October 11, 2013 at 5:56 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
U.S. Olympic Committee bans anti-gay discrimination
Athlete Ally, All Out, IOC, International Olympic Committee, Russia, Sochi, gay news, Washington Blade

Members of All Out and Athlete Ally on August 7 presented a petition with more than 300,000 signatures to the International Olympic Committee that urges it to pressure Russia to end its gay crackdown. (Photo courtesy of All Out)

The U.S. Olympic Committee Board of Directors on Thursday voted to add sexual orientation to its non-discrimination policy.

U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun made the announcement earlier on Friday during a speech he delivered in Colorado Springs, Colo., as he discussed a Russian law that bans gay propaganda to minors. Blackmun also referenced the reassurances the International Olympic Committee has said it has received from the Kremlin that the statute will not impact athletes and others who plan to attend the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

“Even though we have been assured by the IOC that the new law will not directly impact anybody in Russia for the games, it is important for us to emphasize that we believe the law is inconsistent with the fundamental principles of the Olympic and Paraolympic movements,” Blackmun said.

The policy change took place three days after U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Mark Takano (D-Calif.) and more than three dozen other members of Congress urged Blackmun in a letter to outline the steps the U.S. Olympic Committee plans to take to protect athletes who travel to the Sochi games. The Dutch LGBT advocacy group COC Nederland has also sought similar assurances from their country’s Olympic committee amid growing outrage over the gay propaganda law and Russia’s LGBT rights record.

IOC President Thomas Bach earlier this week reiterated the Olympic charter bans all forms of discrimination in a letter to the LGBT advocacy group All Out. He did not specifically say whether it includes sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

The Olympic body in August also announced athletes are not allowed to publicly challenge Russia’s gay propaganda law during the Sochi games.

“We are actively seeking more clarity from the IOC on what will and will not be regarded as violations of Rule 50 in the games environment and we will absolutely communicate what we learn to athletes and administrators alike,” Blackmun said during his speech.

Blackmun also reiterated the IOC’s position that it cannot urge the Russian government to modify or repeal the law.

“The fact that we do not think it is our role to advocate for a change to the Russian law does not mean that we support the law, and we do not,” he said.

Ros-Lehtinen described the U.S. Olympic Committee’s decision to add sexual orientation to its non-discrimination policy as “a positive step forward toward living up to the ideals” of the games in a statement to the Washington Blade on Friday. She added she feels there is “still much work to be done to ensure the rights and freedoms of all LGBT individuals are protected, in and out of sports.”

“I urge the International Olympic Committee to include LGBT individuals in its goal of building a better world through sports by instituting similar non-discrimination polices as the USOC has done,” the Florida Republican said.

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

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