I nearly cried when I read Gus Kenworthy’s coming out story (I probably would have cried if I had been alone in the room). As a queer-identifying individual, I know how difficult it can be to express that aspect of you. Anyone who is not a straight, white cis-gendered male is going to have it rough in a lot of places, not just action sports. Unfortunately our community lags behind in creating more acceptance.
Two and a half years ago, I wrote a post titled “Action sports need to be more gay”. Now we have one. Although I don’t want to take away from what Gus has done, the headlines citing him as the first gay action sports athlete erases the struggles of those who came before him. In fact, Cheryl Maas took a stance against Russia’s anti-gay policies when she was in Sochi. For many reasons, that didn’t make huge headlines, and the simple truth was that things haven’t changed until now. Gus won America’s heart as part of the Men’s Ski Slopestyle podium sweep in Sochi and also as the guy who brought home some puppies (though he clarifies that it was his boyfriend at the time who did most of that), and he more than earned freeski cred by being a five-time Association of Freeskiing Professionals champion. He fits that privileged mold with the exception of being gay. In other words, he had a lot to lose and yet a lot of power.
By sharing his story, Gus has raised awareness of the microaggressions, like using “gay” to mean something “uncool” or automatically assuming that there’s a girlfriend or even this little sketch that implies two men can only be in bed together for comedic purposes. Those little things hurt, but they’re often hard to see when homophobia is associated with a slur-filled tirade or the Westboro Baptist Church protesting. Now the action sports community can no longer pretend that a problem with homophobia and toxic masculinity does not exist. Although contest organizers, sponsors, and other athletes can choose to remain silent or make a bad j, we fans will notice.
For me, I hope that the support means that there can be a safer space not just for LGBTQIA individuals, but anyone who is a minority in the action sports world. I came into the scene because it promoted “freedom of expression” and united those of us who weren’t into the more popular sports. I fell out of it partly due to the realization that I’d been seeing a facade. My liberal politics have distanced me from my old motocross message board buddies; I can’t be myself around them when I’m not sure how they’ll respond to my interest in feminism or queer politics. The day before Gus’ story broke, a photo of my drag king alter-ego with a skateboard on Instagram received a homophobic slur. I brushed it off as some immature teenager or self-loathing adult with nothing better to do, but whey should we let anyone get away with such hateful actions? To be a community, we have to help one another.
And that’s what I will be watching for. We’ve taken the first step by listening to Gus’ story and Tweeting out our support. Being an ally is more than that. I’m still learning and constantly checking my privilege (because even if I identify with the LGBTQIA spectrum, my queerness is not always apparent or as big of a difference as my being female in a male-dominated world). We’ve got to work together, and I have hope that a bunch of action sports fans will find the courage to be themselves. Because that is what I feel like I can do even more now. I don’t know if I’m making it to Aspen for Winter X this year, but if I do, you bet I’m gonna be waving a giant rainbow flag.