SOCHI OLYMPICS

For LGBT community, Russia remains a forbidding place

 

dave10dive@aol.com

I was fortunate enough to represent the United States as a diver in the 1996 and 2000 Summer Olympic Games. This week I’m going to the Olympics again. I’ll be in Sochi cheering on Team USA and supporting America’s LGBT athletes as well as the Russian LGBT community.

In June 2013, President Vladimir Putin signed a bill banning LGBT “propaganda,” which threatens the human rights of the millions of LGBT Russians. It violates their freedom of speech and, if widely enforced, could amount to de facto criminalization. It also endangers the lives of LGBT Russians. Anti-LBGT violence, often committed by neo-Nazis, is a major problem in Russia, and the “propaganda” law legitimizes the hate in hate crime.

It gets worse: President Putin is depicting LGBT people as pedophiles, and new anti-LGBT laws are surfacing. LGBT Russians — who until only a few years ago were beginning to be able to live openly — face increasing fears that their sexual identity will get them in legal or physical trouble.

As a gay American, I can’t imagine what gay Russians are going through. Although not to the same degree, I also have undergone discrimination based on my sexuality. Before the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, a former coach — in an act of vindictiveness — outed me in attempt to destroy my Olympic dream.

At the time, I was out to my friends and immediate family, but I never felt the need to announce my sexual identity to the press and the public. Fortunately, my hard work and competitive spirit and the support of my partner, friends and family enabled me to accomplish my Olympic dreams.

This was a difficult and challenging chapter in my life that, to this day, stirs my emotions. I refer to it now only to point out that like most LGBT people, wherever we live, I know what it’s like to have others try to use my sexual identity against me.

In 1996, President Clinton signed into law the Defense of Marriage Act, which barred the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages legalized by states. Last year, the Supreme Court ruled the law unconstitutional. The decision, along with the end of “don’t ask don’t-tell” and the legalization of same-sex marriage in many states, amounts to a sea change in the rights of LGBT people in the United States.

In another sign of progress, this year’s U.S. delegation to Sochi includes three openly gay or lesbian athletes: tennis legend and Olympic medalist Billie Jean King, skating gold medalist Brian Boitano and Caitlin Cahow, who won two medals. I applaud President Obama’s decision to include these gifted athletes in the delegation and have been pleased to see political figures such as U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and David Cicilline stand up for equality in Russia and around the world.

In light of these changes, LGBT Americans competing in the Olympics this year can be especially proud to represent their country. That’s not to say that politics and social change will be foremost on their minds.

When Human Rights First asked me to be part of its team in Sochi, I jumped at the chance. I want to be there for American athletes who take a stand for equality. But I also want to be there for American athletes who, having prepared most of their lives for this moment, want to focus on nothing but competing.

Together — American athletes and their supporters — we will show Russians that the United States respects and honors its LGBT citizens, and that LGBT people are just that, people. We’re sons and daughters, activists and athletes. And perhaps we’ll be able to give LGBT Russians hope that better, freer days lie ahead.

But Americans, from President Obama on down, must continue to champion the human rights of Russians over the long haul and continue to call for push for repeal the “propaganda” law.

When the Olympic flame is extinguished, American LGBT athletes will pack up and head home to their increasingly tolerant country. LGBT Russians will remain in a country that, left unchecked, might keep going in reverse.

David Pichler was an Olympic Team Captain and diver in the 1996 and 2000 Olympic Summer Games. He lives in Fort Lauderdale.

Read more Other Views stories from the Miami Herald

  • In My Opinion

    Pitts: Don’t look for the ‘perfect’ victim

    You’ve probably never heard of Claudette Colvin. And yet, had history twisted in a slightly different direction, she might loom as large in American memory as Rosa Parks does now while Parks herself would be a little-remembered seamstress.

  •  
MCT

    READINGPALS

    Read to children, change a life

    After reading to my students, we’d walk around the library and I’d tell them: ‘Look at all of these books; soon you’ll be able to read every single one. And if you can read every book here, you can learn anything you ever want to learn. And that’s what we are going to do together,’” said Alvin Blake, the former vice mayor for the City of North Bay Village.

  •  
MCT

    DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS

    We must do more to make our correctional facilities safer

    The death of Darren Rainey has heightened our awareness that we must do more to make our facilities safer. That’s why last week we announced system-wide reforms that focus on the mental-health needs of the inmates in our facilities, operating in a more transparent manner, increasing accountability and partnering with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to streamline investigations.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category