For Mike Janyk, it was a question he couldn't resolve: If he could go to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and be himself and not worry, why couldn't others?
With that in mind, the Canadian alpine skier has added his voice to those supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights when the Sochi Games are held in February. While Janyk has no plans to actively protest while in Russia, he will use the lead-up to the Games to raise awareness for a cause that has garnered worldwide attention.
Russia has been roundly criticized for enacting a federal law this year barring "propaganda on non-traditional sexual relationships." That has generated fears the Russian government will discriminate against gay athletes and visitors at the Olympics and perhaps even prosecute them.
Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke with Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee, in late October, and insisted lesbian and gay athletes – along with their supporters – had nothing to fear at the Sochi Games and would be made to feel "welcome." Bach has also met with gay-rights activists who believe the IOC hasn't put enough pressure on Russia or its Olympic sponsors to ensure all its Olympic guests are treated equally.
"I participated with the Canadian Olympic Committee and marched in the Pride Parades [held in different Canadian cities]," said Janyk, a 31-year-old slalom specialist from North Vancouver who has competed in two Games. "I thought about it – here I have an opportunity to live out my dreams and do what I want. That should be the same for everyone."
Janyk is part of Athlete Ally, a New York-based organization that describes itself as a non-profit entity "focused on ending homophobia and transphobia in sport by educating allies in the athletic community and empowering them to take a stand."
Australian snowboarder Belle Brockhoff and New Zealand short-track speed skater Blake Skjellerup are Athlete Ally members and eager to do well in Russia. Skjellerup, who is gay, told The Guardian newspaper: "I would love for Putin to get to know me. I would tell him how much I disagree with his oppressive anti-gay propaganda laws, and that he has a responsibility as the president of Russia to represent all the people of his country."
Brockhoff is also part of a new line of attack. Athlete Ally and international counterpart All Out announced Monday they were launching a special clothing line dubbed the Principle 6 campaign. American Apparel Inc. is producing the clothing based on Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter that states discrimination "on the grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise" is "incompatible with belonging to the Olympic movement."
The sale of the clothes – T-shirts, hoodies, etc. – will help spread the message, while a portion of the sale proceeds will be targeted for LGBT advocacy groups in Russia.
Athlete Ally had talked about its Sochi-bound athletes wearing Principle 6 logos or patches while in Russia, but Janyk said he wasn't about to do that.
"I didn't join to fight against anyone at the Olympics. What I saw was a great opportunity to show what sports and the Olympics are about – the battle of human experience and going after success. I can't comment on what might happen over there," he said.
"I have some friends who are gay, but it wasn't a deciding factor," Janyk said of his involvement with Athlete Ally. "It was more how I had this chance to compete and how that might inspire."
Janyk won a bronze medal in slalom at the 2009 world alpine championships. He placed 20th in the opening slalom event of the 2013-14 World Cup season and is currently training in Colorado.