By now if you’ve been keeping tabs on social media or watching the Olympics themselves you’ll have caught up with Gus Kenworthy’s performance. While he unfortunately didn’t win a medal, he continues to win for LGBTQ+ representation in sport. Specifically, when NBC aired his pre-run “good luck” kiss with his boyfriend, Matt Lukas, on live tv. Even more so they also featured shots of Gus’ cheering section adorned with rainbow flags and sponsorship messages. Something that has never been acknowledged on live TV in the history of the Olympic Games.
Why is this significant? Well not 10 years ago, the Olympics had one of the first openly gay male athletes take part when Matthew Mitcham, a member of the Australian Olympic Team, entered in the diving competition at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. China were the medal favorites in the event, given that they had won every diving medal contested to that point, Mitcham had shocked everybody when he won the gold medal in the 10m Platform competition. Not only that, he received the highest score ever for diving in Olympic history. Just months before the 2008 Olympic Games, Mitcham came out as openly gay making him one of only a handful of openly gay men, ever, to compete at the Olympic Games. When he won his medal, Mitcham immediately went to the audience to find his partner Lachlan to celebrate. Sharing a kiss with Lachlan that aired on live tv, a moment of triumph and celebration, that was conveniently edited out during rebroadcasts of the event. Despite the networks showing similar celebrations among straight couples without edit.
LGBTQ+ representation at the Olympic Games since then have been dominated primarily by openly lesbian athletes who have received very little international media attention, specifically in the United States. The 2012 Olympic Games in London saw a few more openly gay male athletes take part most notably, Tom Daley. The 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi received significant attention when LGBTQ+ Rights Activists advocated for a boycott of the games in protest of Russia’s anti-LGBTQ propaganda law. While the boycott effort fell flat, President Obama did respond by selecting openly LGBTQ+ athletes such as Greg Louganis and Billie Jean King to lead the U.S. Olympic Delegation. At the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, a record 64 openly LGBTQ+ athletes took part. In addition, the International Olympic Committee adopted new legislation that opened the door for openly trans athletes to take part at the Olympics for the first time.
Despite all that progress from Matthew Mitcham’s gold medal kiss, a lot of LGBTQ+ activists still questioned why we didn’t see more equal representation on the media. If straight athletes could share a celebratory kiss on live tv, why couldn’t gay athletes? Especially since LGBTQ+ Representation in sport and at the Olympic Games specifically continued to grow, but it took baby steps to get there.
Fast forward to the 2018 Olympic Games in Pyeongchang which is set to go down as the most progressive Olympics towards LGBTQ+ representation in sport, ever. Not only are the first openly gay male athletes participating in the Winter Olympics but they are unapologetically competing as their authentic selves. From Adam Rippon stealing the show in the Men’s Figure Skating Competition to everybody swooning over Gus Kenworthy, and Eric Radford becoming the first openly gay, winter Olympian to win a gold medal. The discussions continued. Is the media still trying to downplay an athlete’s raging homosexuality by refusing to air celebratory kisses or mention the all might “G” word (gay) during the commentaries of their performance?
Well that debate has been put to rest when, just before his final run, openly gay skier Gus Kenworthy shared a smooch with his boyfriend. A moment that was caught on camera, aired on Live TV and in subsequent broadcasts over NBC and international media. Sending all the media in a frenzy (mostly positive) over the moment. In addition, they featured several shots of his cheering section as family and friends waved rainbow flags as he prepared for his run. Just as Matthew Mitcham started the discussion 10 years ago, Gus Kenworthy, Adam Rippon and Eric Bradford are helping to lead the way and inspire a new generation of athletes, LGBTQ+ and straight alike. There is still much more progress to make, but we are another step on our way.
By Dirk Smith