Skip to main content

Billie Jean King to Russia's LGBT community: You are not alone

By Billie Jean King, tennis legend, Special to CNN
January 28, 2014 -- Updated 1137 GMT (1937 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • 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

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.

(CNN) -- 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.

Billie Jean King
Billie Jean King

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.

King to gay Russians: You are not alone
Billie Jean King on "my calling"
Boitano on being openly gay at Sochi
EXCLUSIVE: Medvedev on gay rights

READ MORE: What one gay Russian model thinks of law

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.

READ MORE: Will social media foil Putin's Sochi plan?

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.

READ MORE: Is Russia about to pass another anti-gay law?

READ MORE: How safe is Sochi? Travelers weigh options

SEE MORE: Interactive map of region's security hotspots

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
Pakistan Taliban say the school attack was revenge for the killing of children in a military offensive -- but they are being pressed by defections to ISIS.
A group that claims it hacked Sony Pictures has posted a public threat against moviegoers who see Sony's "The Interview."
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 0243 GMT (1043 HKT)
The gunman behind the deadly siege in Sydney this week was not on a security watch list, and Australia's Prime Minister wants to know why.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 0948 GMT (1748 HKT)
Bestselling author Marjorie Liu had set her sights on being a lawyer, but realized it wasn't what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
CNN's Matthew Chance looks into an HRW report saying Russia has "legalized discrimination against LGBT people."
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 0212 GMT (1012 HKT)
The Sydney siege has brought home some troubling truths to Australians. They are not immune to what are often called "lone-wolf" terror attacks.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 0012 GMT (0812 HKT)
A social media campaign condemning Islamophobia under the hashtag #illridewithyou has taken off after Sydney hostage siege.
Bill Cosby has kept quiet as sexual assault allegations mounted against him, but his wife, Camille, finally spoke out in defense of her husband.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1144 GMT (1944 HKT)
China-bound AirAsia flight turns back to Bangkok after passenger throws water over crew member.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1026 GMT (1826 HKT)
It takes Nepalese eye doctor, Sanduk Ruit about five minutes to change someone's life.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1054 GMT (1854 HKT)
This epic journey crosses 13,000 kilometers, eight countries over 21 days. Find out where.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1253 GMT (2053 HKT)
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT