The United State Olympic Committee (USOC) has named former gold medal winning gymnast Peter Vidmar as chef de mission for the 2012 London Olympics. Vidmar, a Mormon, is a public opponent of extending the right to marry to lesbian and gay people. He donated $2,000 to the successful Prop 8 anti-gay marriage initiative in California in 2008 and spoke at a public rally opposing same-sex marriage. Johnny Weir, an openly gay Olympic figure skater criticized the USOC choice in an article in the Chicago Tribune.
Apparently the USOC was not aware of Vidmar’s public role in opposing same-sex marriage rights when they appointed him chef de mission. Now that it has been brought to their attention, the USOC has defended their choice of Vidmar citing his views as part of his protected freedom of religion rights and acknowledging that many Americans do not share his views.
The USOC might want to be a little more careful in the future in vetting the candidates for such a highly visible position that is supposed to represent all US Olympians at the Games. The impression is that the USOC does not consider opposition to LGBT rights that big of a deal. Certainly, it is not a disqualifier for being named to a very prestigious position. I don’t like to make comparisons between LGBT civil rights and other civil rights movements, like the Black civil rights movement, the women’s movement, or the disability rights movement to try to make the point that opposition to these civil rights issues would be a disqualifier. However, it is an indication, however faulty, of what the USOC priorities are. I don’t believe they would have supported a chef de mission who opposed these civil rights movements.
Let’s not forget that in the early 80’s the USOC sued what was then called “The Gay Olympics” over the use of the word “Olympic.” That quadrennial event is now called the “Gay Games” as a result. Never mind that the USOC had no objection to the use of “Olympics” to describe other competitions like hot dog eating contests, the Police Olympics or the Special Olympics.
Yes, Peter Vidmar has a right to his anti-gay views. I even support his right to express them, but please, don’t try to have it both ways. In the Tribune article Vidmar claims, “I fully respect the rights of everyone to have the relationships they want to have. I respect the rights of all our athletes, regardless of their race, their religion or their sexual orientation. I will cheer and do all I can, passionately, for every athlete on the U.S. Olympic team.” If he really “respected the rights” of LGBT people, he wouldn’t spend thousands of dollars and be speaking out publicly to prevent us from having equal marriage rights.
The USOC has made a public statement in choosing Vidmar: They don’t consider public opposition to LGBT rights in or out of sport to be of great importance. It’s just a matter of personal opinion and religious freedom. That the USOC is comfortable with an anti-LGBT activist representing the USOC and all USA Olympians in London is a sad commentary on their commitment to LGBT equality in sport. No wonder so many LGBT Olympians choose to compete from the closet.