Gay Speed Skater Hopes to Be Out and Proud at Sochi Olympics

by Winnie McCroy

EDGE Editor

Thursday November 21, 2013

New Zealand speed skater Blake Skjellerup hopes to be the first openly gay athlete to compete at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, with a mission to support fellow gays by casting a light on Russia's oppressive anti-gay propaganda laws.

"I will be myself in Russia. And at the moment that is illegal. My goal is to inspire, encourage and offer support to LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] people in Russia," Skjellerup told the British newspaper, the Guardian.

"I would love for Putin to get to know me. I would tell him how much I disagree with his oppressive anti-gay propaganda laws, and that he has a responsibility as the president of Russia to represent all the people of his country," said the athlete.

Skjellerup said that he had arranged secret meetings with gay activists, saying that the stories they told "chilled him."

"It was emotional to hear what they were going through," he told the Guardian. "They were afraid on so many levels. The law is very discriminative and oppressive and it's leading to greater violence against LGBT people. At the weekend two gunmen opened fire at a gay club in Moscow and such acts are not uncommon. For many the only choice is to go underground."

Russia's anti-gay propaganda law makes it a crime for anyone to promote "non-traditional sexual relations," with fines of up to 5,000 rubles for individuals, and up to 500,000 for businesses and schools.

Skjellerup hopes that he will earn enough points in four qualifying events to make it to Sochi. If he does, he plans to sell rainbow pins to help fund his training, and to support Russian LGBT groups.

According to the Guardian, Skjellerup hopes the image of his competing in Russia will inspire people in the same way Jessie Owens inspired Blacks during the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany.

"When people see me, everyone will know that I am Blake and I am gay," Skjellerup told the Guardian. "That I am here to advance the movement of gay people in sport -- and to support gay people in Russia."

To help Skjellerup get to Sochi, donate to his campaign.

Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.