In 2018, American figure skater Adam Rippon became the first openly gay man to qualify for the Olympics. No openly gay figure skaters competed in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, and there were only three, including Rippon at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. At the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, there are a record eight out gay men competing in figure skating. This increase is due to the greater level of acceptance in society and sports, according to skaters who have come out, with social media being a big driver. Jason Brown, who competes in singles, is Team USA’s only gay figure skater competing this year, though Team USA’s pairs skater Timothy LeDuc is the first non-binary skater to compete. LeDuc is a pairs figure skater, who competes with their teammate Ashley Cain-Gribble.
France has Kevin Aymoz completing in singles and Guillaume Cizeron in pairs. Canada also has two out gay men competing this year: pairs skater Eric Radford, who skates with Vanessa James, and Paul Poirier, who skates with Piper Gilles in ice dancing. Also in ice dancing, Lewis Gibson of Great Britain skates with Lilah Fear, and Simon Proulx Sénécal of Armenia skates with Tina Garabedian. Finally, Filippo Ambrosini of Italy skates with Rebecca Ghilard in pairs figure skating.
But what accounts for this record number of out gay men in the Beijing Olympics? Chad Conley, a Canadian junior nationals silver medalist who now coaches and is gay, was asked what accounted for the increase in the number of out male skaters. He said, “I do not think there is a change in the numbers of gay men in figure skating. In fact, I find there are more straight males finding success in figure skating.” Conley said that skaters feel more open about coming out because of the chance to make money on tour as opposed to being blackballed from the sport. “What is easier than it was even 15 years ago is that skaters who are open about their sexual orientation are now able to get postseason contracts with ‘Stars on Ice’ and more commercial sponsorships,” he said. “This is considered a recent evolution.”
Filippo Ambrosini never had a public coming out moment, but his Instagram account has numerous photos of him and his male partner, making it seemingly obvious that he is LGBTQ. When asked for confirmation by Outsports, Ambrosini said, “Yes, I identify as gay and I’m out.” The same goes for ice dancer Guillaume Cizeron of France, who came out in 2020 by posting a photo of him and his boyfriend. In response to the Instagram post, Cizeron said, “I would not consider myself in the closet before posting this, so I don’t really consider it coming out. Even though I have never spoken publicly about my sexual orientation, I am one of those who think that it is not something that [people] should have to do. Straight people don’t come out. … I still hesitated a bit before publishing. Because I’m not in the habit of revealing really intimate things. I don’t know what got into me, I said to myself, ‘What do I have to lose?’”
When American singles skater Jason Brown came out during Pride Month last June, he talked about the diversity he experienced in skating. “I’ve grown up surrounded by beautiful, creative, strong, proud, successful and supportive LGBTQ+ role models,” Brown said on Instagram. “Whether it be family members, coaches, skaters, teachers, friends or others I’ve had the privilege of crossing paths with, my perception of what’s it like to be LGBTQ+ was far from one-dimensional. I’ve always found it impossible and truthfully dangerous to paint or stereotype any one group with a singular brushstroke. The diversity of people I’ve met along my journey has shown me that everyone is so individually themselves. No experience or personality is the same, simply people finding their identity, their voice and owning their truths and their own unique ways.”
Despite the record number of out male skaters, there are still issues, especially with coaches and judges from the former Soviet Union, where skating — and homophobia — has a long tradition. In October, Alexander Vedenin, a former international judge, said that Cizeron was “cold” in his performances with his ice dance partner Gabriella Papadakis because he is gay. “The French skate with class, but are cold,” Vedenin said. “The partner [Cizeron] does not have a traditional orientation and he cannot hide it.” Cizeron responded to Vedenin’s comments, calling them “a pathetic attempt to harm us.” On Instagram, Cizeron said, “Don’t let ignorant people tell you how much of a man or a woman you are. What makes you a man, a woman, a non-binary or anything in between, has nothing to do with your sexual orientation, and even less with your abilities, your value, your skills, or the level or respect that you deserve.”
In addition, 1994 Olympic silver medalist Alexander Zhulin of Russia insulted Timothy LeDuc, the non-binary American pairs skater, and then refused to apologize. LeDuc has been amazing in telling their historic story to inspire others, but the concern is that there could be homophobic judges who share the disgusting views of those two Russians. Cizeron and Papadakis won the silver at the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea and have won first at the worlds, so they are serious gold medal contenders.
“Until proper sanctions are put in place when comments from regulated officials — coaches and judges — make disrespectful comments, then our sport will not be completely safe,” Conley said.