Obama Sends Pro-Gay Message with Olympic Delegation

White House includes openly gay Billie Jean King on the delegation

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Brad Barket / 2013 Getty Images

Billie Jean King attends the Women's Sports Foundation's 70th Birthday Party For Billie Jean King at the Museum of Art and Design on November 6, 2013 in New York City

President Obama sent a strong message to Russia about its anti-gay laws with Tuesday’s announcement of the Presidential Delegations to the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi. The White House delegation will include an openly gay athlete, tennis hall-of-famer Billie Jean King.

Russia’s parliament passed a law in June that bars “propaganda” about “nontraditional sexual relations.” The International Olympic Committee says Russia’s government has assured them gay athletes and spectators will not face discrimination, but activists have their doubts. Though Putin had banned demonstrations for the period surrounding the Olympics, the IOC president announced last week that there will be a special protest zone during the games.

The White House also didn’t name the president, vice president or first lady to either of the delegations, making this the first Olympics since 2000 that hasn’t had one of those people on the delegation for the opening ceremony.

The delegations for Sochi will attend events and meet with U.S. athletes.

The full delegation for the Opening ceremony, which will be held on February 7, includes: Janet A. Napolitano, the president of the of the University of California system (who will lead the delegation); Michael A. McFaul, United States Ambassador to the Russian Federation; Rober L. Nabors, deputy chief of staff for policy; Billie Jean King, a member of the president’s council on fitness, sports and nutrition; and Brian A. Boitano, an Olympic gold medalist in figure skating.

The Presidential Delegation to the Closing Ceremony includes: William J. Burns, deputy secretary of state; Michael a. McFaul; Bonnie Blair, five-time Olympic gold medalist in speed skating; Caitlin Cahow, Olympic silver and bronze medalist in women’s hockey; and Dr. Eric Heiden, five-time Olympic gold medalist in speed skating.

Though Obama has not commented on the make-up of the Sochi delegations, he has said, “I have no patience for countries that try to treat gays or lesbians or transgender persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them.” However, he believes that Putin has a vested stake in the Olympics working and therefore will not tolerate discrimination of visiting athletes and their families at the games.