The Vancouver Winter Olympics are over and I know I will be getting a lot more sleep now. I stayed up way past my bedtime several nights to watch the action during the past two weeks. Of the 4-5 publicly out lesbian athletes (there were no openly gay, bi or trans athletes) competing at the games, two won medals – both gold. Ireen Wust, a Dutch speed skater won gold in the 1500 meter event. Sarah Vaillancourt was a member of the Canadian gold medal Ice Hockey team. That’s a pretty good percentage. Can we say coming out helps athletes to compete better?
The other gay-related news from the games was about the first ever Pride House and the on-air homophobic radio commentary about Johnny Weir by two French language speaking broadcasters. You can read summaries of these stories here at the Pride House web site.
Though it seems that there were no openly LGBT winter Olympians who visited Pride House, there were lots of other visitors, including Steven Colbert, and some great educational programming and lots of champagne and celebration. I still think Pride House served a purpose. It provided visibility for the issue of LGBT athletes and homophobia in sport and it sets a standard for future Pride Houses at future games. Maybe more publicly out Olympians will visit Pride House the next time around.
The two broadcasters who thought it was ok to make some pretty out of line comments on the air about U.S. figure skater, Johnny Weir, provide ample evidence why more Olympic athletes choose not to come out. What competitor would want that kind of distraction? Johnny Weir has chosen not to reveal his sexual orientation, but his skating style pushes the buttons of commentators, judges, spectators and other competitors who are uncomfortable with his refusal to “butch” up his costumes or skating programs. It really is amazing how Weir’s refusal to tell what his sexual orientation is and his insistence on being true to his own sense of artistry and fashion on the ice really drives people nuts and, as in the case of the Canadian broadcasters, brings out their worst bigoted beliefs. One of my favorite sports writers, LZ Granderson, wrote a great article discussing issues of masculinity, sexuality and sports that Johnny Weir challenges us to examine. Check it out here.