An openly gay New Zealand speed skater and competitor in the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi, Blake Skjellerup, isn’t going to take Russia’s homophobia lying down. In fact, he’s planning to make a public point that he’s proud of who he is.
Skjellerup will show solidarity with Russia’s oppressed LGBT community by a show of support for gay rights, including wearing a specially designed rainbow badge that reads, “Blake Skjellerup—Proud 2014.”
“I will express my feelings and emotions openly,” Skjellerup told CNN. “I am not going to go back into the closet in any way. I am proud of who I am…Yes, Sochi is about my competitive nature—it’s about me competing as a speed skater—but on the other hand, it’s about standing up for what I believe in and being proud of that.”
On October 28, Russian President Vladmir Putin told Thomas Bach, head of the International Olympic Committee, “participants and guests [will]feel comfortable in Sochi, regardless of nationality, race, or sexual orientation.”
Skjellerup’s openness about his own orientation will be the ultimate test to Putin’s promise.
The Olympian came out to the public in 2010 after the last Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada. Skjellerup reasoned that he hadn’t done so before because he didn’t want any distractions. But this time, he’s prepared to be both an Olympian and someone who stands on the right side of history.
Skjellerup is also selling pins to raise money for his participation.
“The idea behind the pins is about me showing a part of me that I am very proud to be,” he said. “In my mind, it is no different to a cross or a cultural tattoo. The pin is something I can wear to show that I am proud of who I am and also offer solidarity to the people of Russia, because it is not fair what is happening to them.”
He added, “They are the ones who are having to hide who they are and having to live their lives in a way that isn’t healthy.”
While many people believe a boycott against Sochi is the necessary course of action, Skjellerup is glad that the games will be held there.
“I think being [in]Sochi is a good thing—not just for me, but for this human rights movement,” he said. “The fact that it came into law in 2013 is absurd…it makes no sense to me.”