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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August,9 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 32
Kerry urged to ensure LGBT Olympic athletes' safety - Reps. McDermott, DelBene, Smith express concern over Russia's anti-Gay laws
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Kerry urged to ensure LGBT Olympic athletes' safety - Reps. McDermott, DelBene, Smith express concern over Russia's anti-Gay laws

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Seattle-area U.S. Reps. Jim McDermott (D-7) and Suzan DelBene (D-1) this week joined 81 other House members in a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry asking him to 'determine the appropriate course of action to assure the safety and well-being of LGBT and LGBT-supporting individuals involved in or attending the 2014 Sochi Olympics and Paralympics.'

The letter was written by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), a longtime ally of the LGBT community, and included both Democratic and Republican members of Congress.

'The United States must do everything we can to protect those Americans who are traveling to Russia for the Olympic and Paralympic Games this winter. Russia's anti-LGBT laws defy basic human rights that should be guaranteed to everyone at all times and in all places,' Nadler said in a statement.

'These laws are completely contrary to the uniting spirit of the Olympics, which brings diverse nations together in a spirit of peaceful and friendly competition.'

FEAR OF PERSECUTION
McDermott, a vocal opponent of U.S. military interventions abroad, stressed his commitment to peace.

'In the Olympic spirit of peace, mutual understanding, and friendship, I hope the Russians will welcome all of our citizens,' he told SGN.

'That said, their recent anti-LGBT law is a major cause for concern and runs contrary to principles of human dignity and basic rights. The United States must take action to ensure that all our athletes, staff, and spectators are safe and fully respected when participating in the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.'

DelBene echoed the concern for the safety of athletes and travelers in Russia.

'All athletes deserve to be treated with respect during the Olympic games and LGBT athletes should be able to compete without fear of persecution by Russian authorities,' she said in an e-mail to SGN.

'The spirit of the Olympic Games is supposed to be of tolerance and mutual understanding by bringing together different cultures from around the world. The recent discriminatory law in Russia is unjustly harsh and can have real consequences for the safety and treatment of American and international LGBT athletes, staff, their supporters, and spectators in Russia during the 2014 Games. It's critically important that our State Department take steps now to ensure no one is mistreated or suffers from the discriminatory laws in Russia.'

WAITING FOR REPLY
In addition to Nadler, McDermott, and DelBene, the letter was signed by Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and every openly LGBT member of the House: Jared Polis (D-CO), David Cicilline (D-RI), Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), and Mark Takano (D-CA).

Nadler's office told SGN they had not yet had a response from the State Department, but expected one soon.

Although he did not sign on to the Nadler letter, Rep. Adam Smith (D-9) said he was 'outraged' by Russia's conduct and issued a statement expressing similar concern for the safety of athletes in Sochi.

'Russia's policies to arrest and intimidate LGBT people are appalling. Recent laws have allowed the Russian government to arrest anyone who is openly Gay or anyone who openly supports the equal treatment of LGBT people,' Smith wrote on August 8.

'With the 2014 Winter Olympics set to take place in Sochi, Russia, in the coming months, I am deeply concerned about the safety and freedom of our athletes and visitors as they attend the Games. If President Putin cannot assure that LGBT athletes and supporters will be free to express themselves without fear of being jailed, then the U.S. needs to consider the implications of participating in the Games.

'With that said, after speaking with constituents and leaders on this issue, I am confident that we can adequately protect our athletes, and by participating and protesting the oppressive anti-LGBT laws in the spotlight of the Olympics, we can bring greater exposure to the discrimination and persecution of LGBT people in Russia and around the world. As this issue evolves, I will work with my colleagues to pressure Russia to ensure our athletes and visitors will be protected.'

OBAMA: 'NO PATIENCE'
In response to an inquiry from SGN, the State Department declined to discuss 'communications with Congress,' but a department official reiterated State's concerns about new Russian laws restricting 'homosexual propaganda.'

'The United States understands that the Russian ban on so-called 'LGBT propaganda' applies to both Russian citizens and foreigners in Russia,' the official said in an e-mail statement.

'The United States places great importance on the protection of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all people, including Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender persons, as well as anyone attending or participating in the Olympic Games. We call on Russia to uphold its international commitments regarding freedom of assembly and association and freedom of expression, now and in the future. '

Meanwhile, in an August 6 appearance on The Tonight Show, President Obama expressed impatience with Russia's attitude.

'I have no patience for countries that try to treat [LGBT people] in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them,' the president said.

'I think Putin and Russia have a big stake in making sure that the Olympics work, and I think that they understand that for most of the countries that participate in the Olympics we wouldn't tolerate Gays and Lesbians being treated differently. They are athletes. They are there to compete.'

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