U.S. figure skating champion Timothy LeDuc is hoping to make history as the first out nonbinary Winter Olympian later this year in Beijing.
The 31-year-old Iowa native and their skating partner Ashley Cain-Gribble already have a gold together as the 2019 U.S. National Champions in pair skating, and they hope to bag Olympic gold later this year with their nontraditional skating style.
In a recent interview on NBCLX’s My New Favorite Olympian podcast, LeDuc discussed the lows and highs they encountered both from their evangelical family and then the skating community after first coming out as bisexual when they were 18 and later as nonbinary, using they/them pronouns, ten years later.
Born and raised in conservative Iowa, LeDuc and their family regularly attended what father Mike described as “a fairly evangelical church” which viewed same-sex sexual relations and LGBTQ+ identities as a sin. It was a constant theme that weighed heavily on their mind as they realized they were not straight.
“I believed the lies that I was told,” LeDuc recalled. “That I was an abomination.”
Their parents were also under the spell of their church’s teaching, so that when they came out to them “their initial reaction was ‘we love you but we need to change you, we need to fix this problem.’”
LeDuc recalled one particular incident where members of their church tried to pray the gay away.
“At one point, one of my family members brought friends home from a church group and they basically tried to perform an exorcism on me, like tried to cast my demons out, and were praying on all sides of me trying to remedy my, we called it same-sex attraction,” LeDuc said.
While there was turmoil regarding the acceptance of their identity at home, LeDuc found solace on the ice but only to an extent.
“I couldn’t hide my queerness,” LeDuc recalled. “I had a tryout with a girl once, and she decided not to skate with me because she thought me being gay was going to be a liability.”
According to LeDuc, skating with them “was not an option” because of their sexual identity.
“In an otherwise great partnership that that girl and I could have had, she didn’t want to skate with me because I was a queer person,” they recalled.
On another occasion when they came out to the mother of the skater, she replied, “Oh, well you keep that to yourself. That’s your choice, and don’t tell anyone in my family, they’ll try to perform an exorcism on you.”
And prior to stepping onto the ice at a “world-level competition,” LeDuc recalled how their coach pulled them aside to tell them the only way they would win would be to “show them how masculine” they were.
But things took a turn for the positive in 2016 when LeDuc paired with current skating partner Ashley Cain-Gribble, who said she “never wanted to be what was looked at as the traditional team” with a traditional narrative running through their choreography and performance.
“They always had the storyline of the male is super masculine and strong and always the girl who is a wilted little flower and is weak, or it was a full-on love story, where obviously a male and a female fall in love with each other,” Cain-Gribble said.
LeDuc sensed Cain-Gribble, who they described as “a powerful, amazing athlete,” was not a fan of the “fragile girl” storyline.
“So for her, when I kind of came to her and said: ‘You know, I don’t really want to do this romantic style. It doesn’t really seem like us,’ she was like: ‘Heck yeah, I’m good with that.’”
LeDuc came out a second time to their parents, this time as nonbinary, at the age of 28. However, mom and dad’s response was much more affirming than ten years earlier.
“It was like, ‘OK, all right, that’s interesting. We’re good,’” Mike said. “We better learn a little bit more about that then, you know.”
“And then it was off to the rally,” Becky added, referring to a trans support march in Dallas.
“The main thing that we learned, and this was really interesting, was that they weren't broken,” Mike said. “They didn't need to be fixed because there really wasn't anything wrong with them. We knew growing up and observing and just knowing the development and putting pieces together — this wasn't their choice. This was who they were.”
If LeDuc is successful in their quest for Olympic gold, they will join Team Canada soccer star Quinn, who won gold at last year’s Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, becoming the first out trans athlete to win a gold medal at the Olympics.