HRC Blog

Canadian Olympian Comes Out as Gay

LugeCanadian Olympian John Fennell, who competed in luge at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, came out yesterday in an interview with the Montreal Gazette.

In the past year at the young age of 19-years-old, Fennell was his high school’s valedictorian, began studying business at the University of Calgary, and competed in the Olympics. Coming out, however, has been one of his greatest feats.

Fennell described being closeted as, “suffocating." In the interview he explained, "You have to play this game of, 'who knows?' You can't let off any vibes or secrets. You have to act super macho. You have to be hyper aware of your mannerisms and to not let off any vibes that could get detected. It's very exhausting…It's an all-consuming paranoia of who could find out through what means."

Due to extreme anti-LGBT legislation in Russia, Fennel described himself as a “basket case” about traveling to Sochi. “The thing that scared me the most is our Canadian Olympic Committee debriefing that said any information in Russia is subject to being seen by the government," he said in an exclusive interview with Montreal Gazette.  In June 2013, Russia passed an anti-LGBT law outlawing “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations.” The law imposes jail time or fines to those who spread information that conveys that LGBT relationships are “socially equivalent” to heterosexual relationships. Since the passage of the law, the LGBT community in Russia has faced increasing harassment, violence, and limitations on freedom of speech. Out of fear, Fennell, “…didn't travel with my phone or my computer when we went there, which was a testament to how nervous I was going in.”

Fennell joined a growing list of notable athletes who have come out recently, including Michael Sam, Jason Collins, Robbie Rogers, Brittney Griner, Orlando Cruz, Megan Rapinoe, Lori Lindsey, and Tom Daley.

Coming out -- whether it is as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or allied -- is a deeply personal journey for every individual. For more resources on coming out, visit HRC’s Coming Out Center.

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