Obama selects gay athletes for Sochi delegation

President Barack Obama sent Russia a clear message about its

treatment of gays and lesbians with who he is – and isn’t – sending

to represent the United States at the Sochi Olympics.

Billie Jean King will be one of two openly gay athletes in the

U.S. delegation for the opening and closing ceremonies, Obama

announced Tuesday. For the first time since 2000, however, the U.S.

will not send a president, former president, first lady or vice

president to the Games.

Russia has come under fierce criticism for passing national laws

banning ”gay propaganda.” Though the White House did not

specifically address the Russian laws in making its announcement,

spokesman Shin Inouye said the delegation ”represents the

diversity that is the United States” and that Obama ”knows they

will showcase to the world the best of America – diversity,

determination and teamwork.”

The White House said Obama’s schedule will not permit him to

attend the Games.

”It’s a positive sign to see openly gay representatives in the

delegation,” said Michael Cole-Schwartz, spokesman for the Human

Rights Campaign, which recently sent a letter urging Obama to

include gays and lesbians in the delegation. ”Hopefully it sends a

message to the Russian people and the rest of the world that the

United States values the civil and human rights of LGBT

people.”

King said she was ”deeply honored” to be named to the

delegation.

”I am equally proud to stand with the members of the LGBT

community in support of all athletes who will be competing in Sochi

and I hope these Olympic Games will indeed be a watershed moment

for the universal acceptance of all people,” said King, who will

attend the opening ceremony.

Hockey player Caitlin Cahow is the other openly gay

representative to the delegation. She’ll attend the closing

ceremony.

The U.S. Olympic Committee made no comment about the sexual

orientation of the delegation. In a nod to its disapproval of the

law, however, the USOC recently revised its non-discrimination

policy to include sexual orientation.

France and Germany are among the other countries who will not

send their presidents to Sochi for the Games.

Earlier this year, Obama rejected the idea of a U.S. boycott of

the Olympics despite a number of differences with Russia, including

the anti-gay law.

This move, however, sends a strong signal: In 2010, Vice

President Joe Biden led the delegation, and in 2012, first lady

Michelle Obama held the honor.

This year’s group is led by former Homeland Security Secretary

Janet Napolitano. Others in the delegation include U.S. Ambassador

to Russia Michael McFaul, figure skater Brian Boitano and

presidential adviser Rob Nabors.

King, the iconic tennis player, might be the most recognizable

face in the group.

She’s a 39-time Grand Slam title winner (singles, doubles and

mixed), a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and one of

the most prominent advocates of equality for women in sports and

society over the past several decades.

She’ll attend the Olympics in a country that is creating tension

for several key players because of the laws, including the

International Olympic Committee, which awarded the Games to

Russia.

Earlier this month, IOC President Thomas Bach said Russia would

set up public protest zones in Sochi for ”people who want to

express their opinion or want to demonstrate for or against

something.”

Meanwhile, the IOC approved a letter going out to athletes

reminding them to refrain from protests or political gestures

during the Sochi Games – reiterating Rule 50 of the Olympic

charter, which forbids demonstrations on Olympic grounds.

Bach had previously said he’d received assurances from Russian

President Vladimir Putin that gays will not be discriminated

against in Sochi. But the Russian law has raised questions about

what could happen to athletes who wear pins or badges or carry

flags supporting gay rights.

Earlier this fall, skier Bode Miller was one of the few American

athletes to speak out against the Russian law, calling it

”absolutely embarrassing.”

AP Sports Writer Melissa Murphy in New York, and Associated

Press writer Josh Lederman in Washington contributed to this

report.