Chances are, two months ago you’d not heard of Adam Rippon. Right now, it’s hard to escape him. The US figure skater and openly gay athlete today helped the USA team win the Team Skating bronze medal.
His cheeky and arch Twitter postings (sample posting ‘I was recently asked in an interview what its like to be a gay athlete in sports. I said that it’s exactly like being a straight athlete. Lots of hard work but usually done with better eye brows.’), have earned him a huge social media following.
The 28-year-old is clearly loving his moment in the spotlight and taking advantage of it. At the same time, he’s using his platform to highlight LGBTI issues. He’s turned his spat with Vice President Mike Pence into a will-they-won’t-they actually meet drama.
‘We’re here, we’re queer’
Inevitably, being an out, proud gay man who wears sequined outfits, and talks a lot about his sexuality and appearance (‘I’ve been bleaching my teeth for the past few days and now the wind that I create from just talking makes them hurt. Like, I think this is a sign that I’m officially ready for my Olympic debut.’), has prompted some flack on social media.
On Friday we ran a story about a photo fellow gay Olympian Gus Kenworthy posted of the two men together in South Korea. They wore matching jumpers and Kenworthy kissed Rippon on the side of his head. The message alongside the image said: ‘We’re here, we’re queer.’
It’s the type of positive, defiant, unequivocal message that many of us can only dream we’d seen when growing up and watching the Olympics.
As a child of the 80s, I cannot remember a single out athlete besides (the awesome) Martina Navratilova. Certainly, none of the men I watched at the Olympics. As much as I might have dreamt that some of them were!
How inspiring is that image of two gay athletes sharing a hug and embrace at the Olympics to young queer eyes? To the confused and lonely 12-year-old who’s been told that gays are bad at sport and not ‘real men’?
Of course, the image prompted plenty of negative comments. Sadly, it would seem, not just from straight homophobes.
‘Enough talking and posturing ….win Gold medals….its what you went there for….keep the sexual stance in check,’ said one commentator on our Facebook posting.
‘No-one cares, attention seeking whore,’ said another.
Sorry, but people do care. People care enormously about visible LGBTI representation.
Rippon, and Kenworthy, have worked tirelessly to excel in their respective sports. As athletes, their competitive careers will be all too brief. The Olympics will be the pinacle of those careers. I, for one, hope they’re trying to enjoy every single second of the experience.
Whether they win medals or not – and Rippon has today notched up a Bronze – they’ve earned their time in the spotlight. That they do so as out gay athletes should not be overlooked or dismissed. We, as a community, should be grateful.
Eric Radford makes history
In our rush to celebrate the Rippon and Kenworthy, we must also not overlook the others. Canada’s Eric Radford today became the first openly gay men to win a gold medal at the Winter Olympics.
So proud that @Adaripp and I get to wear these medals and show the world what we can do! #represent🏳️🌈 #olympics #pyeongchang2018 #pride #outandproud #medalists #TeamNorthAmerica pic.twitter.com/eXMlZ2Utrw
— Eric Radford (@Rad85E) February 12, 2018
Perhaps because he’s Canadian, he doesn’t enjoy the same profile as Rippon, but his historic achievement is something we should all take pride in. Like Rippon, he’s proud of his sexuality. Just this weekend he posted a photo of himself and his fiancé at the games’ Pride House. He may skate to further glory later this week.
And just as importantly, this isn’t just all about the men. There are many gay and bisexual women competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics – all of them examples of where hard work and determination and talent can take you.
Dutch speed skater Ireen Wurst became the first LGBTI athlete to win a medal (silver) in Pyeongchang over the weekend.
The other gay US athlete besides Kenworthy and Rippon is Brittany Bowe, who posted a photo of herself alongside the men on Friday (see top of page). It didn’t get anything like the traction that Kenworthy’s photos did, but is just as historic an image. That it was overlooked says a lot about they way women in sport continue to be seen as second best to men.
All team LGBTI athletes deserve our support and applause.