In a move that sends a signal to Russia about its anti-gay laws, the White House announced Tuesday that the presidential delegation to the Winter Olympics in Sochi will include two gay athletes, tennis great Billie Jean King and ice hockey player Caitlin Cahow, The Hill reported.
The legendary tennis champ received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009 in recognition of her work on behalf of the LGBT community.
Two-time Olympian Cahow came out as a lesbian earlier this year.
Civil rights groups pressured President Barack Obama to include gay leaders in the delegation as a symbol of its opposition to Russia's laws banning ''gay propaganda," which impose fines and imprisonment for those who stage gay-pride rallies or events.
Last week, Human Rights First sent a letter to Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett that asserted, "the selection of the members of the official U.S. delegations for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Sochi Olympics is an important opportunity to signal to Russia and the world the priority the Obama administration places on equality and human dignity."
"We urge you to ensure that the U.S. delegation includes prominent LGBT people – athletes, government officials and others – as well as allies of the LGBT community who will carry a message of tolerance and respect for individual rights and human dignity," the letter, obtained by McClatchy, continued.
Former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano will lead the U.S. delegation to the Opening Ceremonies. U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, deputy chief of staff Rob Nabors, and gold-medal figure skater Brian Boitano will also appear.
The Closing Ceremonies delegation will be led by Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, and will include McFaul, speed-skating gold medalists Bonnie Blair and Eric Heiden, and Cahow.
Neither the president nor first lady Michelle Obama will be in either delegation.
Earlier this summer, Obama said he did not "think it's appropriate to boycott the Olympics" — but said he hoped gay U.S. athletes would win medals and in turn change attitudes.
"One of the things I'm really looking forward to is maybe some gay and lesbian athletes bringing home the gold or silver or bronze, which I think would go a long way in rejecting the kind of attitudes that we're seeing there," he said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said gay athletes will be welcome at the games.
"We are doing everything, both the organizers and our athletes and fans, so that participants and guests feel comfortable in Sochi, regardless of nationality, race, or sexual orientation," Putin told RIA Novosti.
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