Nick Symmonds, 2-Time Olympian and Vocal Equality Advocate Joins Athlete Ally

  • Oct 03, 2013

Photo by Phil Roeder.  License information here.

Two-time Olympian Nick Symmonds, who dedicated his silver medal at the World Track & Field Championships in Moscow to his LGBT friends, and became the first athlete to openly criticize Russia’s discriminatory anti-gay laws while on Russian soil,  is Athlete Ally’s 27th Olympic Ambassador.

The middle-distance track Olympian competed in the 2012 London Games and 2008 Beijing Games, reaching the finals (fifth place) and semi-finals respectively in the 800 meter run. In addition to his silver medal capture this summer, Symmonds is a seven-time NCAA Division III Outdoor Track and Field Champion while at Willamette University.

Symmonds feels his role as an Athlete Ally Ambassador is an extension of his inspired act of allyship in Moscow, and expresses his role with the organization and position on inclusion below:

Why is being an Athlete Ally Ambassador important to you personally?

I believe in speaking out against injustice any time I see it. The way that our LGBT neighbors are being treated here and abroad is discriminatory and wrong. We have made much progress here in the Unites States over the last few decades, but there is a still a long way to go and one of the frontiers that is seriously lagging behind is in athletics. Many gay athletes are hesitant to come out for fear that their fans, teammates or competitors will hate them for the way they were made. By being an Athlete Ally Ambassador I hope to raise awareness about this situation and encourage fans and athletes to make our LGBT friends feel more welcome.

How did you realize that being a strong ally meant taking action? How did it feel to speak out and take a stand?

I have always been very vocal about my support for gay rights. As an American who believes that all citizens should be treated equally by our government, I have been astounded that there are people who could be against marriage equality. Internationally, I had intended to be slightly less vocal, but upon seeing the way gay citizens were treated in Russia, I felt the need to say something. It felt incredible to take a stand and to make my athletic achievements mean something more.

This summer, did you get any sense of what life is like for the LGBT community in Russia or receive comments about your stand?

I met many LGBT Russians this summer and they expressed an appreciation for my support. Many of them told me that gay citizens were treated better during the Soviet era than they are today. Some of the video coming out of Russia of gay citizens being beaten and tortured made me sick to my stomach and forced me to take a more active, vocal stand.

Were you concerned that you were going to be arrested after you criticized the anti-gay propaganda laws while in Moscow?

I did my best to be respectful during my time as a guest in Russia, but wanted to make my position very clear. The way the laws are written are very open for interpretation and I feel that at no point did I actually break the law. So, in that sense, I was not too worried about being arrested. I have a very strong feeling that the gray area I was playing in will be tested to a much greater extent during the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games.

How can the Olympics help make the sports world more inclusive?

The Olympics Games are the largest sporting event in the world and have a charter that they must live by. Principle 6 of that charter states, "any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement." I would like to see the International Olympic Committee add the words "gender identity” and “sexual orientation" to Principle 6 and would also like the IOC to tell Russia that the anti-gay propaganda laws are in direct conflict with the Olympic charter. If the Russian government insists on enforcing these laws during the Olympics, then the 2014 Games cannot take place in Sochi.