HRC Blog

Team LGBT: Seven Openly Gay Olympians to Compete at Sochi

Post submitted by Chloe Stokes, HRC Digital Media Intern.

Of an estimated 2,500 athletes competing in the 2014 Winter Olympics, only seven are openly gay, all of which are women.

Last June, Russia passed an anti-LGBT law outlawing “homosexual propaganda.” The law imposes jail time or fines to those who spread information that conveys that LGBT relationships are “socially equivalent” to heterosexual relationships. Since the passage of the law, the LGBT community in Russia has faced increasing harassment, violence, and limitations on freedom of speech. Foreigners, including those visiting the country for the Olympic Games, could also face fines and jail time, as well asldeportation.

The seven openly gay athletes participating in this year's Winter Games also risk facing these punishments if they choose to publicly express support for the LGBT community. 

Belle Brockhoff, an Australian snowboarder competing in her first Olympic Games, came out in protest of Russia’s anti-gay laws in 2013. Last month, Brockhoff expressed her belief that the Sochi Games were the best opportunity to condemn Russia’s laws, stating that she was “not happy and there’s a bunch of other Olympians who are not happy either.” Brockhoff has promised to display a six-finger salute during the Games, representing the Olympic Charter’s Principle Six, which states that “sport does not discriminate on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise.”

Anastasia Bucsis is a Canadian speed skater and Olympic veteran,having competed in the Vancouver Olympics four years ago. She came out publicly in 2013, during Calgary’s Gay Pride Parade. Earlier this year, Bucsis told The Globe and Mail that she was “so proud to be gay,” and condemned Russia’s anti-LGBT laws. “I could never promote that message of concealing who you are with all of this going on in Russia.”

Dutch snowboarder Cheryl Maas is married to former snowboarder Stine Brun Kjedlaas. She has publicly condemned Russia’s anti-LGBT laws, telling a Dutch news site “With the choice of Russia, the IOC is taking a step back in time. Russia lives in the past, while we should look forward.” After her first run in the qualifying round in the slope-style event on Thursday, Maas raised a rainbow glove to the cameras. While Russian President Putin has stated that LGBT athletes will not face discrimination, they are still risking arrest or harassment when making public statements.

Sanne van Kerkhof, a Dutch track speedskater, alongside her speedskating girlfriend, Ireen Wüst, will be competing in Sochi. Wüst won gold medals in the 2006 and 2010 Winter Games, and Kerkhof competed at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. In weeks leading up to the Games, the couple has been outspoken about their disapproval of the treatment of the LGBT community in Russia, but have also voiced that they will choose not to engage in protests and will focus on their events.

Daniela Iraschko-Stolz, an openly gay and married ski jumper, will be participating in the first Olympic competition for women’s ski jumping, as this is the first year that women have ever been allowed to participate in the event.

Barbara Jezeršek, a Slovenian cross-country skier, previously competed in the 10 km and 15 km races in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, as well as the 4x5 km relay. She has been extremely vocal about her conditions in Sochi on Twitter.

As LGBT athletes from around the globe head to Sochi for this year’s Olympics, we hope that they will be free from discrimination and harassment, and will be treated equally amongst other athletes. Best of luck to these athletes and their allies. Stay up to date with these athletes and the #LoveConquersHate campaign during this year's Olympic Games. To show your support for LGBT Russians, visit loveconquershate.org

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