February 21, 2018 at 12:00 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Out Olympic athletes inspire LGBT people around the world

Adam Rippon and Gus Kenworthy are among the 15 out athletes who are at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. (Image courtesy of Twitter)

The out athletes who are competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang have become an inspiration for LGBT people around the world.

Gus Kenworthy, a gay American skier who finished 12th in Sunday’s ski slopestyle on Feb. 17, kissed his boyfriend, Matt Wilkas, during the competition. NBC broadcast the moment during its Olympics coverage.

“Didn’t realize this moment was being filmed yesterday, but I’m so happy that it was,” wrote Kenworthy on his Twitter account on Monday. “My childhood self would never have dreamed of seeing a gay kiss on TV at the Olympics, but for the first time ever a kid watching at home CAN! Love is love is love.”

Brent Minor, executive director of Team DC, on Monday noted to the Washington Blade during a telephone interview that gay American figure skater Adam Rippon is “certainly the breakout star” of the games.

“He’s proud,” said Minor. “He’s unapologetic.”

Johnny Weir, a former figure skater who is now an NBC commentator, on Feb. 16 wrote on his Twitter page after Rippon skated in the men’s free skate event that he “had to hold a press conference to defend myself against people questioning my gender” after he skated in men’s free skate program at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Weir then added he is “watching the world accept a vibrant and powerful hero in Adam Rippon.”

“I am so proud and thankful to those who came before us,” wrote Weir.

Canadian figure skater Eric Radford became the first openly gay man to win a gold medal at the Winter Olympics when he and his teammates won the team figure skating event.

Irene Wüst, a Dutch speed skater who is bisexual, has won a gold and silver medal in Pyeongchang. She is the first speed skater in history to win 10 consecutive Olympic medals.

American speed skater Brittany Bowe is also among the 15 out athletes who are competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics.

“Every out athlete is important,” Cyd Zeigler, Jr., co-founder of Outsports.com, an LGBT sports website, told the Blade on Monday in an email. “Each one inspires someone else to live their life authentically.”

David McFarland, founder of United for Equality in Sports and Entertainment, agreed.

“Visibility matters,” he told the Blade. “Adam, Gus and Brittany showed up on the world stage shining a spotlight on the lack of inclusion, respect and equality for LGBT athletes in sport. We need to see more of these inspiring moments from athletes so young LGBT athletes know they too can fulfill their Olympic and athletic dreams without having to live in silence.”

Zeigler pointed out Outsports.com’s tagline is “Courage is Contagious” because “we see the impact that every out LGBTQ athlete has on youth and adults alike.” He, like Minor, specifically singled out Rippon.

“At these Olympics, though, Adam Rippon has done something special, something we haven’t seen before,” Zeigler told the Blade. “He is out there with all the flash and sass we’ve been told for centuries that male sports heroes can’t exhibit. Yet here he is, being his own true self, and America is falling in love with him.”

“Brittany and Gus and Eric Radford and the rest of the out Olympians from around the world are all having a positive impact on the lives of countless people,” he added. “Adam is a breakthrough like we’ve never seen before, not even with Johnny Weir.”

Canada hosts Pyeongchang Pride House

Wüst won two gold medals and three silver medals at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Kenworthy won a silver medal in men’s freestyle skiing at the games, but he was not out at the time.

Russia’s LGBT rights record overshadowed the Sochi games. The issue sparked global outrage, even though the majority of athletes who competed in the Olympics remained silent.

The International Olympic Committee in 2014 added sexual orientation to the Olympic Charter’s anti-discrimination clause, known as Principle 6. The IOC also added an anti-discrimination clause to host city contracts.

The U.N. General Assembly last November adopted a gay-inclusive “Olympic Truce Resolution” that calls for peace around the world during the Pyeongchang games. The U.S., France and Brazil blocked Egyptian and Russian efforts to remove a reference of Principle 6 from the resolution.

The Pyeongchang Organizing Committee has adopted the IOC’s gay-inclusive anti-discrimination provisions. The Canadian Olympic Committee is hosting a Pride House the Korean Sexual Minority Culture and Rights Center, a Seoul-based LGBT and intersex advocacy group, and Pride House International organized.

“People now know that they shouldn’t discriminate (against people because of their) sexual orientation or gender identity,” Candy Yun, a bisexual rights advocate who is the Korean Sexual Minority Culture and Rights Center’s International Solidarity Manager, told the Blade earlier this month during a Skype interview from Seoul. “I hope at the Olympics or after the Pride House that people may try to understand that any person in the sporting community can be out.”

Out athletes ‘standing up for what they believe in’

Vice President Pence and his wife attended the Pyeongchang games’ opening ceremonies.

Rippon in recent weeks has repeatedly criticized Pence for his opposition to LGBT rights. Both he and Kenworthy have also said they would not meet with the vice president.

Kenworthy on Feb. 15 posted on Twitter a picture of an x-ray that shows the thumb he broke during practice. He said it “won’t stop me from competing . . . but it does prevent me from shaking Pence’s hand.”

“Silver linings,” proclaimed Kenworthy.

Minor told the Blade that Kenworthy and Rippon are getting even more attention during the Olympics because they are “simply standing up for what they believe in.”

“Everybody can appreciate them,” said Minor.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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