The Winter Olympics have never had representation from openly gay male athletes competing at the games before. Even with the stigmas and associations with men’s figure skating and the assumptions people might make, openly gay male athletes and the Winter Olympics is still a relatively new idea.
Looking back, the highest representation of gay male athletes who had competed at the Winter Olympics (and came out after the fact), tend to represent… men’s figure skating. From Brian Boitano and Randy Gardner to Johnny Wier. Outsports calculated that 40% of all LGBTQ+ people to ever compete at the Winter Olympics (whether in the closet or not) are male figure skaters. So there is a stereotype that persists there, but as Johnny Wier recently tweeted…
“I never “came out” in sport because being gay was something born in me & had nothing to do with my skating. I never came out as white.”
Which drew a variety of responses as one can imagine. For some athletes, being able to separate their sexual orientation with their sport, like Johnny Wier. Being openly gay has never determined how Wier competes and thus never felt either way that declaring his sexual orientation as important or even relevant. In other circumstances such as with athletes like Brian Boitano and Greg Louganis who were Olympic Medalists during the 1988 Winter and Summer Olympics, coming out of the closet was a sure fire way to end a career and thus simply not an option.
Fast forward to 2015 now and the jaw-dropping ESPN Magazine spread with Gus Kenworthy. Fresh off the 2014 Sochi Olympics and a silver medal in hand, Kenworthy announces he is openly gay. Now if you were able to get that far past all the sexy photos of him that certainly would’ve mistaken ESPN for Playgirl. You might have noticed that Kenworthy mentions he was “bracing for the worst.” And why not? The track record hasn’t been so positive for openly gay, professional athletes who are still active in their career. That feeling of anxiety and stress about coming out to your parents, but this time the whole world is paying attention and your entire life’s work is at stake. No pressure, right?
Now some athletes realize that they can’t be an effective competitor and achieve their personal best effort while withholding such a secret. The stress alone of dealing with that in addition to all the stress of a high level of competition. That’s why gay people come out of the closet right? So, we can live our lives and be who we are without having to hide it. Matthew Mitcham, an Olympic diver from Australia is notable because he is the first Olympic athlete to come out as gay during the games. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics announced his sexual orientation and then went on to compete in the 10-meter competition where he won the gold medal. Even with the potential consequences of such an announcement, it is better to live an authentic life, right?
Kenworthy was worried that the consequences of him coming out would ruin his career, especially in his sport of Freestyle Skiing which his competition schedule is dominated with the machismo events of the X Games and Dew Tour. What would his sponsors think? How would the fans react? What about his competitors and teammates? Well despite all those worries, it turns out that coming out of the closet made Kenworthy even more popular! I mean, did you even know who he was before he came out? Not many people did, and those who did knew him as the Sochi puppy hero.
So, with Kenworthy’s epic coming out, the tide has certainly shifted. If Kenworthy’s popularity and value as an athlete increased after coming out as openly gay. Then that opens the doors for many other current and future Olympians to do the same. Thus, it is no surprise that this year in Pyeongchang, not only does Team USA have 3 openly LGBTQ+ athletes going, but there will be at least 13 athletes from all over the world representing the rainbow flag.
By Dirk Smith