In the span of a few seconds, openly gay Olympic freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy made history as he locked lips with his boyfriend Matt Wilkas on live TV. Not since Michael Sam’s seconds-long peck with his boyfriend during an NFL draft has something as unremarkable as a kiss represented such a landmark, but it’s often the little moments that make the loudest impact.
For Kenworthy, the “little kiss” was just that but, during a time in America where our presidential administration has stripped away legislative protections for the LGBTQ community piece by piece, it’s these small acts that have made Kenworthy’s love for his boyfriend or his friend Adam Rippon’s dazzlingly femme figure skating com to represent a cultural shift on the international stage.
Both Kenworthy and Rippon made history this year as Team USA’s first openly gay athletes after coming out publicly in 2015. As Kenworthy so aptly explained in his achingly cute photo with Rippon (in matching sweaters): “We’re here. We’re queer. Get used to it.”
— Gus Kenworthy (@guskenworthy) February 9, 2018
It's within this seemingly innocuous quote that the full weight of our progress as a community is visible. It was only a few decades go that that same quote became a chant originated by the activist group Queer Nation—a collective whose fight for visibility came during at the height of the AIDs crisis in New York’s Greenwich Village in 1990. Nearly thirty years later, this chant has been reintroduced to the cultural landscape as a mantra for two openly gay, American heroes at an international sporting event. How’s that for progress?
As Kenworthy stepped off the slopes and finished a historic Olympic journey, we caught up with the freestyle skier to talk about what his visibility means for young LGBTQ kids, Britney Spears’ "best album ever," and his dream of starring in a Wes Anderson film.
Photography: Roger Erickson
OUT: How does it feel to go from being a closeted high school student to sharing a nationally-televised kiss with your boyfriend on the Olympics?
Gus Kenworthy: Progress just feels incredible—whether it’s personal or public. It’s amazing and hopefully shows young kids and people who are struggling in the closet that coming out is a positive thing. I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to realize that, but I’m happy to be living my truth and to share a kiss with my boyfriend without thinking twice about it.
You and Adam Rippon have become the stars of the Olympics. Do you feel that your identity as gay Americans at the Olympics is even more visible given the political situation here in America?
Yeah, for sure. In a lot of ways, we need people in the LGBTQ community to stand up because a lot of people feel oppressed and underrepresented and targeted. To be able to be here at the Olympics on the world stage and be out and proud is incredible. It’s something we haven’t really seen before at the Winter Olympics so it’s a big deal for both me and Adam personally, but also for the world. It creates conversation and will hopefully create change.
I know Adam has his songs he skates to as part of figure skating but I was wondering if you’ve got any go-to songs that you’ve been listening to while skiing in the competition.
With every contest, if I have a song that’s playing when I win my first event or get my first podium of the season, that song becomes my good luck charm and I listen to it for the rest of my events. This year, my first big win happened when I was listening to “Gimme More” by Britney Spears so I’ve listened to it for every contest.
She’s an icon. What’s your favorite Britney album?
Well, Blackout is definitely her best album ever.
Fully agreed. How did it feel to represent the LGBTQ community as an ambassador for the Head & Shoulders’ “Shoulders of Greatness” campaign?
It feels incredible. When I was coming out, I was nervous that I’d lose sponsors because all of our sponsors make up our income. It’s all based around image and your persona. I was scared being gay wasn’t going to be seen as cool and that brands wouldn’t want to partner with me. To sign to Procter & Gamble and have them put me on this campaign with Head & Shoulders has been amazing. They’ve done an incredible job telling my story and they wanted to emphasize the fact that I’m gay rather than hiding or circumnavigating it. They put me in a commercial with a pride flag for the first time in their history. It’s amazing.
If you could give a message to your young fans, what would you tell them?
I’d encourage them to live their truth and be themselves. That’s sometimes a hard thing to do because when you’re young, you so desperately want to fit in and not do anything that’ll make you stand out. You try to bend and fit into some mold of what you are expected to be. The sooner you realize that who you actually are is the best person you can be and that the only thing you can change is to try and be the best version of yourself, that’s when you’ll be the happiest. I know it can be tough but it does get better. Stay strong.
When you retire from your skiing career, do you have a secret dream or talent you’d like to share with the world?
I’ve actually always wanted to be an actor. As a kid, I wanted to act but skiing is something I loved doing and it ended up working out for me. This path unfolded and I pursued it and gave it my all, but getting into the arts is something I’d love to do. Trying to pursue acting is definitely on the horizon for me.
Do you have a dream director you’d want to work with?
My favorite director is Wes Anderson so I’d love to be in one of those but he recycles his cast in all of them so I’m not sure if that could ever be an option for me.
Well he might read this interview and cast you.
Oh my god. Wes, babe. Hire me.
Photography by Roger Erickson.
Styling by Julien Jesus.
Prop styling by Christopher Stone.
Grooming by Mahfud Ibrahim for Exclusive Artists.