By Justin Sink
A White House spokesman said Wednesday that the selection of its presidential delegation to the Olympics — which features two openly gay female athletes — was intended to highlight the nation's diversity, but he stopped short of characterizing it as a direct protest of Russia's anti-LGBT laws.
"In the selection of this delegation, we are sending the message that the United States is a diverse place," White House press secretary Jay Carney said.
Carney sidestepped questions about whether the administration's decision not to send a member of the first family or a former president to Sochi was intended to rankle Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"The president's schedule does not allow him to travel to Sochi," Carney said.
Carney also insisted that the administration hadn't waited until naming the delegation to lodge their opposition to Russia's anti-gay laws.
"I think we have made no bones about the fact that we strongly oppose and are offended by the anti-LGBT legislation," Carney said.
Gay rights organizations had pressured the White House to include gay athletes in the delegation to signal opposition to the new Russian laws that threaten fines and imprisonment for those who stage gay pride rallies or events.
Last week, Human Rights First sent a letter to Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett arguing “the selection of the members of the official U.S. delegations for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Sochi Olympics is an important opportunity to signal to Russia and the world the priority the Obama administration places on equality and human dignity.
“We urge you to ensure that the U.S. delegation includes prominent LGBT people — athletes, government officials and others — as well as allies of the LGBT community who will carry a message of tolerance and respect for individual rights and human dignity," the letter, obtained by McClatchy news, continued.
Earlier this summer, Obama said he did not "think it's appropriate to boycott the Olympics" but that he hoped gay American athletes would win medals and change minds.
"One of the things I'm really looking forward to is maybe some gay and lesbian athletes bringing home the gold or silver or bronze, which I think would go a long way in rejecting the kind of attitudes that we're seeing there," he said.
The president also visited with gay rights activists during his trip to St. Petersburg, Russia, for an economic summit.