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Canadian speed skater joining fight against anti-gay laws ahead of Sochi Games

Speed skater Anastasia Bucsis trains at the Olympic Oval in Calgary, Alberta, September 2, 2013.

Todd Korol/The Globe and Mail

Canadian speed skater Anastasia Bucsis, who announced she was gay via Twitter earlier this month, is joining the fight against Russia's anti-gay laws.

She is teaming with Athlete Ally, an advocacy group focused on ending homophobia and transphobia in sports. The organization has denounced the anti-gay laws recently passed by the Russian government and is circulating a petition that urges world leaders to put pressure on the Russians to eliminate the law, which prohibits promotion of "non-traditional" sexual relations.

The law has drawn harsh criticism since it was passed in June with some activists calling for a boycott of next winter's Sochi Olympics.

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Bucsis is one of only a handful of openly gay Olympic-calibre winter athletes around the world. While her family knew she was gay, Bucsis came out publicly during Calgary's gay pride parade in early September.

"I'm proud to be from Calgary, I'm proud to be an athlete, and I'm proud to be gay," she tweeted.

On Wednesday, she said taking on an advocacy role "seems natural" because she is proud of who she is.

"I started speed skating at the age of four, and wasn't aware of any other gay skaters when growing up," she said in a statement. "During my coming out I was very anxious and lonely because I lacked having an out athletic role model. I didn't have any other gay athletic friends, or any mentors that I could readily turn to for advice or support. I am ready to help any athlete out there who is considering coming out of the closet. It's the best decision I ever made."

Australian snowboarder Belle Brockhoff has also joined Athlete Ally.

"One of the reasons I came out was because I wanted people to find inspiration in me coming out globally," she said. "It was important for me to show in-the-closet gays and lesbians that they're supported and loved all over the world."

Bucsis and Brockhoff join New Zealand speed skater Blake Skjellerup and American figure skater Johnny Weir as the only Olympic-calibre winter sports athletes in the world who publicly identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transsexual, according to Athletes Ally.

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"Four athletes is actually a record number," said Hudson Taylor, executive director of Athlete Ally. "Belle and Anastasia showed great courage when they came out in response to Russia's gay propaganda laws, and now they are exemplifying the leadership necessary to help change the world."

Both Brockhoff and Bucsis hope the number of out Olympic hopefuls will grow with awareness and support.

"Having more LGBT athletes come out before the Sochi Olympics will help promote the positive message of acceptance and equality within sport," said Bucsis. "Sport is a human right and everyone deserves the ability to participate and play; I believe and support the Olympic Charter and the idea of the Olympic Spirit. Having more LGBT athletes come out during the lead-up to Sochi will promote acceptance, awareness and education regarding gay athletes and their contribution to sport."

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