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Gay athletes fear homophobic atmosphere at 2014 Olympics in Russia

Atmosphere and laws in Russia represent potential problems for gay athletes

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Johnny Weir
Johnny Weir
Matthew Stockman

Two gay athletes who hope to compete at the 2014 Winter Olympics, which start a year from now, talked about the climate for LGBT people in an increasingly repressive Russia.

The Black Sea Russian city of Sochi will host the event and we already know that a Pride House has been prohibited. In addition, Russia is expected to pass a law that will outlaw "homosexual propoganda," which would rule out pride parades and even same-sex public displays of affection.

This worries out New Zealand speedskater Blake Skjellerup, who told USA TODAY:

"I don't want to have to tone myself down about who I am," Skjellerup said. "That wasn't very fun and there's no way I'm going back in the closet. I just want to be myself and I hate to think that being myself would get me in trouble."

Figure skater Johnny Weir, who hopes to make the U.S. Olympic team, next year, is a big fan of all things Russian and his husband's family grew up in what was the Soviet Union.

"I love Russia and there is nothing that will change that," Weir said. "I'm a true patriot and spokesperson for their country. It's appalling they can censor their public, but I try to do everything I can. I have been in talks with different LBGT organizations in Russia with how I can help."

When Weir and his husband were in Moscow last November for a competition, they posted pictures of themselves online sharing a kiss at various places in the city. Weir also acknowledged he's treated differently because of the country's appreciation of his skating.

Pride House, a gathering place for LGBT fans at the 2010 Games in Vancouver, has been barred in Sochi by Russian authorities and the International Olympic Committee has been silent on the issue. Marc Naimark, Vice President for External Affairs of the Federation of Gay Games, sent an open letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin and IOC head Jacques Rogge.

"We are confident that it is not too late for the government of the Russian Federation and the International Olympic Committee to send a message of fidelity to the Olympic Charter and hope to athletes, officials, and visitors to the 2014 Games. We urge you to provide your full support to a Pride House in Sochi, and to an Olympic truce in Russia’s war on gay and lesbian Russians and visitors."

Good luck with that.

U.S. women's soccer player Megan Rapinoe, who came out as lesbian prior to the 2012 London Olympics, said she would be apprehensive if she were going to Sochi.

"If I was just a gay fan going to Sochi, I don't know. If the law passes, I would definitely be breaking the law. Hopefully it won't deter gay athletes from being who they are."

Weir gave advice to gays going to the Sochi Games: "Watch what you do when you leave the Village, don't be aggressive, don't wear a big rainbow flag fur coat. If you don't call attention to yourself, attention won't come to you."

He misses the point. We're long past the point where gay people should have to hide who they are at any event like the Olympics. Having the Games in Sochi is a big step backward for tolerance of LGBT people in sports.