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
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 1331 GMT (2131 HKT)
A terminally ill woman who plans to take her own life checks off the last item.
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 0115 GMT (0915 HKT)
Armed with Kalashnikovs and chanting for the dead comrades, women are among ISIS' most feared enemies. They are fighting for their families -- and now they are getting U.S. help.
October 28, 2014 -- Updated 1246 GMT (2046 HKT)
Lere Mgayiya put his best foot forward and set up a shoe-shine firm after his career plans fell flat.
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 0528 GMT (1328 HKT)
One Chinese drone manufacturer wants to take away the warmongering stigma of "drones."
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 0312 GMT (1112 HKT)
Sketcher Luis Simoes is traveling the world -- slowly. And he's packed his sketchbook.
October 28, 2014 -- Updated 2043 GMT (0443 HKT)
European states help North Korea's brutal treatment of its people by allowing luxury goods like cars and cognacs to evade sanctions, two experts say.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 1520 GMT (2320 HKT)
Groping, lewd comments, and that's not the worst of it.
October 28, 2014 -- Updated 0133 GMT (0933 HKT)
British hostage John Cantlie appears from the battle city of Kobani.
October 28, 2014 -- Updated 1443 GMT (2243 HKT)
A captured fighter tells CNN's Ivan Watson: "They gave us drugs... that made you go to battle."
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 0345 GMT (1145 HKT)
Chinese leaders want less odd architecture built in the country.
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 1106 GMT (1906 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