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Will Sochi Be A Watershed Moment For Gay Rights?

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Michelle Kwan of the USA warms up before the ladies free skate during the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games on the February 21, 2002 at the Salt Lake Ice Center. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Michelle Kwan of the USA warms up before the ladies free skate during the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games on the February 21, 2002 at the Salt Lake Ice Center. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Written by Dominic Dezzutti

One of the many topics that President Obama covered during his press conference last week was the idea of boycotting the Olympic Winter Games at Sochi next year due to Russia’s treatment of homosexuals. The President is against the idea of a boycott of the games, but the fact that the issue became a significant point of his press conference shows that the issue of gay rights and the Olympics at Sochi is only going to get more intense.

Will that intensity lead to a watershed moment for gay rights? I personally believe that it’s inevitable. However, what that moment will look like remains to be seen.

Many connections have been made to the Berlin Olympic Games and America’s attitude toward how Hitler’s Germany was treating Jews at the time.

However, the other example from the Berlin games that has not been mentioned enough is the effect that Jesse Owens had on the games and on civil rights as a whole. Perhaps there is a gay Olympian that will compete in Sochi that can have a similar effect?

Jesse Owens did not singlehandedly bring upon civil rights equality after his appearance in Berlin, but his success totally changed the conversation. That can happen in Sochi as well.

What complicates matters is that as Jesse Owens ran, it was clear for all the world to see his race. Unless certain Olympians come out or have already announced their sexual orientation before they go to Sochi, the world may have to wait to learn of the history they make until after the medals are won or lost.

However, another way this can go down may have very little to do with the athletes themselves and their particular sexual orientation, and more about the conversation around the topic before the games. Many questions still remain.

Will pressure be put on advertisers by gay rights groups to boycott the games if the United States will not boycott the competition?

Will advertisers take a high road and find ways to pay tribute to diversity and gay rights in the advertising that Americans see but Russians won’t?

And of course, if the issue has already made the topic list for a Presidential press conference, what role will this issue play in American politics as we approach an election year?

With the passage of civil unions in Colorado, the trend is certainly moving towards more equality and not less in Colorado. But the issue of gay rights and American politics is far from resolved. How long will it take for another American politician to take this issue to the next level? And what would that look like?

The issue could present arch conservative Republicans with a moral conundrum. On one hand, Russia represents an archenemy of the United States and as Americans, we should come down hard on anything egregious they do. On the other hand, to do so will throw support to an issue that hasn’t seen a great deal support from the far right wing of the GOP.

Issues in American politics will continue to dominate our headlines, but make no mistake; the issue of gay rights and the Olympic games in Sochi is only going to get hotter.

About The Blogger

- Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his CBSDenver.com blog. Read new entries here usually every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dezzutti writes about federal, state and local matters and how our elected leaders are handling the issues important to Colorado. Dezzutti is also the host and producer of the Emmy award winning Colorado Inside Out on Colorado Public Television.

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