Out gay former U.S. Olympic skater Johnny Weir called LGBT activists criticizing his position on Russia’s anti-LGBT laws “idiots” during a speech at Barnard College in New York City Monday night.
Although he apologized Tuesday in a column published in the Falls Church News-Press about his ” tongue getting away from [him],” his comments about the law Monday and in his follow-up appeared to rest on a limited understanding of the law against almost all public speech relating to LGBT rights.
Although Weir characterized the law, according to Gay City News, as saying “no anal sex in front of libraries,” the enforcement of the law has been far more broad, including a warning given to a television station that broadcast a movie that shows two men kissing but never even shows them having sex.
A handful of activists from Queer Nation NY and RUSA LGBT picketed the event, holding a banner reading, “WEIR: RUSSIAN OLYMPIC CLOWN” and “NBC: NAIVE BLOODY COLLABORATORS” due to Weir’s position that “the Olympics are not the place to make a political statement,” the paper reported.
Weir, who publicly came out as gay in 2011, dismissed the demonstrators and other LGBT activists seeking to boycott the games in Sochi due to the nation’s controversial anti-LGBT policies, referring to them as “idiots like the four outside,” according to the paper.
Weir, 29, is a decorated U.S. figure skating champion. In October, he retired from skating and joined NBC as an expert analyst for the Sochi Games. He also works with the Russian Consulate in New York City and the Russian Children’s Welfare Society.
“I’m a gay American. I’ve married into a Russian family. I’ve been a longtime supporter of Russia, the culture, the country, the language, everything about Russia,” Weir said on the Today show Oct. 23. “While this law is a terrible thing that you can’t be gay publicly in Russia, I plan to be there in full support of our brothers and sisters there and not be afraid.”
Activists say Weir and NBC have the power to pressure the Russian government to change the law, but have decidedly refused to step into the controversy marring the games.
“I’ve never had a bad experience in Russia,” Weir said, according to Gay City News. “Not gotten called a fag or beat up… I only see the rosy, golden side. I choose to see Russia in an arrogant, selfish way. I didn’t know what to think about the new law.”
He also noted that his expertise is in skating, not politics: “I don’t pretend to get Russian politics.”
His comments Monday night further angered LGBT activists. “I think he did more than just refer to us as idiots,” Duncan Osborne, a Queer Nation member, told BuzzFeed. “I think he described every LGBT activist around the globe who is fighting these Russian laws as an idiot.”
With that, Duncan said NBC should respond by denouncing Weir’s comments and publicly rejecting Russia’s laws.
“What we’re seeking is a response form NBC,” Duncan said. “They have to stand up and say this is wrong and we do not believe this and the laws there have to be repealed.”
NBC did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
Much of Weir’s speech, however, focused on the inside politics of competitive skating and his coming out story, but after being pushed by attendees during a Q&A session, Weir said, “I apologize if I offended anyone.”
The Sochi Games kick off Feb. 7.
UPDATE — Dec. 4, 6 p.m. ET
A spokesperson for NBC Sports provided the following statement to BuzzFeed:
“We’re supportive of Johnny’s apology for his choice of words Monday night in an emotional setting. As we’ve previously stated, NBC will cover all newsworthy issues as they are relevant to the Games, including the LGBT law.”
Correction: A previous version of this piece inaccurately described Weir as an Olympic medalist.