October 7, 2013 | by Michael K. Lavers
Lawmakers press U.S. Olympic Committee over Russian LGBT rights record

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Republican Party, United States House of Representatives, Florida, Russia, Vladimir Putin, Council for Global Equality

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) speaks about Russia’s LGBT rights record during a Council for Global Equality reception at the Rayburn Building in D.C. on Sept. 30, 2013. (Photo courtesy of Gabriella Boffelli)

More than three dozen members of Congress on Monday asked the head of the U.S. Olympic Committee to explain how he plans to ensure the safety of American athletes who plan to compete in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

The letter to U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun, which gay California Congressman Mark Takano and U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen circulated among their Capitol Hill colleagues, notes Russia’s LGBT rights record that includes a law that bans gay propaganda to minors. It also states that signatories 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.”

“We call on the United States Olympic Committee 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,” the letter reads. “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.”

The signatories — U.S. Reps. 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 Slalwell (D-Calif.), Juan Vargas (D-Calif.), Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) along with Takano and Ros-Lehtinen — also criticized the International Olympic Committee for prohibiting athletes from challenging Russia’s LGBT rights record during the Sochi games.

“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,” the letter reads.

Lawmakers wrote to Blackmun amid growing outrage over Russia’s LGBT rights record that includes calls to boycott the Sochi games.

Blackmun in August told a Russian online newspaper that American athletes should comply with the laws of the countries in which they compete. A U.S. Olympic Committee spokesperson later said the country’s gay propaganda law is “inconsistent with fundamental Olympic principles” and the American Olympic body has “shared our view with the IOC.”

Blackmun told reporters last week the U.S. Olympic Committee would support efforts to bolster anti-discrimination provisions within the Olympic charter. IOC President Thomas Bach earlier on Monday told All Out Executive Director Andre Banks in a letter his organization “will do everything it can to ensure” the Sochi games and any future Olympics “will be free of any form of discrimination.”

Bach did not specifically say whether the Olympic Charter explicitly opposes discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression in his letter to Banks.

Ros-Lehtinen criticized the U.S. Olympic Committee’s response to Russia’s LGBT rights record during an interview with the Washington Blade after she spoke at a Council for Global Equality reception on Capitol Hill on September 30.

“The U.S. Olympic Committee has been complicit in this act of aggression because they say we respect Russia’s right to do this,” the Florida Republican said. “That is not worthy of Olympic standards.”

The U.S. Olympic Committee did not immediately respond to the Blade’s request for comment.

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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