Back in 2014, freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy grabbed international attention when he took home both an Olympic silver medal and a hoard of stray puppies from Sochi, Russia.
Just a year later the star athlete made headlines again, this time for totally different reasons.
I am gay. pic.twitter.com/086ayvChq2— Gus Kenworthy (@guskenworthy) October 22, 2015
"I guess I should start by saying, 'I'm gay,'" Kenworthy told Alyssa Roenigk of ESPN at the time.
Though he had started coming out to family and friends two years before, Kenworthy hadn’t been ready to speak about his sexuality publicly yet.
“Freeskiing is such a macho sport that I felt like I couldn’t show my true self,” he recently said in a video interview with Procter & Gamble as an ambassador of the latest installment of its “Thank You, Mom” campaign, “Love Over Bias.”
Homophobic and derogatory terms were openly used by fellow skiers. It was not uncommon for athletes to describe fumbles on the slopes as “gay,” Time reported.
So, Kenworthy felt he had to keep his identity a secret.
“When you hear language like that getting thrown around, it puts you in a closet even more than you were before,” Kenworthy told Time.
Yet, Kenworthy could not be deterred. He was determined to be the best, despite any bias or discrimination he might face.
“With every person that I told, I felt so liberated and free and I think it directly correlates to me being able to ski better, ski more freely,” Kenworthy told P&G.
His mom, Pip, has been there to support him through every step of his personal and professional journeys.
“You were frightened you might lose sponsors who didn’t want a gay athlete representing them,” Pip wrote to Gus in an open letter on the Players’ Tribune, recalling the lead up to his public coming out. “You were afraid that maybe you’d lose fans, that people would never throw a parade for you and stand on the street and cheer, like they had done in Telluride when you came home from Sochi. You were afraid that if you told the world, people would hate you because of who you are.”
The response Gus received after publicly coming out wasn’t as bad as he might have expected, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing.
“I've had some hateful comments and messages...but kind of have to just take it with a grain of salt,” Gus told Teen Vogue in 2015. “[But] it's been overwhelmingly supportive. It's been way more positive than negative.”
Pip herself has been supportive and accepting of Gus’s sexuality for as long as she has known about it.
“I remember I told you then what I believe now — that any good person with a good heart wouldn’t care what your sexual preference is,” she wrote, remembering when Gus came out to her in 2015. “As long as you’re not hurting anybody. Good people will accept you for who you are.”
Happy #NationalComingOutDay, everybody! The objective of this day, first and foremost, isn't to force anybody out of the closet. That's something you should do on your own time, when you feel safe, and when you are ready. Instead, today serves as a reminder not to let yourself be bullied into silence. A reminder to each of us to live our truest lives. A life we each define for ourselves, rather than one lived in fear or by other people's expectations. I can honestly say that the best thing I've ever done for myself was taking the time to acknowledge my sexuality and then taking the leap of faith to come out. At some point the pain of holding onto the charade became greater than the fear of letting go and I'm happier than I've ever been because of it. Thankful everybody who came out before me and helped pave that road to make my trip a smooth one, hopefully it will be an even less bumpy ride for everybody in the future! 🏳️🌈👬👭
This month, Gus will make history as one of the first openly gay male athletes to ever represent the US in the Olympic Winter Games.
“I don’t think I could have ever come out as a gay athlete 30 years ago and expected to be successful in my sport,” he told the Huffington Post. “My story’s indicative of change.”
Going forward, he hopes to inspire the LGBT community and future athletes with his story of perseverance. Gus will enter the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 with a totally different mindset this month — freed of his secret and the insecurity he carried with him to Sochi four years ago. He’s simply ready to be the best.
“The thought of being the first openly gay male ever to compete in the Winter Olympics — I totally embrace that,” Gus told Time. “I so badly want to inspire that community and do well for them.”
Gus's story, and the stories of other athletes who overcame different forms of bias, inspired Procter & Gamble’s “Love Over Bias” short film. To discover more, visit LoveOverBias.com and join the conversation using #LoveOverBias.