The 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang may have recently ended, but the impact of the event will be felt for many years to come, serving as inspiration to a new generation of LGBT youth and members that have seen more representation than ever before. It has only been since 1976 that an openly gay athlete participated at an Olympic event, back with figure skater John Curry at the Winter Games. The British athlete won gold, but was outed during an interview, and the subsequent media attention forced the media to come to grips with how to handle the story and were obviously not ready for change.
Those days are a thing of the past.
Since even before the day of boxing icon Muhammed Ali, sports have always been a leader in effecting progressive change across socio-economic and intersectional divides. As one of the last closets in our collective society, there are many people that still view LGBT athletes as inferior or weaker to some extent. The taboo of coming out has slowly but steadily increased over the years, but at the Olympic Games it has sometimes come at a glacial pace. In figure skating, Brian Boitano won gold in 1988, but didn’t come out as gay until 25 years later. Johnny Weir more recently skated at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games, but refused to address questions regarding his sexual orientation until the release of his autobiography the following year.
But at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games, noted American skier and out athlete Gus Kenworthy finished 12th in the ski slopestyle, and then kissed his boyfriend, Matt Wilkas, as NBC broadcast the footage seen around the world as part of its international coverage.
With over 15 openly out gay athletes in PyeongChang, the overall total is two more than both 2010 and 2014 combined. The increase has led to positive news for the LGBT community and positive reception throughout the sports world, with Kenworthy signing exclusive deals with sponsorship from Ralph Lauren, Toyota, Visa, Proctor & Gamble, and more. It’s not just endorsement deals that have forwarded progress, but gay athletes scored in their respective fields as well, taking home medals.
Eric Radford of Canada, made history as the first openly gay man to win a gold medal in the team figure skating event. Dutch speed skater Irene Wüst, added a gold and silver medal to her Olympic haul. The bisexual skater also became the first to win 10 Olympic medals consecutively.
The PyeongChang Winter Olympics will be known for many things, but one of the main, long-lasting legacies of the event will be the influence of gay athletes to teach the concept of tolerance and acceptance. How the rest of the world has gained insight to the LGBT community is one that will ultimately positively impact gay athletes in coming Olympic events.