President Putin has unwittingly propelled the LGBTI community into the spotlight with his anti-gay laws.
With the Winter Olympics launching today (7 February), the handful of openly gay athletes competing in Sochi will not only be concerned about their sporting performance, but also for their personal safety.
Despite assurances from Russian politicians, LGBTI athletes and supporters still face danger despite Principle Six of the Olympic charter meant to eradicate discrimination from the Olympic Games:
‘Any forms of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.’
Various athletes, gay and straight, have joined the Principle 6 campaign, wearing t-shirts and changing their social media photos to highlight the value of the principle in these Olympics.
There are only seven openly gay athletes at this year’s Winter Olympics out of the 2,500 athletes taking part. This means out gay athletes account for less than a quarter of 1% of competitors at Sochi.
However, if the performance of LGBTI athletes at the London 2012 Olympics is anything to go by, Sochi’s opnely gay athletes could have a significant impact only by participating.
Here are the seven known gay athletes who are competing at the Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Australian snowboarder Belle Brockhoff came out in August 2013, and as one of the youngest gay athletes competing at Sochi, has also been one of the most outspoken.
She hit out at Russia’s anti-gay laws: ‘I want to be able to be who I am, be proud of who I am and be proud of all the work that has gotten me to the Olympics and not have to deal with this kind of a law,’ she said.
The 21-year-old plans to use the Winter Olympics as a platform to stand up for equality. Brockhoff is planning to wear the newly launched Principle Six clothing line, a campaign which aims to end discrimination at Olympic events.
‘I’ll wear what I have to wear for the team because I am representing Australia but apart from that I’ll definitely be wearing Principle 6 stuff’ she said.
The snowboarder also had a few choice words for Putin: ‘After I compete, I’m willing to rip on his ass. I’m not happy and there’s a bunch of other Olympians who are not happy either’ she said.
Cherly Maas is a lesbian snowboarder from the Netherlands who competed in the 2006 Winter Olympics. The 30-year-old is married to fellow Olympian and snowboarder Stine Brun Kjeldaas from Norway, with whom she has a daughter, and regularly posts pictures of her family on her website.
Upon qualifying for the games in Sochi, Maas criticized the IOC for holding the games in homophobic Russia: ‘The IOC should consider where it wants to organize the Games,’ she said.
‘They should not do so in countries where certain groups are excluded, as is the case in Russia. By choosing Russia the IOC takes a step back in time. Russia is living in the past.’
Maas went on to say while her focus will be on her sport, she will not stay silent.
‘I ‘m just a snowboarder, that’s my job. But when asked, I always give my opinion,’ she said.
While on her way to Sochi, Maas posted a picture on Instagram of a rainbow pride badge pinned to her chest with the caption: ‘Sochi here I come :-)’
Bisexual speed skater Wüst has twice won gold medals in her Olympic career: In 2006 in Turin at the age of just 19 and again in Vancouver in 2010.
Wüst was in a relationship with fellow Dutch speed skater Saane Van Kerkhof but upheld that she did not want to be defined by her relationships: ‘I want to talk about ice skating’ she said.
‘If I would’ve had a relationship with a guy, you wouldn’t have asked me.’
It was reported in March 2013 that she had found love with a man and again she spoke about her sexuality.
‘I fall for the person, gender does not matter,’ she said.
Saane Van Kerkhof
This Dutch speed skater competed in the 2010 Winter Olympics in the women’s relay.
Her relationship with Ireen Würst was revealed in a 2009 interview with a Dutch magazine.
Alongside her team mates, she won gold at the European Championships in the Netherlands and silver in the World Championships in the UK in 2011.
Barbara Jezeršek is a cross country skier who will be representing Slovenia at Sochi. She competed at the World Ski Championships in 2009 and also at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Canada.
25-year-old Canadian speed skater Bucsis, who competed in the Winter Olympics in 2010, came out as a lesbian at a gay pride parade.
‘I could never promote that message of concealing who you are with all of this going on in Russia. I’m kind of happy that I did it on my own terms,’ she said.
In an interview in September 2013 she spoke about how being closeted affected her performance as an athlete.
‘I’ve only ever tried to be a good person. I was very confused why I was dealt this card. It was terrible,’ she said.
Now out and proud, Bucsis hopes the presence of other gay athletes competing at Sochi might help Russia to take a step forward.
‘I also have faith in Russia. I think – I hope – that things will get better,’ she said.
The 30-year-old Austrian ski jumper is competing in the Olympics for the first time. She is known as the first woman to fly over 200 metres.