and cheer them as loudly as possible. And we will keep the equality conversation alive.