In the 94 years that the Olympic Games have been around, the U.S. Winter Olympic Team has never been so diverse. With seven black athletes already making history and a record number of Asian-American athletes, these games have finally opened the doors for people of different races as well as sexualities.
Meet Adam Rippon and Gus Kenworthy: the first openly gay U.S. Winter Olympic athletes.
— Gus Kenworthy (@guskenworthy) February 9, 2018
In 2015, both Rippon and Kenworthy came out as gay men. In an interview with Skating Magazine Rippon said, “I want to be a relatable example, and I want to say something to the dad out there who might be concerned that his son is a figure skater.” He goes on to say, “I’d just like to be a good role model. I’ve been honest with myself the whole time. I worked hard and loved what I did.” He will be making his Olympic debut in PyeongChang. Rippon has been open about his sexuality and even voiced his opposition to Vice President Mike Pence leading the American delegation to the Opening Ceremony. When asked about this in an interview with USA Today, he said, “You mean Mike Pence, the same Mike Pence who funded gay conversion therapy? I’m not buying it.” Pence’s press secretary immediately made a statement to People Magazine claiming that this accusation was “totally false with no basis in fact”.
Kenworthy also did his fair share of voicing his opinions on Vice President Pence. Just earlier this week, on Ellen, he expressed his feeling of confusion as to why Pence was chosen to lead the delegation. He said, “To have someone leading the delegation that’s directly attacked the LGBT community… it just seems like a bad fit.” He went on to say, “I feel like the Olympics is all about inclusion and people coming together and it seems like it’s not really doing that.” After returning home from the 2014 Winter Games to a warm welcome, Kenworthy couldn’t help but see himself as a coward and a liar. He opens up about his struggles in ESPN Magazine where he wonders if the children cheering him on would still look up to him if he had already been out of the closet. But, after being out for nearly three years now, Kenworthy has clearly grown to embrace his sexuality and has nothing to hide, making his only focus bringing home another Olympic medal (and maybe some more dogs as he did in the 2014 Sochi games). He will be cheered on in the freestyle skiing category by his boyfriend, actor Matthew Wilkas.
With Rippon and Kenworthy, as well as the other 241 athletes (244 in total; the most represented by any country in any Winter Games), there is no doubt that we will come home with a gold medal or two. Representation in any form is important. Everyone deserves to see people who look and speak like them on television or receiving high honors for their works so that they can imagine themselves doing the same great things. But imagine how thrilling it is to be watching the Olympics only to look up and see someone just like you. Adam Rippon and Gus Kenworthy are only two athletes at this year’s games who will be doing that for millions of young people all over the country and maybe even the world. Team USA still has a lot of work to do in order to represent the entire spectrum of people who make up our country, but I’d say this is a pretty great start.