President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle will not attend the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, the White House indicated on December 17 in announcing the official US Presidential Delegation to the Games.
With neither Vice President Joe Biden nor any former president on the list, 2014 will mark the first time since the Summer Games in Sydney, Australia, that no American official of such high rank will be in attendance, according to USA Today.
Observers of the controversial anti-gay legislation in Russia, which has spawned a wave of lethal violence against LGBT people there, have been awaiting White House word on who would be representing the US at Sochi.
Queer Nation NY, which has led protests in New York against the Russian law for months, hailed the Obama administration’s announcement.
“The White House has sent a strong message of disapproval of Russia’s anti-gay law by declining to have the president, the first lady, the vice president, or the vice president’s wife attend any part of the Olympics in Russia,” the group said in a statement to Gay City News.
French President Francois Hollande and German President Joachim Gauck had earlier announced their plans to skip the Games, though neither government offered specific explanation of their decision.
The US delegation to the Opening Ceremonies will be led by a former Cabinet secretary, Janet Napolitano, who headed up the Department of Homeland Security before accepting the presidency of the University of California system. It will also include out lesbian tennis star Billie Jean King, who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Obama in 2009.
Michael A. McFaul, the US ambassador to the Russian Federation, will be part of both the Opening and Closing Ceremonies delegations. The closing delegation will be headed by William J. Burns, a deputy secretary of State, and will include two-time Olympic ice hockey medalist Caitlin Cahow, who came out as a lesbian in November.
Others joining the American delegations to Sochi include Robert L. Nabors, the White House deputy chief of staff for policy, and former Olympians Bonnie Blair and Eric Heiden, both speed skaters, and figure skater Brian Boitano.
Lauding the administration’s decision to include two prominent LGBT athletes in its delegation, Shawn Gaylord, the advocacy counsel at Human Rights First, in a written statement, said, “The selection of this delegation displays to the international community the American values of respect and equality for all.”