By Trudy Ring
Originally published on Advocate.com December 17 2013 7:34 PM ET
President Obama sent a strong message to Russia today with the announcement of the U.S. delegations to the Winter Olympics in Sochi — they will not include the president, the vice president, their wives, or any current cabinet member, but it will include some openly gay athletes.
The delegation to the opening ceremony will be led by Janet Napolitano, the former secretary of Homeland Security, BuzzFeed reports. The top federal officials in the group will be Rob Nabors, assistant to the president and deputy chief of staff for policy, who will attend the opening ceremony, and William J. Burns, deputy secretary of State, who will lead the delegation to the closing ceremony.
Legendary tennis star and former Olympic coach Billie Jean King, an out lesbian, will be part of the opening ceremony’s delegation. Caitlin Cahow, a two-time Olympic medalist in ice hockey who recently came out as lesbian, will be at the closing ceremony.
Joining Napolitano, Nabors, and King in the opening ceremony’s delegation will be Michael A. McFaul, the U.S. ambassador to the Russian Federation, and Brian Boitano, an Olympic gold medalist in figure skating. Boitano has often been asked if he’s gay but has declined to answer. McFaul will join Burns and Cahow at the closing ceremony, along with Olympic speed skating medalists Bonnie Blair and Eric Heiden.
The lineup is being seen as a protest against Russia’s antigay laws and general climate of homophobia. “This marks the first Olympics since the 2000 Sydney Summer Games that a U.S. president, vice president, first lady or former president has not been a member of the delegation for the opening ceremony,” USA Today notes. Obama did not address the matter in the announcement of Olympics attendees, but he has previously expressed strong disapproval of Russia’s antigay policies. The presidents of France and Germany have also said they will not attend the games.
The opening ceremony will be held February 7, the closing ceremony February 23. Members of the delegations will also attend sporting events during the Olympics and meet with U.S. athletes.