Gay Winter Olympians in 2018 Impact far more than the Ice

The 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang may be at a close, but the visibility of LGBTQ people the games presented to the world will have far-reaching and enduring impacts. Two American athletes have been making headlines, Adam Rippon and Gus Kenworthy, for their defiant pride, funny-yet-relatable quips, and stances against Vice President Pence. However, there were several more out athletes, the most in Winter Olympic history at fifteen, who competed at this year’s games. The US sent snowboarder Brittany Bowe in addition to Rippon and Kenworthy, totaling three out Americans in Pyeongchang.

The increasing diversity in America’s Olympic Team does not come without accusations from right-wing sources of “trying to be politically correct” via its roster. The team is not basing its membership off merit alone and is becoming “gayer and darker,” as one Fox News Columnist put it.

It is significant in the fight for LGBTQ human rights that out individuals be present and visible. Out LGBTQ people claiming space normalizes the community in respect to the wider world, thus making acquisition of rights and safety easier. Additionally, normalization of LGBTQ people helps to erode the mentalities of homophobia and bigotry within our culture at large, as we are not seen as outsiders.

For example, an Olympic athlete displaying gay affection challenges many assumptions and norms commonly held about both athletes and LGBTQ people. Skier Gus Kenworthy kissed his boyfriend after completing his ski run, and it was the kiss seen ‘round the world, as it provided a powerful image of queer pride. Many people watching at home witnessed something they may not have seen before (at least in an athletic context) or were forced to view something they refuse to accept.

Non-Americans are also creating cracks in the ice. Canadian figure skater Eric Radford felt compelled to come out publicly after the 2014 Sochi games as he “…put myself in the position of a young kid, who might be afraid to follow their own dream.” In Pyeongchang, he claimed the gold medal, becoming the first out Winter Olympian to do so. Australian snowboarder Belle Brockhoff made a stunning recovery to qualify for the games just two months after a severe injury, and her presence has shook things up before, such as in 2014 when she protested Vladimir Putin’s anti-LGBTQ policies.

Despite all the gushy feelings that come from out LGBTQ athletes, the elephant in the room needs to be addressed. Olympians rejecting to meet with their own Vice President is a powerful statement. Many people who openly oppose the viewpoints of their politicians will still offer them respect and room to express their opinion. However, not allowing a platform to exist prevents someone from espousing dangerous and discriminatory viewpoints. American out athletes have prevented the vice president from controlling any part of their narrative, another demonstration of LGBTQ pride and agency in a political climate where gains seem to be on the decline.

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