A gold standard

The 2014 Winter Olympics kick off on February 7, in Sochi, where the Russian city’s location on the Black Sea’s coast makes it ideal for events such as alpine skiing.

Unfortunately, it's also a horrible place to be if you're gay or lesbian.

Although Russia decriminalized same-sex sexual activity in 1993, in 2013 the country passed a law banning “propaganda” that equates same-sex relationships to those that are heterosexual, and also made it illegal to distribute gay-rights-related materials to minors.

Meanwhile, there are no laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, and same-sex couples are ineligible for the legal protections available to their heterosexual counterparts.

Earlier this month, Russian President Vladimir Putin said gays and lesbians would be welcome at the Olympics, but warned them against participating in the spread of “propaganda.”

Sochi Mayor Anatoly Pakhomov recently reinforced that viewpoint, telling a BBC reporter that “we just say that it is your business, it's your life. But it's not accepted here. … We do not have [gays] in our city.”

Oh, OK, sure you don't.

It's awful that the site for the world's greatest display of athleticism is also home to such bigotry. One option is to boycott the Olympics. But that also punishes athletes.

Rather, I prefer President Barack Obama's decision to lead by example. In December 2013, he appointed three gay athletes as U.S. Olympic delegates: figure skater Brian Boitano, hockey player Caitlin Cahow and tennis player Billie Jean King.

“Maybe we'll help the LGBT community in Russia … help them not feel alone and disenfranchised,” King told a reporter.

Obama's decision is but a small, symbolic move, but it resonates all the same.