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Boitano's coming out came at just the right time

Skater's upcoming trip to Sochi now carries more meaning
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Brian Boitano will travel to Sochi in February as a representative of not only the United States but also the gay community. -Getty Images

Two days after being named to the presidential delegation for the Opening Ceremony in Sochi, Brian Boitano made one of those announcements that used to land one on the front page: He told the world he is gay.

Instead, the statement was met with, well, meh.

Consider that the anti-gay comments made by Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson in a forthcoming issue of GQ caused much more of an uproar than what Boitano revealed yesterday, and that tells you all you need to know about where we are as a society.

While Boitano's announcement may not have tipped the news scales much, I would argue that it is newsworthy because it is simultaneously relevant and irrelevant.

There are those who will be unfazed, and that, in and of itself, is a testament to the times that we live in, where gay marriage is becoming increasingly more prevalent, where Ellen DeGeneres hosts one of the most popular TV talk shows and where gay characters are featured on hit shows such as Scandal.

Even on the widely read gay news website, The Advocate, word that Boitano had come out was not among its top stories of the day.

But put Boitano in the mix of a presidential delegation going to Sochi, which has been in the midst of worldwide glare because of Russian legislation outlawing homosexual propaganda, and suddenly it would have been bigger news for him not to come out than it is for him to come out.

When the White House announced that Billie Jean King, the famed tennis player and outspoken gay rights activist, and openly gay women's hockey Olympian Caitlin Cahow were part of the presidential delegation, many viewed their upcoming presence in Sochi as a direct hit against Vladimir Putin and the Russian legislation.

Boitano's name was mentioned as part of the delegation, but he had not come out publicly and, by and large, was not included in the discussion.

Every gay person deserves to announce (or not announce) his or her homosexuality in his or her own way. Boitano, who turned 50 in October, has chosen to keep his private life private until now. and I don't begrudge him for doing so.

That said, I do applaud him for making it known now.

Just imagine if Boitano had not come out publicly and went to Sochi anyway. He would have stood alongside King as a representative of the United States, but the message that human rights should be valued globally would not have been heard nearly as loudly.

Now put that in the context of his being part of the presidential delegation and making the public statement that he is going to Sochi as a gay man, and see the difference that makes.

Whether he went public with his sexual identity the day the presidential delegation announcement was made or when he did decide to do it shouldn't matter -- what was important was he did it before the Opening Ceremony in Sochi on Feb. 6.

In addition to making a public stance as a gay man in Sochi, he also is one of the most highly regarded Olympians in the Winter Games, having won the gold medal in 1988 and having also represented the United States in 1984 and 1994.

Boitano made his announcement in a statement to reporters and has not granted interviews, and in my mind, he doesn't need to say another word. The very fact that he will be in Sochi as an openly gay man will speak volumes.

Harvey Milk, the openly gay politician from San Francisco, once said, "I cannot prevent anyone from getting angry, or mad, or frustrated. I can only hope that they'll turn that anger and frustration and madness into something positive, so that two, three, four, five hundred will step forward, so the gay doctors will come out, the gay lawyers, the gay judges, gay bankers, gay architects ... I hope that every professional gay will say 'enough', come forward and tell everybody, wear a sign, let the world know. Maybe that will help."

I would never advocate that a person come out against his or her own volition. I can only imagine what is involved in such a decision.

Decades ago, when Boitano was competing, such an announcement would have been big news because the times were indeed so different than they are now.

Today, even though the shock value has mostly worn off, his timing could not have been better.