CREDIT: AP Photo/David Goldman
With the 2014 Winter Olympics kicking off Friday, all eyes are on Sochi to see who will violate Russia’s ban on “gay propaganda.” This ambiguous law, purportedly designed to protect children from homosexuality, has been used to punish any positive messages about LGBT people; just on Friday, more than a dozen were arrested in St. Petersburg for a sign quoting the Olympics’ nondiscrimination ordinance (Principle 6).
The International Olympics Committee seems to have arranged a truce with Russia that the law will not be enforced during the Games, but has also discouraged athletes from making any political statements. A “speakers corner” has been set up for athletes, but it’s several miles away from any of the venues and President Vladimir Putin said this week that Sochi is “not the place” to debate gay rights.
Of the 2,500 athletes attending the games, only seven are openly gay, an improbably low proportion, but openly lesbian Dutch snowboarder Chery Maas has already flashed her unicorn rainbow glove for the camera . It remains to be seen how enforcement of the law will actually play out, but here are 10 attendees who are likely to violate the ban:
1. David Remnick
NBC has hired New Yorker editor David Remnick to offer commentary on political issues from Sochi, which means it will literally be his job to discuss the impact of the “gay propaganda” law. Remnick has said he plans to be “honest in my analysis,” analysis that will surely reflect his extensive understanding of Russian politics and support for LGBT equality.
2. Caitlin Cahow
Because her mother is ill, Billie Jean King is no longer attending the Sochi Opening Ceremony, which means increased visibility for hockey player Caitlin Cahow, who will help cover some of the appearances King was supposed to make. Cahow, who won a bronze medal in 2006 and a silver medal in 2010, openly identifies as lesbian. As a member of the U.S. delegation, she has written that the 2014 games will be an important opportunity “to reevaluate how well we are living up to the historic ideals of the Olympic Movement” and address that “discrimination persists in sports and society.”
3. Bode Miller
If this week’s training sessions are any indication, skier Bode Miller will make quite an impression at this year’s games, and he may very well use that platform to speak out for LGBT rights. Back in October, Miller chastised the IOC for trying to prevent athletes from speaking out on political issues. Telling athletes that “they can’t express their views or they can’t say what they believe,” he said, “is pretty hypocritical or unfair.” He thinks it’s “embarrassing that there’s countries and there’s people who are that intolerant and that ignorant,” which means he may have more to say from Sochi.
4. Ashley Wagner
Figure skating medal hopeful Ashley Wagner has already made her views on Russia’s anti-gay laws quite clear. Back in October, she said, “I believe we should all have equal rights, and I also do not support the legislation in Russia.” Last month, she confirmed that she is “absolutely” going to continue to discuss her support for LGBT equality after she arrives in Sochi. This week, she has already joked that she loves how the Olympics’ rainbow-colored logo is plastered everywhere.
5. Brian Boitano
Gold medalist figure skater Brian Boitano was long suspected of being gay, though perhaps only because of the unfortunate stereotypes around figure skating. After being named to the U.S. Sochi delegation, he did actually come out publicly for the first time. In a new Q&A with New York Magazine, he said that he thinks the makeup of the delegation “speaks volumes,” but that “sometimes the things that you don’t say are stronger than the things that you do say.” Arguably, by opening up about his private life just for this occasion, Boitano has already made his statement.
6. Pussy Riot
The Russian punk rock feminist collective known as Pussy Riot has been outspoken about LGBT rights and could very well have a presence during the Games. Members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, who were recently freed from jail, told Stephen Colbert this week that anybody can be a member of Pussy Riot, and the group has called for a boycott of the entire event. One Russian athlete, snowboarder Alexei Sobolev, has already been accused of sporting Pussy Riot imagery on his snowboard.
7. Hayley Wickenheiser
The captain of the Canadian women’s hockey team, Hayley Wickenheiser, has already spoken out about Russia’s “gay propaganda” law, saying that it “goes against everything that the Olympics are about.” Expressing pride that she’ll be representing a country that “strives for equality,” she believes that “it’s really a human rights issue.” Wickenheiser has been granted the honor of being Canada’s flag-bearer during the Opening Ceremonies, increasing her visibility at the Games.
8. Johnny Weir
Olympic skater Johnny Weir has taken a lot of flack for opposing the LGBT community’s various protests about Russia’s laws. The Olympics, he believes, should be seen “strictly as a sporting event and not a political event.” Still, he has said that he isn’t going to hide his identity while he’s there commentating for NBC either. He has described his wardrobe for Sochi as “a “cross between Coco Chanel and Brooks Brothers” with a hint of “Stanley Tucci’s character in the Hunger Games without the blue hair.” In other words, he plans to be his flamboyant self, which means his very presence could make the kind of political statement he explicitly doesn’t plan to make.
9. Sidney Crosby, Henrik Zetterberg, and Viktor Hedman
Three National Hockey League players who will be representing their home countries at the Olympics have all spoken out against the law. Pittsburgh Penguin Sidney Crosby, who helped Team Canada win the gold in 2010, has said that he disagrees with Russia’s laws because “everyone has an equal right to play.” Henrik Zetterberg of the Detroit Red Wings and Viktor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning, both of whom play for Team Sweden, have similarly condemned the ban on “gay propaganda.” Zetterberg called it “awful, just awful,” while Hedman called it “completely wrong.”
10. Athletes Who Haven’t Come Out Yet
As OutSports points out, only 0.28 percent of the Olympians going to Sochi are openly gay, and those seven athletes are all women. It’s highly probable that there are many more LGBT athletes competing who simply aren’t open about their identities, but that could yet change over the course of the games. While there has traditionally been a culture of homophobia in sports, the unique focus on Russia’s anti-LGBT human rights abuses creates a very different context for coming out. Rather than being seen as a risk to an athlete’s reputation, Sochi provides a venue in which coming out could be a demonstration of great courage — and certainly a newsworthy event. It may not be known until after the Games are over who was actually responsible for the grandest display of “gay propaganda.”