Why Jason Collins and Martina Navratilova Visited the UN

UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

Two prominent gay athletes came to the United Nations for Human Rights Day yesterday in a very public demonstration of the UN’s support for ending discrimination against LGBT communities around the world.

Tennis superstar Martina Navratilova and NBA player Jason Collins came to the United Nations to join a UN-backed campaign to counter homophobic violence and discrimination. The topic of conversation, naturally, turned to the Sochi Olympics and Russia’s discriminatory laws against gays and lesbians.

With the Sochi Olympics coming up in February  there are still concerns from the LGBT athletes and those who support equal rights about their rightful place in the Games.  It seems to many as a slap in the face of the very spirit of the Olympic games, one of unity and a chance for a truly inclusive, global event.

Both athletes have had their share of undue controversy for coming out as gay professional athletes, but Navritilova says she encourages athletes to “be more visible, get in their face” because “that’s the power of our movement.”  In putting a face on being out and proud she notes, “you make it personal and it’s so much more difficult to discriminate.”

LGBT rights in Russia are not just a topic of discussion for the run up to and the duration of the Winter Olympics, says Collins who was the first current player in a major North American sport to come out. “the focus should be on LGBT community in Russia – once the games leave all those people are still going to be oppressed by their government,” he says.  What happens after all the reporters and cameras of international press leave is equally as important.  And the IOC’s position is not unique. also appears to be woefully misinformed, or perhaps blind, in their host country selection and handling of concerns.  Homosexuality is a crime punishable by jail sentence in Qatar, where the 2022 world cup will be held.

Ban Ki Moon added his support to the cause, via a message taped in South Africa where he attended Nelson Mandela’s memorial service. “Sports cut across borders and continents. Games unite people across cultural divides. Professional athletes are heroes to their fans. And when they speak out against prejudice, they are heroes to the United Nations,” he said.

Navritilova and Collins are taking that advice to heart and  continuing to “fight the good fight.”