Speed skater aims to be 1st openly gay Winter Olympian
WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. (KABC) -- The Winter Olympics are only four months away, and Russia's recent crackdown on gay rights is sparking concern across the globe. However, it hasn't stopped one gay athlete, who aims to be the first openly gay male to compete in the Winter Games.
West Hollywood is one of several cities fighting Russia's laws. New Zealand's short track speed skater Blake Skjellerup says he's not afraid to compete there. Skjellerup wants to be the first openly gay Winter Olympian.
"What people need are role models," said Skjellerup.
Four years ago, he competed in the Vancouver games.
"I wasn't really ready to come out as openly gay, as a gay speed skater," said Skjellerup.
Since then, he has come out and has graced magazine covers worldwide. He's now training for the Sochi games next February.
"The Olympic games, for me, it's about diversity, it's about unity," said Skjellerup.
But this year, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law making it illegal to speak about homosexuality to children or display a rainbow flag in public. Under the law, foreigners suspected of being gay or pro gay can be detained for 14 days.
"It is a true violation of human rights. It's basically criminalizing people for being who they are," said West Hollywood Mayor Abbe Land.
West Hollywood's City Council recently passed a resolution urging the U.S. Senate to demand athletes' safety from Russia.
"When cities like West Hollywood, cities across the country and one of the biggest governments, the United States government, says, 'No, you must allow people to come to the Olympics and you must let them be safe,' that says something," said Land.
Earlier this year, West Hollywood businesses symbolically dumped out Russian vodka as part of a larger global protest.
"There's a law that is basically causing an oppression of a basic human right. And for me, that's not something I want to see during the Olympic games," said Skjellerup.
New Zealand doesn't fund Skjellerup's sport at all, so he has to raise all his funds himself. He has set up a page on Indiegogo for people all over the world to donate.
"I hope people can see me, that I am who I am and that I'm doing exactly what I want to do and that my sexuality doesn't stop me from any part of doing that," said Skjellerup.
West Hollywood's City Council, President Barack Obama and Skjellerup all do not think boycotting the Russian games is not the best strategy for change.
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