My apologies for not updating in a while, especially since I have yet to recap two X Games events (this global format is not working well with my schedule). I’m going to put it off some more for a topic that I think is very important: queer politics. Ever since NBA player Jason Collins made headlines by coming out, I’ve been thinking about the lack of openly gay athletes in action sports.
Our community could stand to be more queer. There are many fans who fall under the LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bi, trans*, questioning, intersex, asexual), and I’m pretty sure there’s at least one pro identifying as each of the letters in the acronym. Then why don’t we have more action sports stars who are out and proud? Why do we not have a spokesperson for LGBT issues?
For a while, I had deluded myself into thinking that the quietness was a result of everyone being so accepting. After all, it was casually mentioned in an X Games broadcast that snowboarder Cheryl Maas had welcomed a baby with her wife. “Nothing to get worked up over” was the message, but what if it had been a male snowboarder? There are articles calling out for a gay skate, snow, or surf icon.
Although I haven’t seen Cheryl talk about her sexuality, she does bring up her wife (snowboarder Stine Brun Kjeldaas) and posts pictures of her family on her Tumblr.
We need one. I can’t count the number of times I saw the word “gay” being used in a derogatory manner on freestyle motocross message boards. I’ve seen BMX articles with a homophobic tone. No, the action sports world is not accepting; it’s not immune to the dominant straight male attitudes that permeates throughout mainstream sports like basketball.
A decade ago, Tim Von Werne (featured in the “skate” article above), Matt Branson, and Robbins Thompson had to deal with coming out and ending their careers. Birdhouse pulled Von Werne’s interview because he talked about being gay, and that convinced him to not turn pro. After much trauma, Branson dropped out of the ASP pro tour. Thompson got sick of the questions and negative comments (and having “fag” spray painted on his car didn’t help), and he quit as well. This is not encouraging for queer youths wanting to do action sports.
Times have changed a bit. There are allies like snowboarder Scott E. Wittlake and Skateboard Mag writer Rob Brink (both quoted in the “snow” article linked above). We’re seeing more interviews with athletes who are gay and lesbian. King Shit did a feature on transgender skater Hillary Thompson. While she’s not pro, there have been more articles about her and they’ve been very positive.
Photo by Sam McGuire for Jenkem Magazine
My list of pros who are openly gay, lesbian, and trans is small, but I hope that it grows and will include other orientations too:
- Ryan Allen Carillo – gay aggressive in-line skater
Photo by Adam Bouska for the NOH8 Campaign
- Michelle Dumaresq – transgender mountain biker
- Ryan Miller – gay alpine snowboarder
- Corie Schumacher – lesbian surfer (and author of the “surf” article)
However, as the documentary Out in the Line-up reveals in the surfing world, and action sports in general, things are far from equal… or even safe. Until the community has a well-known name who is out and proud or a real push to promote equality, it’s going to be an uphill battle.