Post submitted by former HRC Digital Media Manager Helen Parshall
Several openly LGBTQ athletes are slated to head to Pyeongchang next month to compete in the Winter Olympics, the most ever to participate in the Winter Olympics.
At the 2014 games in Sochi, seven openly LGBTQ athletes competed, all of whom were women. Russia’s harsh anti-LGBTQ agenda made public expression of support for the LGBTQ community a risk for both Olympic athletes and attendees.
Unfortunately, while there are many talented and successful transgender athletes around the globe, there are no openly transgender athletes competing in the Olympic Games in Pyeongchang. The same was true at the 2016 Rio Games.
These openly LGBTQ athletes are trailblazers for visibility in their sport and around the world.
- Gus Kenworthy will be representing the U.S. in his second Olympics, but his first as an openly gay athlete. The slopestyle skier, who came out in 2015, struggled with Russia’s harsh anti-LGBTQ climate during the Sochi games. "I never got to be proud of what I did in Sochi because I felt so horrible about what I didn't do," Kenworthy said. "I didn't want to come out as the silver medalist from Sochi. I wanted to come out as the best freeskier in the world." Last year, Kenworthy was honored with the HRC Visibility Award at the HRC Utah Gala.
- Adam Rippon is the first openly gay U.S. male figure skater to compete in the Winter Olympics. From a small town in Pennsylvania, Rippon has grown to use his national platform for speaking out for LGBTQ issues since coming out in late 2015. “When I was young and still in the closet, I read a lot of articles about other people and their coming out stories and I watched YouTube videos on other people sharing their stories,” Rippon said in an interview with HRC. “That’s really what made me feel okay to be myself.” Pioneering U.S. figure skaters Johnny Weir and Brian Boitano came out after their Olympic careers had ended.
- Daniela Iraschko-Stolz will compete for Austria in her second Olympics. Iraschko-Stolz, who won silver in Sochi, married her partner Isabel in 2013 and came out publicly before the 2014 Olympic Games. “I don’t want to hide myself,” Iraschko-Stolz said. “I never cared at all what other people think about me.”
- Canadian pairs figure skater Eric Radford is headed to his second Olympic games, but his first as an openly gay athlete. Radford, who with his skating partner Meagan Duhamel is a two-time world champion, came out in late 2014 -- becoming the first international-level figure skater to come out publicly while still competing. Radford’s fiancé, Luis Fenero, a competitive ice dancer, will likely also be in South Korea as a spectator.
- Cheryl Maas will compete in halfpipe snowboarding, representing the Netherlands in her third Olympics. The two-time world champion is married to former snowboarder Stine Brun Kjedlaas. The couple have two children together.
- Ireen Wüst is a contender to medal in long track speed skating at Pyeongchang, her fourth Olympic games. Previously, the openly bisexual skater competed and medaled at Turin, Vancouver and Sochi. Her partner, Letitia de Jong, is also a competitive speed skater.
- While the Australian Olympic team is still finalizing its roster, out athletes Barbara Jezeršek and Belle Brockhoff are likely to compete. It would be Jezeršek’s third Olympics competing in cross-country skiing — but her first under the Australian flag. Jezeršek competed at the Vancouver and Sochi games for her native Slovenia but became an Australian citizen after moving to the country in 2016. While Belle Brockhoff hasn’t officially qualified yet, outlets are calling her a “major contender” in snowboard cross in Pyeongchang. Brockhoff came out as a lesbian ahead of the 2014 Sochi Olympics, her first Olympics, in part because of Russia’s harsh anti-LGBTQ laws. "I want to be proud of who I am and be proud of all the work I've done to get into the Olympics and not have to deal with this law," Brockhoff said.
- While openly gay pairs skater Tim LeDuc did not qualify for the U.S. Olympic team, he and skating partner Ashley Cain will be alternates.
HRC wishes these brave athletes the best of luck as they head to South Korea next month.