In the wake of international outrage surrounding anti-gay legislation and violence in Russia, a group of major LGBT sports organizations are backing an initiative that would help send the first out gay male Winter Olympic athlete to the 2014 Sochi Games.
Blake Skjellerup, a New Zealand speed skater, could be the first Olympian to publicly compete in the winter games as an out gay man -- if he is able to qualify and gather the funding to back his journey.
"In 2010 I represented my country in the Winter Olympics in Vancouver," stated Skjellerup in the above video. "In five months time I will again be representing my country in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi Russia, but I need your help... After the [Vancouver] Olympics I came out as gay. Vancouver is one of the most open and diverse cities I have ever been to and it definitely gave me the courage, inspiration and motivation to come out."
Groups supporting Skjellerup's campaign to make it to Sochi include the You Can Play Project, Outsports, GLAAD, the StandUp Foundation, Out Magazine, and The Advocate, among others. The first day of the fundraiser, Aug. 26, saw a powerful amount of support for Skjellerup with close to $10,000 of the $15,000 goal donated.
The indiegogo campaign lays out what the money raised will go toward:
For Blake to qualify for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, he will need to finish in the top 32 at the World Cups this autumn. These four key events are:
Sept. 26-29, Shanghai, China
Oct. 3-6, Seoul, South Korea
Nov. 7-10, Torino, Italy
Nov. 14-17, Kolomna, Russia
Blake needs at least $15k to compete at a high level in these four World Cup events and qualify for the Sochi Olympics. To get everything he needs to compete at his HIGHEST level possible, he will need at $33k. We've set the campaign goal at the MINIMUM he needs with the hope and expectation that we can get him EVERYTHING he needs. All donated funds go directly to Blake.
The funds will all be put to resources that will give Blake his best shot at qualifying for the Olympic Games and winning a medal in Sochi!
In an interview with Out Magazine, Skjellerup discussed the heavy monetary strain that comes with trying to compete in the Olympics. In response to a question about the financial reality of being an Olympic athlete, Skjellerup articulated:
Bankruptcy! And a heavy amount of credit card debt! The reality is that Olympians like myself pour our hearts and souls into our sports! We do it not for money, but for the love of our sport. The Olympic Games is the pinnacle of any athlete’s career, and there are a lot of sacrifices that go into becoming an Olympian. Financial support has been my biggest struggle to date, and at times I have found myself in tears as I literally could not afford to eat.
While other gay male athletes have competed in the Winter Olympics, none have been publicly out while doing so.
Russia's culture of anti-LGBT fear and violence extends far beyond the boundaries of their anti-gay "propaganda" legislation that will remain in effect during the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
If you would like to support Skjellerup and the initative to help make him the first out gay male athlete to compete at the Winter Olympics, visit his contribution page.
"I want to go to Sochi and stand up and be proud of who I am," said Skjellerup in the above video. "I'm not going to change or go back into the closet. The Olympic games is an event that celebrates diversity and I want to do my part to show off our differences."