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Letter to Scott Blackmun, CEO, United States Olympic Committee - Ensure Safety of Americans During Winter Olympics

Yesterday, Representative Mark Takano (D-CA), Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), and thirty-seven additional Members of Congress sent a letter to United States Olympic Committee Chief Executive Officer Scott Blackmun raising concerns about the treatment and safety of American athletes and spectators during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

In the letter, the Members of Congress stated, "We are very concerned with Russia's anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) law and the upcoming Winter Olympics being hosted in Sochi. The protection of an individual's human rights, regardless of a person's background, is of utmost concern to us as Americans and Members of Congress."

The letter continues, "As you are aware, Russia's recently enacted law purports to protect children by prohibiting support for LGBT people in the country. In the wake of the law there have been an increasing number of anti-LGBT hate crimes reported by the media in Russia. We are concerned about the treatment of athletes and spectators traveling to Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics who disagree with Russia's violation of the human rights of LGBT people."

"The Russian government's actions against the LGBT community are nothing short of reprehensible," said Rep. Ros-Lehtinen. "No one should be forced to stop being who they are or hide themselves or their love for another. Restricting free speech rights due to an individual's sexual orientation or gender identity is an attitude out of the 15th century, not the 21st. All of us should denounce this conduct in the strongest possible terms and work for a day when everyone is able to be with the person they choose."

"The legislation signed into law this past June by Russian President Vladimir Putin gives me concern about how American athletes and spectators will be treated during the upcoming Winter Olympics," said Rep. Takano. "These laws mark a dramatic step backward for LGBT Russians, and restricting free speech with the hope of suppressing protests of the law is not in the spirit of the Olympic Games. Everyone attending and participating in the games, regardless of their sexual orientation, should be treated equally, as the two weeks in Sochi promise to be a celebration of not just the world's best athletes, but the world's diversity as well."

The letter was also signed by Ami Bera (D-Calif.), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Julia Brownley (D-Calif.), Lois Capps (D-Calif.), Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.), Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Lois Frankel (D-Fla.), Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.), Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.), Mike Honda (D-Calif.), Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), Jim Moran (D-Va.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Bradley Schneider (D-Ill.), Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.), Adam Smith (D-Wash.), Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), Juan Vargas (D-Calif.), Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).

In June, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law a bill banning the "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors." Foreign citizens found to engage in propaganda are subject to a fine of 4,000 to 5,000 rubles, can be deported from Russia and/or serve 15 days in jail. If a foreign citizen uses the media or the internet to engage in propaganda, the fines increase to 50,000-100,000 rubles or a 15-day detention.

FULL TEXT OF LETTER:

October 7, 2013

Scott Blackmun

Chief Executive Officer

United States Olympic Committee

27 South Tejon

Colorado Springs, CO 80903

Mr. Blackmun,

We are very concerned with Russia's anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) law and the upcoming Winter Olympics being hosted in Sochi. The protection of an individual's human rights, regardless of a person's background, is of utmost concern to us as Americans and Members of Congress.

As you are aware, Russia's recently enacted law purports to protect children by prohibiting support for LGBT people in the country. In the wake of the law there have been an increasing number of anti-LGBT hate crimes reported by the media in Russia. We are concerned about the treatment of athletes and spectators traveling to Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics who disagree with Russia's violation of the human rights of LGBT people.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC), in response to public pressure, recently invoked Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter to discourage those participating in the winter games from speaking out against Russia's violation of human rights. While we agree that the Olympics are a time of friendly competition where displays of political disagreement are not appropriate, we are deeply troubled that the International Olympic Committee would find raising awareness of the abuse of an entire population's human rights to be a political statement in violation of Rule 50.

We call on the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) to ensure that any American athlete, or someone associated with an American team, is afforded the right to show solidarity with, and support of, LGBT people around the globe to be free from discrimination and harm. Wearing a pin or another outward manifestation of solidarity with LGBT athletes should not be defined as "political' if it is not intended to support any clear political party or position but is intended, instead, to highlight the spirit of the Olympic Games, which celebrates the unique humanity of all athletes from every country and culture.

While we disagree that the wearing of a pin or a gesture to highlight Russia's egregious law and treatment of LGBT people is a demonstration prohibited by Rule 50, we do note that Rule 50, section 1.6 permits for exceptions, should that become necessary given the political implications of this issue.

Equally as concerning is the impact that Rule 50 will have on LGBT athletes. We would like clarity as to whether a gay, lesbian, or bisexual athlete would be in violation of Rule 50 or Russian law for publicly recognizing or being seen with a same-sex spouse or partner during the Olympics in Sochi. For instance, would an athlete be subject to reprimand or arrest if, during an awards ceremony or interview, they discuss their same-sex spouse or partner? Such a show of appreciation for the love and support that loved ones give to Olympic athletes is extremely common and would never be considered a political statement coming from a straight athlete.

The United States Olympic Committee should provide guidelines to those American Olympic athletes who may want to demonstrate support for LGBT individuals and others facing persecution in Russia by clarifying how, in keeping with the spirit of the Olympic Games, they may nonetheless exercise their right to free expression and manifest their public solidarity during the Games in Sochi.

We look forward to your response regarding how USOC is working with the IOC to ensure that athletes will not be punished for recognizing a loved one or standing up against hate and violence at the Winter Olympics being hosted by Russia in Sochi.

Sincerely,


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