When Kenworthy came out as gay in 2015, he was the first openly gay action-sport athlete. Moreover, as a reigning Olympic silver medalist, former world champion and big name in the X Games, Kenworthy had a lot to lose during his first Olympics competing as an openly gay man.
Even a skier as accomplished as Kenworthy needs support, and when a good-luck kiss from his boyfriend, Matthew, was unknowingly broadcast across the world before his qualifying run, Kenworthy was anything but upset.
“I think the only way to change perceptions, break down homophobia, break down barriers, is through representation,” he said.
What was only a quick peck for Kenworthy could have a huge impact on the next generation of queer athletes watching from home.
Rippon, never ashamed to show his true colors, competed with more glitter and guts than any other athlete on the ice.
When responding to criticism, to which he is no stranger, Rippon pronounced that he is a “glamazon bitch ready for the runway.”
Don’t let Rippon’s humorous facade fool you, he is an extremely accomplished skater who has finished as high as sixth at the World Championships.
While Kenworthy came into these Olympics feeling a lot of pressure to represent, in typical Rippon fashion, Adam said that being a gay Olympic athlete is “lots of hard work but usually done with better eyebrows.”
In this year’s Olympics, Kenworthy, the action-sport skier who competes in a more typically masculine arena, showed his pride in more subtle, yet equally important, ways.
Contrarily, Rippon, the glamazon with fierce eyebrows, became an icon in a sport that is tragically undermined due to its artistry and undertones of femininity.
The harm of this perceived dichotomy of “masculine” and “feminine” gay men cannot be understated, and can even cause division within the gay community. To see Kenworthy and Rippon fiercely support one another at this year’s games was a refreshing display of solidarity, strength, and unity which should not be ignored by viewers — gay, straight, or otherwise.
While these men expressed their gay identities differently, their common denominator — the mission to be fearless representatives for the LGBTQ+ community in sports — is what truly matters.
Similarly, on UNC’s campus the gay community, and larger LGBTQ+ community, takes a variety of forms.
We have queer athletes, artists and scholars, and each of their unique and powerful mediums of expression are valid and should be celebrated.
More crucially, queer folks on campus should follow Kenworthy and Rippon's example of unequivocal support in a space that can often be detrimental to those who are “other,” and encourage one another regardless of divisive stereotypes.
One does not have be an Olympic athlete to set a powerful example — you never know who you are inspiring by simply having the courage to be yourself.