Russia’s anti-gay attitudes and legislation have been on many people’s minds ever since last year when the Russian parliament passed a bill banning “pro-gay propaganda” in the presence of minors. In essence, pro-gay messages in general have been silenced, shoving an entire subset of the Russian population into the shadows. Many people have taken out their anger and frustration on the Winter Olympics, starting this week in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi. People have threatened to boycott multinational sponsors such as McDonalds and Coca-Cola. Others have vowed not to watch the games, which call NBC and its daughter networks home on U.S. television.
But perhaps gay people should watch some of the games, if anything, to root for two openly gay athletes who will be out and proud, defiant in the face of Russian hatred and ignorance. Here are profiles of those athletes.
Event: Snowboard Cross
Hometown: Melbourne, Australia
Belle Brockhoff came out as a show of support and solidarity with gay and lesbian Russians late last year. She has been a snowboarder since she was ten years old and won her first junior national title just three weeks after picking up the snowboard for the first time. She is trained in the parallel giant slalom course but will be competing in Sochi in the boardercross course.
She became the first Australian woman to win the Snowboard Cross World Cup in 2013 in Austria. She also placed sixth at the Olympic Test Event early last year in Sochi, meaning that she may very well earn herself and Australia a medal in snowboard cross. She comes from an Olympic family; her uncle Peter competed as an alpine skiier in two Winter Olympics in the 1960s.
Event: Speed Skating
Hometown: Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Anastasia Bucsis came out during Calgary Pride in 2013; she told The Globe and Mail that she was “so proud to be gay,” although she insisted she didn’t want her sexuality to overshadow her other achievements. Those achievements include competing in her second Olympics; she competed in the 500-meter speed skate in Vancouver in 2010.
Bucsis is one of Canada’s most famous speed skaters, having competed in the ISU World Single Distances Championships three years in a row, ultimately qualifying to represent Team Canada in the speed skating event in Sochi this autumn. Her first medal ever was the silver at the 2007 Canada Winter Games. She has been skating since the age of four and, while originally also interested in gymnastics, her parents insisted she follow her talents in skating as they thought she might be too tall to be a gymnast (her adult height is 5’10”).