In an era that's activally fighting the stigma surrounding LGBTs in sports, it is particularly important that out atheltes remain visible and vocal. Gus Kenworthy has committed himself to that cause. After taking home silver at the 2014 Sochi Olympics for men's freestyle skiing, Kenworthy came out last October and has since accrued a following of young gay sports fans. Now he finds himself nominated for an Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly award (ESPY) and hopes his LGBT fan base will come through at the online polls.
We caught up with the Olympic skier about refugees in the Olympics, pet adoptions in Russia, and going naked on Instagram.
Out: I heard about your accident. How are you?
Gus Kenworthy: I’m totally fine, just a little scraped up and bruised. Nothing I’m not used to during the ski season.
Congratulations on your ESPY nomination. How does it feel to represent your sport this year?
It feels amazing. It’s cool because it’s not even something a skier gets nominated for every year, necessarily. And I only know of two other skiers: Bobby Brown and Sarah Burke who have even been nominated for action sports. It’s hard to get a nomination because the category we fall into is action sports, and that encompasses skateboarding, surfing, snowboarding, skiing, motocross—so it’s like all those people, all those sports are vying for four spots. It’s difficult. I feel very fortunate and happy to have gotten the nomination.
Do you know anything about your competition? Is there anyone you’re worried about?
Ryan Dungey, he’s a motocross guy. I don’t really follow the other sports super closely, so I don’t know exactly what their seasons were, but obviously they were very good if they were nominated. But he won last year, so he’s definitely a threat. Nyjah Huston is one of the other guys I’m against, and he’s a pro skateboarder. He’s won at X Games so many times. He’s won ESPYS before. And Mark McMorris, he’s a snowboarder who I’m against, he’s also won an ESPY award. I think everyone I’m going against has won in the past, and also, they all have bigger fan bases than me and a bigger network to push out to.
Well you’ve got the gays on your side.
[Laughs] Yeah, I hope so! I mean, I don’t know, I don’t want to win just because of that, but I definitely am hoping that my LGBT family will turn out to vote for me.
So Rio is going to be the first time that refugees are playing on an Olympic team, and you recently participated in a documentary about some of those refugees in Uganda. How would you describe the importance that sports and the Olympics holds for these people?
Well I think that these people are greatly impacted by sports. They all have some of the toughest backgrounds that I’ve ever heard, like crazy stories of fighting for survival and losing loved ones, really just horrific stories. Escaping from their countries, whether it was from the Congo, or Burundi, they’ve just had a hard, hard life.
The one thing that they all kinda told me is sports was a saving grace for them. And that when they’re running or lifting weights or playing basketball, whatever it is that they’re involved in, they kind of forget about all the struggles they have in their lives, and it’s the one time that they feel free, that they fit, that they feel happy and healthy. And it’s a huge impact on them, and for me, the whole message of the Olympics is that of inclusion. It’s the entire world coming together for the greater good of sports, putting aside differences, and I think that was kind of what I thought in the refugee camp. It was refugees in Uganda from all different countries in Africa, and countries that are at war with each other, people that wouldn’t necessarily be playing basketball together. But because they’re in this refugee camp, they’re on teams together, they hang out together, and I think it’s cool. It has the power to bring people together.
I also saw that you’ve got something with Petco coming up, and it reminded me of when you adopted those dogs in Sochi. How have they been doing?
They’re great. They live with my ex-boyfriend. He kind of was the man behind the mask with the adoption, and he stayed in Russia for like a month and flew back with them. I had them in Denver with me for the first year, and then he took them up to Vancouver where he lived. So when the relationship ended, they stayed with him. I haven’t seen them in a while. I know they’re doing well. He posts updates on Instagram. I talk to my ex occasionally, but that thing went crazy in Petco. Like during the Olympics when the dog story took off, and I had no idea that was gonna happen, I did disclose that I wanted to bring them home, and it became this crazy thing. But Petco is super excited about it, and they’ve had a ton of dogs get adopted in light of that, and so I just continued with Petco.
I know you’ve talked about this before, but you were still in the closet at the Sochi Olympics. Was that scary at all, given Russia’s anti-LGBT track record?
It was a scary place to be, but I guess I didn’t feel personally victimized because I was still in the closet. It was tough to be there, and I went the year before for a test event, and I had my boyfriend with me at the time, and they wouldn’t let us check into a hotel room. It would’ve meant that we were sharing a bed because there was only one bed in the room. So there was a lot of stuff like that that I noticed, which is kind of crazy to me, but I knew about everything that was going on there, and I was horrified by it, and I kinda felt like it wasn’t a country that should be hosting the Olympics, it’s all about safety and sports, and the world coming together, and here’s this group of people, my group of people being personally attacked and just discriminated against. I think because I was closeted, I didn’t encounter any harshness directly, but it was heard.
Were there any athletes that you looked up to who came out that encouraged you to come out?
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, honestly, Caitlyn Jenner was a huge inspiration for me, just because I saw how welcomed she was. I mean, there’s so many bigoted, negative people, but I felt like she had a really amazing welcome when she came out in Vanity Fair as who she really was, and I thought that was beautiful. It felt like she was more in the limelight as Bruce in Keeping Up with The Kardashians, but then to be able to transition and come out as Caitlyn, and be proud of who she is, who she really was, I thought that was amazing.
Are you currently training for the 2018 Olympics?
Yeah, I’m still competing and last year was really good for me competitively, which I think is the reason I got the ESPY nomination, but I have one more season of competing regularly, and then the following season for 2018 will be our qualifying process and will be super intensive but that’s my goal. That’s what I’m going for.
I heard you recently went to your first Pride with your boyfriend, Mat Wilkas. How was that?
It was really really cool. I was with Matt, a bunch of Matt’s friends in New York, and we just had a really fun day. We watched the parade for a while from a few different points in New York. We had brunch with a bunch of people, and it was just so much fun to see how massive it was. I didn’t really know, but the parade was huge. It made me feel very proud to be part of the community and see the turnout. It was amazing, it was people walking around with signs that said, “I love my gay son,” and it was very heartwarming. It was one of the best days.
You’ve been known to go naked on Instagram, which I think the gay boys went crazy over. Would you consider yourself a bit of an exhibitionist?
I mean, sort of. I’ve only done it twice, which was a few months ago, because we were at a GoPro athlete summit, and they said that the most viral social post over the week would get like a free laptop. So I was like, "Alright, well I think this is the only way I’m gonna have a chance at it."
It did go kind of crazy. It got a lot of comments and likes and everything, but I ended up not winning the laptop, so it was kind of all for nothing. But I guess sometimes it’s fun to be an exhibitionist. Otherwise I don’t think I really am. I mean I definitely see profiles on Instagram all the time, guys that I think are hot, whatever, and it’s just shirtless selfies. And I’m not complaining about it, but I don’t want that to be my social channel, and I mean I do it here and there, but I don’t want to be gratuitous.
But seeing as you’re not shy, what would you say to encourage gay men who might be a little less confident and comfortable with their body in general?
I think it all kind of comes from within, and being comfortable with your body and your sexuality, with everything comes with time and comes with a sense of yourself. I feel like people get ashamed of their bodies, and I think it’s hard, especially because on Instagram where you see people who have the most ridiculously ripped physiques and crazy, crazy bodies. I think people also have to remember that Instagram and stuff like that isn’t real. It isn’t their real self, and it’s the projection that they want people to have of themselves. But even those super hot guys that you see can maybe make people feel insecure, and I feel like those people are also insecure about so many things. I would just encourage people to feel comfortable with themselves, regardless of what their body looks like, or any of that stuff. The social stuff is so easy to get caught up with—it’s so superficial.