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Gus Kenworthy's open letter to the LGBTQ+ Paris Olympians

Gus Kenworthy's open letter to the LGBTQ+ Paris Olympians

Gus Kenworthy's open letter to the LGBTQ+ Paris Olympians
Emil Cohen

The gay silver medalist offers queer pearls of wisdom for LGBTQ+ athletes competing at this year's Olympic Games.

Paris is burning, honey! There will likely be more openly queer athletes at this Olympics than any previous Games. And as Paris would say, “That’s hot!” Let me start this letter by saying how fucking proud I am of each and every one of you. Whether you’re competing out and proud, still figuring things out for yourself, or perhaps keeping things under wraps for right now, you should hold your head high knowing that you’ve already done the damn thing: You’re an Olympian!

When I qualified for my first Games in 2014, my agent Michael said something to me that really resonated: “Once an Olympian, always an Olympian.” So I encourage you to soak up your experience in France and bask in that feeling of accomplishment. Nobody can take that away from you. Win or lose, you will forever be an Olympian. You’ve just added a title to accompany your name for the rest of your life. Congrats — you’re basically a doctor.

I competed in my first Games when I was still in the closet. I remember sharing a room with one of my best friends, Bobby, and yearning to tell him that I was gay. We were competing in Sochi, Russia, where there were and still are anti-LGBTQ+ laws in place. There was a strong anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment surrounding that Games. Needless to say, I didn’t feel welcomed.

The Olympics are supposed to be about inclusivity; it’s one of the only times that the entire world comes together for a greater good: for sport. Countries and their respective athletes get to set aside differences in politics, race, language, religion, and socioeconomic status to play and to compete on a global stage as equals.

Yet there I was in Russia, where legislation stated that any public announcement or display of my sexuality would be perceived as protest and punished as “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors.” At the time, I was too scared to speak my truth. I wanted to. I wanted to walk tall and take a stand for myself and for the community that I was born into but had not yet met, but it was all too overwhelming. I hadn’t even told my mum yet. I didn’t want to burden Bobby with my secret because I worried it might distract him and take away his focus from the competition, so I kept it to myself. But it got the gears churning in my head about what it might be like to actually come out.

For all the years leading up to that point, I had imagined coming out would be a step that I would take after retirement. I figured I would have my ski career and then, whenever it was over, I would get to come out and live my truth. A second life. A separate life. The two things just didn’t coexist in my mind because there was nobody to point to as a reference. Not only had there not been an openly gay professional athlete in my sport, but there hadn’t even been one in my industry.

Freeskiing, the sport I compete in, is part of the action sports industry, which includes snowboarding, skateboarding, BMX, motocross, mountain biking, surfing, etc. Outside of the Olympics, our marquee event is the X Games, which is kind of an edgy, hardcore alternative to traditional sports. My income wasn’t government-subsidized. I wasn’t being paid by a national team. I wasn’t a recipient of grants. My income was based entirely off of prize winnings, victory bonuses, and sponsorship deals, and I worried I would alienate myself by coming out. I worried I would lose my sponsors and my following and would risk being judged poorly at the events. As anybody in the closet can attest to, I built narratives out of fear and spun them until they were all-consuming. On February 13, 2014, after falling in the first of my two runs in the final, I managed to compartmentalize the turmoil going on in my head and heart and put down the run that I had gone to Sochi to do. I walked away with the silver medal — one of the greatest accomplishments of my life.

The following year, I decided I was ready to be me. I hoped maybe there was room in the professional sports world for a gay skier, but I decided that even if all my fears were realized, and I was pushed out of the sport, I had already accomplished enough to feel proud of, and I could walk away knowing that. I would forever be an Olympian — and an Olympic medalist, at that.


Not only did it turn out that my fears were unfounded — but in fact, the reaction was quite the opposite. I was met with so much love and support. The following season was the best of my career. I guess it’s true what they say: “The truth shall set you free.” Suddenly feeling unshackled and getting to compete as myself, I skied better than I ever had. I didn’t miss the podium at a single event that year. Nothing had changed with my training or my approach; I was just suddenly much more present. More centered. Happier. I had a weight off of my shoulders and didn’t have to worry about compartmentalizing, and it translated on the slopes.

I say all this to, hopefully, give you all some encouragement regardless of where you’re at on your journey of self-discovery, self-acceptance, and self-love. If you’re not ready to come out yet, that’s OK. I know it can be a struggle. But I also know that it does get better. Only you know what’s best for you and when is the right time. Despite not knowing who you are, I am rooting for you. “We are all rooting for you!” I hope you read that last sentence in Tyra’s voice.

If, on the other hand, you’re already out and proud, then congratulations! I hope you feel the love and support that is coming your way from me and the entire LGBTQ+ community. Regardless of which country’s flag you are representing, you are also representing the Progress Pride flag, and you are being cheered on by all of us that that flag represents.

I know the mix of e-mo-tions you’re probably feeling right now: excitement and nerves coursing through your veins like adrenaline. Harness it! Use it as fuel. You can do this! Growing up, I thought being gay was a disadvantage. But I’ve come to learn that it’s a superpower. Just by being yourself, you are going to make a positive change in the world. You are going to inspire and help so many people, young and old, during these Paris Games and beyond. That’s the ripple effect, and you are all about to make a huge fucking splash! Unless you’re a diver and then, um, hopefully, no splash at all. Like wait, was that a water droplet? I don’t know, I couldn’t see it.

So go! Win! Slay the house down boots! I have no doubt you will. You know why? Because that little plus sign at the end of LGBTQ+ means you’re better than your competitors. You’ve got this.

With immense Pride,
Gus Kenworthy

This article is part of Out's July/August issue, which hits newsstands on July 2. Support queer media and subscribe— or download the issue through Apple News, Zinio, Nook, or PressReader starting June 18.

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