By Zack Ward, Capital News Service
Two former University of Maryland athletes are at the center of the fight against the anti-gay laws that have been put in place by Russian President Vladimir Putin as the 2014 Sochi Olympics approach.
One is Athlete Ally founder Hudson Taylor, a former All-American wrestler at Maryland. Athlete Ally is a group made up of both straight and gay members that works to empower lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender athletes and end the stigma against homosexuality in sports.
Athlete Ally and a similar organization called All Out recently made an official appeal to the Olympic Committee asking them to acknowledge that Russia’s anti-gay laws violate Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter, which says: "Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement."
"The world pays attention to the Olympics," Taylor said."“While Putin’s human rights crackdown in Russia is heinous, it provides a powerful opportunity to have our voice of inclusion ring loudly."
Taylor has said he is straight and his involvement in Athlete Ally isn’t necessarily based on any close connection to someone in the LGBT community, though he did have LGBT friends in college.
Star athletes who have signed on to the Principle 6 campaign include the NBA’s Steve Nash and famed tennis player Andy Roddick.
So has WNBA star from the Los Angeles Sparks Kristi Toliver, who overlapped with Hudson Taylor at Maryland and is the Terrapin women’s basketball all-time leader in assists, 3-point field goals and free throw percentage. Toliver is also very familiar with Russia, where she has spent quite a bit of time playing for Dynamo Moscow during the WNBA’s offseason. Tolliver is an “Pro Ambassador” with Athlete Ally and could not be reached to comment on the Olympic controversy.
Though Putin said on Oct. 28 that all spectators and participants at the Olympics will be welcome regardless of sexual orientation, he has also passed recent laws that, according to Athlete Ally’s website, “ban pride and any ‘homosexual propaganda.’” At one point Russia was also considering taking children away from gay parents.
For Taylor, laws like these make getting involved in places like Russia essential.
"Athlete Ally’s scope is international because sports exist on a global stage," Taylor said. "No matter what country, race or ethnicity, LGBT athletes are prevalent throughout the world and must be accepted for who they are."
And as the 2014 Winter Games draw near, Athlete Ally is doing everything they can to make that message of acceptance heard, and is collecting Principle 6 petition signatures on its web site.
"The first priority for athletes right now is making their national team," Taylor said. "While the qualifying competitions go on around the world, our supporters and ambassadors are working to provide a strategic, reasonable voice for upholding Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter.
"In the meantime, some of our ambassadors currently show support for LGBT inclusion by wearing an Athlete Ally sticker when they compete. Others are signing our petition to uphold Principle 6. And lots are very active on social media. All our actions are aimed at promoting a level playing field where athletes can be themselves."