Putin's Top Priority: 'Equal Terms' for Olympic Athletes

By Sunnivie Brydum

Originally published on Advocate.com December 19 2013 3:15 PM ET

Vladimir Putin used his annual marathon news conference to once again imply that LGBT athletes and spectators will be safe at the 2014 Winter Olympics, despite the nationwide ban on so-called gay propaganda he signed into law this summer.  

"The main thing for us is the good organization of these competitions — the creation of equal terms for all athletes,” Putin said, according to the Associated Press. 

While Putin has reiterated that goal several times, he has yet to elaborate on how, exactly, LGBT people in Russia during the Winter Olympics will be spared the kind of systemic violence, arrest, and harassment they have been routinely subjected to since the ban on "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" in areas visible to minors took effect in July. In August, Russian Olympic officials said that athletes would be safe from the law as long as they "do not commit such acts [to promote homosexuality to minors, and] do not conduct any kind of provocation and take part in the Olympics peacefully."

In what has been seen by some as a political statement, President Obama announced Tuesday that neither he, Vice President Biden, nor first lady Michelle Obama would travel to Sochi for the Olympics, set to begin February 7. Instead, the administration announced an official Olympic delegation that includes three out athletes — tennis legend and former Olympic coach Billie Jean King, two-time Olympic medalist in ice hockey Caitlin Cahow, both of whom are out lesbians, and Olympic gold medalist Brian Boitano, who just publicly confirmed the first time today that he is a gay man. 

While many interpreted President Obama's absence at the games as a "snub" to Putin, and the gay and lesbian-heavy Olympic delegation as a not-so-subtle response to Russia's virulent anti-LGBT climate, White House press secretary Jay Carney told the White House press corps Wednesday that that isn't the message the administration was attempting to send. 

"I think that this delegation brings attention to the remarkable diversity of the United States, as well as the success that the United States has had in sports, both at the Olympics and beyond," Carney said, according to a transcript posted on BuzzFeed. "It is also a demonstration of high-level success in civic activism, as well as in government service."