"The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well." -- Pierre de Coubertin (founder of the modern Olympic Games)
Given the critical role sports can play in the lives of youth -- increasing healthfulness, graduation rates and employment success later in life -- we must ensure that everyone can take part, regardless of sex, gender identity or sexual orientation.
In 1924, the first Winter Olympics Games, held in Chamonix, France, featured 16 nations and 258 athletes competing in sports from cross-country skiing to ice hockey, and figure skating. Only 11 of the athletes were female. Ninety years later, the Winter Olympics have again opened. Of the 2,500 athletes sent by 88 nations to this year's games in Sochi, Russia, nearly half are women.
The Winter Games' opening coincides with National Girls and Women in Sports Day, the first Wednesday of every February. That female athletes are now an integral part of the Olympics (for example, winning more gold medals than the men among United States' athletes in the last Summer Olympic Games) is the product of decades of progress. Through laws such as Title IX -- requiring gender equity in educational programs, including athletics in primary and secondary schools, colleges and universities -- girls can now develop a love for sports and become world-class competitors. But to actualize de Coubertin's core Olympic values, taking part and fighting well, all must be included.
In Russia, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) athletes are facing open discrimination. Last week, when asked whether gay people had to hide their sexuality in Sochi, Mayor Anatoly Pakhomov said, "No, we just say that it is your business, it's your life. But it's not accepted here in the Caucasus where we live. We do not have them in our city."
Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian government recently passed anti-gay legislation including banning the adoption of Russian children not just by lesbian and gay individuals, but also by straight individuals living in countries that permit same-sex marriage.
President Obama has responded by including leaders from the LGBT rights community in the United States' Olympic delegation, such as Billy Jean King, winner of 39 Grand Slam tennis titles and founder of the Women's Sports Foundation. But more remains to be done.
LGBT athletes are struggling to participate on an equal playing field both in the U.S. and overseas due to their sexual orientation, gender identity and/or gender expression. Title IX seeks to eradicate discrimination based on sex in public education, including athletics. While the definition of sex also includes protection for people based on gender identity and expression, the law does not go far enough to root out and explicitly prohibit sexual orientation-based intolerance.
A groundbreaking new law in California, AB 1266 -- the first of its kind in the country -- provides students identifying as transgender the right to choose the sports teams, extracurricular activities, bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their gender identities. While AB 1266 is facing repeal efforts in the state, school districts like Sacramento Unified have already addressed transgender student requests for facility access with no issues or complications, countering unfounded fears and criticisms. Other school districts in Los Angeles and San Francisco have adopted successful policies and Arcadia recently resolved a transgender student's complaints through constructive settlement.
On National Girls and Women in Sports Day, and during these Winter Olympic Games, we should strive to make the Olympic Charter's Principle 6 a reality: "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." This includes sexual orientation and gender identity.