WASHINGTON --- Greg Louganis urged American Olympians on Friday to dedicate their performances at February's Sochi Games to their gay friends and relatives as a means of public but personal protest against Russian anti-gay laws.
Louganis, the former diver and Olympic gold medalist, reaffirmed his position against a boycott of the Sochi Games at a Capitol Hill briefing of the House LGBT Equality Caucus hosted by U.S. Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Human Rights First, an international human rights organization based in New York and Washington.
Louganis, who was a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic team that boycotted the Moscow Games, said his position on a boycott has angered some in the LGBT community but that he believes boycotts "hurt the wrong people," meaning elite athletes who have dedicated their lives to this moment.
Russia's so-called anti-propaganda law, passed by its parliament in June, bars "propaganda" about "nontraditional sexual relations" as a means of protecting children.
Louganis, who is openly gay, said gay children are born in Russia every day. "Every child needs to be protected," he said.
Human Rights First urged the Obama administration last month to include prominent LGBT people in the official U.S. delegation to Sochi. Louganis said he is open to going, if selected.
"If it would be helpful, I would be there in a heartbeat," he told USA TODAY Sports after the briefing. "If I would be a distraction, that's my concern. I don't want to be a distraction. But if there's any way I can be of benefit, focusing a light on injustice, then I'll be there. I just heard today that my name is in the mix for potentially going. I was like, really? I'm a Summer Olympian. But I think I am pretty level-headed. I have not heard from anyone officially, so it was news to me."
Louganis said as he understands the law, Olympic athletes in Sochi could potentially be in trouble for wearing rainbow pins in support of the LGBT movement. That, he said, is why he thinks athletes should publicly thank gay friends and relatives who have supported them in their road to the Olympics.
"I don't see how the IOC can say anything about that, because it's personal, not political," Louganis said. "If you have a supportive aunt, uncle, cousin, friend who is gay, you don't win a gold medal by yourself. There is a team of people behind you. And to recognize those people is a way athletes can show their support of the LGBT community and what's going on in Russia."
Louganis said he got sharply critical pushback when he first said that he is not in favor of boycotting the Sochi Games.
"I got hate mail," he said. "I was told, 'How can I call myself a gay man?' Or that I was a horrible homosexual. I had one really graphic and hateful one and actually reached out to him and we became friends. I was able to express why. I come from the perspective of an athlete.
"I commended the guy who was critical of me. All I'm trying to do is incite action. That's all he's trying to do. We're all on the same side. If you say boycott, that's how you address the issue. I am saying no boycott, but maybe there is another way."
Louganis said the shelf life of an Olympic athlete is short and that many members of the 1980 U.S. Olympic team lost their opportunities to the sands of time. Louganis came back and won gold medals at the 1984 Los Angeles Games, which were boycotted by Eastern bloc countries, and the 1988 Seoul Games. He also competed in the 1976 Moscow Games.
"I competed on two sides of two boycotts," he said. "We have a full Olympic team from 1980 that was never fully recognized by the world. We wanted to send just one person to carry the flag at opening ceremonies and one to closing ceremonies but to go to Russia and kick ass. That's an athlete's mentality."
Other speakers at the briefing included Anastasia Smirnova, coordinator of the coalition of LGBT organizations in the Olympics advocacy campaign; Maria Kozlovskaya, legal program coordinator of the Council of Russian LGBT network; and Elvina Yuvakaeva and Konstantin Iablotckii, co-presidents of the Russian LGBT Sport Federation. They described a climate of fear for sexual minorities in Russia and a permissive environment for violence against them.
"What's disturbing is how vague the law is," Louganis said. "These vigilante groups are emerging, basically gangs, targeting LGBT people, especially youth. It's so disturbing that these abuses are happening and there is no one to go to. There is only fear."
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