Olympic dreams caught up in US, Russia LGBT fight - NBC12 - WWBT - Richmond, VA News On Your Side

Olympic dreams caught up in US, Russia LGBT political fight

Johnny Weir and the U.S. Olympic delegation shouldn't be the face of the pro-LGBT movement sent to Sochi for the Winter Games - but they are politically. (Source: WHYY/MGN Online) Johnny Weir and the U.S. Olympic delegation shouldn't be the face of the pro-LGBT movement sent to Sochi for the Winter Games - but they are politically. (Source: WHYY/MGN Online)

(RNN) – The Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, have drawn as much attention for the international outcry over Russia's anti-gay laws as for the games themselves.

NBC Olympic commentator Johnny Weir, an openly gay man and a two-time Olympian, is among those caught in the conversation about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered rights.

Weir, a three-time U.S. men's figure skating champion, was praised for his support of Olympic athletes and the U.S.'s involvement in this year's games, but took fire from LGBT advocates when he opposed an Olympic boycott. He will serve as a commentator for NBC along with former Olympians Tara Lipinski and Tanith Belbin.

Russia's laws prompted LGBT advocates to call for a boycott of the games by U.S. Olympic athletes similar to the boycott of the 1980 summer games in the USSR following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

According to a June 2013 poll by the Pew Research Global Attitudes Project, 74 percent of Russians believed homosexuality was unacceptable while 16 percent believed it is acceptable. American numbers are almost exactly the opposite. A poll taken in the summer after the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned the Defense of Marriage Act showed that just 14 percent of Americans oppose the acceptance of homosexuality, while 80 percent support it.

The poll results were released after Russians voted for an anti-gay law dubbed Article 6.21 that banned "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations" to Russian children. The bill was signed into law by Russian President Vladimir Putin on June 30, and he fully supports the anti-LGBT movement in his country.

However, Putin said Jan. 17 that gays and lesbians who come to the Olympics will not be persecuted.

"One can feel calm and at ease. Just leave kids alone, please," Putin said.

Weir said last summer that he supports LGBT rights, he does not support a public stand against Russia's laws with a boycott. Weir reasoned such a move would be a "slap in the face" to Olympians who worked tirelessly to reach the grandest stage in their sport and those who helped them get there.

In an op-ed published in the Falls Church (VA) News-Press in July 2013, Weir said he did not want to engage politically with the anti-LGBT laws of Russia; he's also spoken of his love for Russia's culture, and mentioned that his husband is of Russian descent. Weir did not mince words when he said his love of Russia did not mean its government, which he does not support.

"I will proudly go to Russia – God willing I slip through the cracks and get a visa – and hold my head high. Should I get arrested, I will be arrested with the pride that I am myself, never flinching, and I will be strong for the oppressed community of beautiful people who I can call brothers," Weir wrote. "I will be strong for the country, not for the government."

A number of western European leaders will not attend the games, although their athletes will compete, including: British Prime Minister David Cameron, German President Joachim Gauck and Chancellor Angela Merkel, and French President Francois Hollande. Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite will not attend, and did not single out the LGBT issue. She declined attending the games as an overall objection of Russia's politics and treatment of its neighbors.

No members of President Barack Obama's administration will attend, but in their stead the U.S. will send a delegation of openly gay American athletes. The Olympic delegation includes: tennis icon Billie Jean King, former Olympic ice skater Brian Boitano and former women's hockey player Caitlin Cahow as part of a delegation that has been seen politically and internationally as a U.S. snub to Russia and its anti-gay stance.

The deepening rift between the U.S. and Russia, amplified by the Edward Snowden controversy and the two nations' saber rattling over Syria, has put a cloud over this year's games and has been a cause of concern for security of athletes and visitors.

Follow me on Twitter @TanitaG_RNN.

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