November 9, 2014 at 3:35 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Lesbian Olympian ‘couldn’t stay silent’ about anti-gay Russian law

Caitlin Cahow, gay news, Washington Blade

Olympian Caitlin Cahow was the keynote speaker at the Team D.C. “Night of Champions” at the Renaissance Hotel on Nov. 8, 2014. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A lesbian Olympian who was a member of the U.S. delegation to the 2014 Winter Olympics on Saturday said she could not “stay silent” about the Russian law that bans the promotion of so-called gay propaganda to minors.

“I couldn’t stay silent about this because as an Olympian, the Olympics to me are the pinnacle of human achievement,” said Caitlin Cahow during remarks she gave at Team D.C.’s “A Night of Champions” dinner and awards ceremony at the Renaissance Hotel in Northwest Washington that Steve Rudin of WJLA emceed. “To have a shroud of hatred hang over something like that was unacceptable to me.”

Cahow, a women’s ice hockey player who won a silver medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and a bronze medal at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, said she “probably wasn’t ready to be completely out in the media” before Russian President Vladimir Putin last year signed the gay propaganda law.

“Sometimes I don’t have a choice,” she said. “When Russia passed the anti-LGBT policies, I had no choice.”

Cahow told Team D.C. supporters she soon began to grant interviews with people she knew and trusted. She said she tried to “navigate the conversation away from” her personal life.

“Of course that never works,” said Cahow.

Cahow said she never came out during any of the aforementioned interviews, but online articles proclaimed her a “lesbian Olympian” or a “lesbian athlete.”

“I was like alright, away we go,” she joked. “Exactly what I didn’t want to happen, so I kind of had to have a gut check moment there.”

Cahow said she did not think too much about the attention her sexual orientation was receiving until President Obama asked her to become a member of the U.S. delegation to the 2014 Winter Olympics. She told Team D.C. supporters that she did not known the White House had also tapped lesbian tennis legend Billie Jean King and then-closeted figure skater Brian Boitano to represent the U.S. in Sochi.

“When the press release came out I was like, oh my gosh, Billie Jean King, wouldn’t you know,” said Cahow. “That was so daring of president Obama to put an openly gay person on that delegation.”

Cahow acknowledged she soon found herself in a new role, even though she had previously advocated in support of LGBT rights through Athlete Ally and other groups.

“You don’t just come out once,” she said. “Sometimes you come out during a global media crisis on national TV and that’s kind of what happened to me a little bit. I wasn’t being outed, but I was being forced to step outside of my comfort zone. I was forded to get real with who I was. And the way I was able to grab my head around all of this was by thinking about the people who had come before me.”

The gay propaganda law and Russia’s overall LGBT rights record overshadowed the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Several American advocacy groups urged the U.S. to boycott the Sochi games in response to the gay propaganda law. The Obama administration has repeatedly criticized the Kremlin over its LGBT rights record, but it opposed calls to boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics.

“It is so important for the athletes to be able to train and participate and live that (Olympic) dream,” said Cahow. “Through sports, you can bring people together peacefully to bring out the best in each of us for the greater good of humanity.”

Cahow during her remarks at the Team D.C. event repeatedly stressed the importance of LGBT visibility.

“The one thing I can say is that we had an incredible opportunity to shed some light into pretty dark spaces in humanity, spaces that rarely see the light of day, that rarely get talked about,” she said, referring to her membership in the U.S. delegation to the Sochi games. “I’m an Olympian and I can tell you that had I been competing in the Sochi games I still would have played my absolutely best regardless of where I was.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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