OUT ON THE ICE: PART THREE

“Out On The Ice” concludes with the story of Adam Rippon, the first out skater to represent the US at the Olympics, and a new generation of queer skaters determined to change the culture of their sport.

ARI SAPERSTEIN (host) (host): Hey everyone — this is the third and final episode of a three-part story we’re calling “Out On The Ice”, so if you haven’t listened from the beginning, go back to part one and start from there.

ARI SAPERSTEIN (host): Previously on Blind Landing…

…There’s no one in their seats at this point… oh,that is sensational … 

… He is the first US male competitor to come out of the closet … 

… I always thought that three was some discrimmination … 

… I’m sorry but I don’t need to see a prima ballerina …

….People who think that’s him just trying to act outrageous on the ice, you’re just being yourself? …

… Exactly, and that’s the only way I can be…

ARI SAPERSTEIN (host): In our last episode, we took a look at the reception, both from the public and behind the scenes, of some of America’s first openly, and visibly queer figure skaters.  

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): But that… that was just the tip of the iceberg.

ARI SAPERSTEIN (host): I’m Ari Saperstein.

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): I’m Chris Schleicher.

ARI SAPERSTEIN (host): And this.. Is Blind Landing.

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): “Out On The Ice”: Episode Three —

ARCHIVAL AUDIO:

… Russian gay rights activists say they want to see mass demmonstrations in Sochi…

[SOUND OF STREET PROTESTS]

 CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): In the summer of 2013, Russia passed this anti-gay law used to criminalize LGBTQ+ people which led to violence against the queer community.

ARI SAPERSTEIN (host): Yeah, of course, I remember this, I mean, like… this was a huge huge story –– that whole summer –– there were protests in Russia, andqueer people getting attacked and arrested…

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): And not only Russians, but queer tourists in Russia getting arrested. 

ARI SAPERSTEIN (host): That’s right, that’s right –– it was really disturbing… but what do the anti-gay laws in Russia have to do with our story?

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): Because Russia is getting ready to host the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, so the implications are huge because the world is preparing to come to Russia in just a few months for the Olympic Games… 

ARCHIVAL AUDIO: … the pressure is growing on the International Olympic Committee to deal with Russia’s anti-gay stance…

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): … and everyone –– from heads of state, to sporting federations, down to the athletes –– have to decide if they’ll say something publicly about the situation. 

And in this moment, there are three gay, male skaters vying for a spot on the US Olympic team: Jason Brown, Adam Rippon  and Jeremy Abbott — none of whom were publicly out, all of whom were being asked to comment…

JASON BROWN: I was only 19 years old. Suddenly being thrust into the spotlight as a teenager, I think that there was a little bit of do I say something or how will it look if, you know, I think there was a lot of concern over how to juggle that.

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): Jason Brown did not want to comment… 

ADAM RIPPON: Getting ready for the Olympics, a lot of times they would start to ask about “how do we feel about the anti-LGBTQ propaganda law in Russia?” It was the first time I was getting a lot of attention. I never said anything when I was asked.

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): Adam Rippon did not want to comment….

JEREMY ABBOTT: I’ve never said no comments because I… I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know where that comes from, or why, when I probably should have many times just said no comment. But I always feel like I have to comment.

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): Jeremy Abbott also did not want to comment… but he did anyway. 

JEREMY ABBOTT: We were at our national team camp in Colorado Springs, so you were close to 8000 feet of altitude. You get off the ice, you’re lacking oxygen, you’re breathing heavy, you’re sweating profusely, and someone asks you to comment on the politics of Russia, and gay politics — and it’s a very weighted, heavy question that I was not remotely prepared for. 

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): And this? This was very much one of those times when Jeremy Abbott should have said no comment. 

JEREMY ABBOTT: I really didn’t know what was going on or the extent of what was going on or how bad it was. 

ARI SAPERSTEIN (host): OK, so I’ve got this comment here that Jeremy Abbott gave when asked  about the Russia controversy, quote, “I’m not going to go into somebody’s house and be like, ‘Um, the way you decorate is hideous, and you need to completely redo this or I’m never coming back.’ It’s a little rude, so I don’t want to say bad things about a country that’s hosting the world, essentially”

JEREMY ABBOTT: And so, I gave the comments I did, and it got picked up and spread very widely and very negatively. I felt awful that I didn’t inform myself better. I felt a lot of anger and like pain towards myself for not educating myself better, and not standing up for my community. And then when all of that went down, like, I was like, well, maybe I should— maybe I should come out. 

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): Jeremy Abbott was in an impossible situation — he could be forced out of the closet before he’s ready and feels like it’s safe … or he could stay in the closet and be perceived as not supporting the queer community…

JEREMY ABBOTT: First of all, you shouldn’t come out just to save yourself from a media shitstorm, which is why I didn’t. That’s not a reason to come out. And honestly, like at that point in my life I knew that I couldn’t carry the weight alone and I didn’t feel like I had anyone to help me carry that weight. I didn’t feel like I had a support system from the federation, from the media, I didn’t feel I had a safety net. I was too afraid, honestly I was too afraid.  I was too afraid to publicly be gay, I was too afraid that I wouldn’t be able to shoulder that weight, and I was too afraid that I was going to constantly say the wrong thing. I was too afraid that it was going to cost me a lot. It was just that there was a lot of fear that came with the idea of saying those words.

ADAM RIPPON: I was lucky enough to train and skate with Jeremy, and I think Jeremy would have been a great figurehead for the queer community.

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): Adam Rippon watched the fallout from Jeremy Abbott’s comments, and understood Jeremy’s decision to stay in the closet— in part because of the way Johnny Weir had been treated a few years prior…

ADAM RIPPON: Jeremy went to the Olympics in 2010. He saw the way that Johnny was treated in 2010, not being an athlete. Basically, he was just called like, “he should just skate in the women’s,” people were horrible to Johnny. And then you’re going to ask Jeremy Abbott to be the first out competitor in 2014 when there’s literally a law saying that it’s illegal to be like to be gay in Russia.

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): Adam Rippon was also not publicly out at the time, also trying to make the 2014 team, also struggling with what to do… 

ADAM RIPPON: Thinking about, like, should I say something? Should I not say something? I remember messaging that we got from USOC where it was like, “we support you and we’ll do everything we can. But like if you say something when we’re in Russia, there’s not much we can do.” And so it felt like, am I putting myself in danger? Would I be putting my family in danger? Are my teammates going to be affected by this? And it was just like, I was just trying to make an Olympic team. 

ARI SAPERSTEIN (host): So it sounds like for athletes like Adam Rippon and Jeremy Abbott there was a fear of how the public and media would react to them coming out, fear of going into a place like Russia, and a fear that being an out-skater was going to affect their chances

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): As it gets closer to the 2014 Games, the US begins signaling some support for queer people, if a bit late. The US Olympic Committee named Billie Jean King and Brian Boitano as part of the US Olympic delegation, sending a message to Russia by including two of our nation’s most famous queer athletes.

ARI SAPERSTEIN (host): Just an aside here… Brian Boitano –– he was the 1988 Olympic figure skating champion… although if you are a non-skating fan like me, you might know him better as the guy from the South Park song…

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): It’s actually because of Sochi that Brian comes out, but even if we’re getting retired champions coming out and speaking up, the pressure and fear are still too great for us to get an out skater at these Games.

ARI SAPERSTEIN (host): Now, I know that in the end, at Sochi, all the athletes were safe… but I don’t actually know who ended up competing –– did Jason Brown or Adam Rippon or Jeremy Abbott end up making the team? 

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): So, it’s Jason Brown and Jeremy Abbott who go to Sochi and help the US win a bronze medal in the team event…

ARCHIVAL AUDIO:

The US won bronze today in the team figure skating event …

… That great performance secured third for the Americans …

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): But Adam Rippon… does not make the team. While the US skating team was celebrating, Adam was having a comically opposite experience back in the States…

ADAM RIPPON: When the men were skating in Russia, I was at a coffee bean, getting in a hit and run. So, did my Jetta recover? It did eventually, but because it was the driver’s side that was head, and unfortunately, I had gotten into another crash earlier that year, and so the passenger back side— that was also smashed. So I looked like I was running around in a car that I had put together myself. So, that’s where I was. 

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): And for as much as he can laugh about it all now, at the time, it was really a low point for Adam.

ADAM RIPPON: After not making the Olympic team in 2014, that’s when I felt like my skating was over. 

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): Adam was 24. In addition to missing out on the Sochi Olympics, he had also narrowly missed out on the 2010 Olympics… and so he was seriously debating whether or not to keep going in skating.  But then… then Adam had this life-changing conversation…

ADAM RIPPON: After 2014 I was at a show. And one of the skaters in the show is Meryl Davis, an Olympic champion from 2014.

ARCHIVAL AUDIO

… Meryl Davis and Charlie White make US Olympic history with a gold medal win in ice dancing… 

… when Meryl Davis and Charlie White made history as the first Americans to take ice dancing gold … 

ADAM RIPPON: And we were having dinner and everybody was asking her about, like, “what’s it like to be an Olympic champion?” It’s like this thing that’s going to make everything better.  She had everything that anyone could ever dream of. And all of the emotions that she described— she had the same fears and the same doubts that we all have. It was like she was left right where she started, like nothing really changed. And it, like, broke this illusion of what it’s supposed to be. And it kind of showed me what it really was, and so that’s when I was like, you know what? I’m going to speak my mind. And so that’s what I decided to do, like post-that Olympic cycle.

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): And in 2015, Adam publicly comes out— the first active US skater to do so in two decades … The first since Rudy Galindo.

ADAM RIPPON: I remember thinking, like, I have nothing to lose, like, what’s the worst thing that’s going to happen? I’m not going to go to the Olympics. I’ve already not done that my whole life. Mm hmm. So like, who cares if I don’t go to the Olympics? 

ARI SAPERSTEIN (host): What kind of reaction did Adam Rippon get? Was it big news? Was there pushback?

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): There wasn’t really a lot of anything.

ADAM RIPPON: It’s like the year after an Olympics when nobody can give a fuck about skating. So, I come out to the applause of no one and nobody cares, and most people know. So, it was very under the radar. There was no media attention. It was very quiet.

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): And then in 2016, in one of his first competitions after coming out, Adam Rippon, for the first time, tries to be fully himself on the ice…. And this… this is where we started our story: Adam unveiling those shoulders.

ADAM RIPPON: It was a brand new rule where men could show their shoulders in a costume.  Obviously the shoulder is the most famous male private part. So, we were finally allowed to bare shoulder, and I skated to Ida Corr, this club song from 2007— keeping it current — and I’m in a tank top and it’s was like kind of gay.

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): If anything, I think Adam is underselling how different this program was. In figure skating you’re used to seeing a million people do the same programs to Carmen or Phantom of the Opera… but Adam was skating to thumping club music with this confident, very queer, sexual vibe. This is not your grandma’s figure skating program.

ADAM RIPPON: I skated it once for like the US officials and they were like, “I don’t really. I don’t I don’t see how this is going to pan out for you.” And I was like, “I’m doing it, like, I want to do what I want to do at this point.”

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): And Adam goes for it and competes the new program in 2016 at a big international competition called Skate America.

ADAM RIPPON: I was at Skate America, and showing my shoulders, I’m living my life … And the Russian judge found me and asked me where my coach was, and I’m like, here we go. She goes over to my coach. and they’re speaking in Russian, and she starts pointing at the shoulders and this and that… and I’m like, she’s probably bashing me …

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): Adam’s coach translates, and tells him that what the Russian judge was saying was, in fact, very different than what Adam expected…

ADAM RIPPON: Basically, the Russian judge came over and was like, “I like the program, but it’s just like, you have to go more over the top.” She’s like, “there needs to be more things on the back. And if they’re going to be like, you know, skating and doing all this, like, just go for it, like, go for it more.”

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): As in –– the Russian judge wanted Adam to be more over the top, not less like the US officials wrongly predicted. 

ADAM RIPPON: And that’s when I really was like, oh, it’s people who don’t know all the answers trying to give you advice. 

ARI SAPERSTEIN (host): So, the fear-based mindset that Adam Rippon and Jeremy Abbott and all these other queer skaters had when it came to being out, and not being traditionally masculine… when Adam took a chance, it sounds like he realized that the risk-averse way he’s been trained to think, in 2016 at least, was kind of outdated messaging.

ADAM RIPPON: And that’s why I said something.  I wanted to share that side of me, because I felt like it would make me a better skater.

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): And not only does it feel better to be himself, but being himself also ends up being his path to success. Adam wins the 2016 National Championships, and  starts becoming a serious contender for the 2018 games. Against all odds, Adam, in his late twenties, is not past his prime –– in fact, he’s reaching new heights, and ends up getting named to the 2018 US Olympic team … for the first time … at 28 — older than Rudy Galindo was when he was considered ancient. But Adam got there, no matter how long it took.

ADAM RIPPON: I had to feel good in my own skin, and if I felt good there, and I felt confident from there, that’s when I was my best.

ARCHIVAL AUDIO

The Winter Olympics kick off in South Korea.  A colorful opening ceremony underway…

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): And it was a huge moment in queer visibility— the first openly-gay skater representing the US on the Olympic stage. And at the 2018 Games, what’s amazing is that Adam’s actually not the only openly gay skater on the ice…

ARCHIVAL AUDIO

And US figure skater, Eric Radford, thee first openly-gay male Winter Olympics gold medalist … 

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): At these Olympics, Canadian skater Eric Radford, he’s the first openly gay person to win a gold medal at the Winter Games–– which is huge… And Adam, he also has a great Olympics. Under all that pressure, he hits when it counts most.

ARCHIVAL AUDIO:

… Look at what kind of program he just laid down… 

… he was absolutely spell-binding … 

… should be high numbers for Adam Rippon… 

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): … and Adam helps the team to win Bronze… and while, of course, winning that medal was amazing….  for me ––truly, more than the medal, more than Adam being this groundbreaking “first”–– what sticks out most in my mind is that in the men’s event, Adam did the super gay program he was describing earlier. He did the program at the Olympics! The biggest stage in the sport. Adam is just dropped-in, being himself, going after something bigger than winning… and there’s this one moment ––I’ll never forget it –– when Adam did this, like,“come hither” gesture at the judges and it was so playful, I just… {laughs}… there was something about that that just made me feel like we’ve finally arrived. Queer skaters are here to stay. Adam was achieving the dreams of generations of skaters who never got to be this open. And I was *living* for it, dancing along to the music in my living room, like my little gay self dancing to Britney Spears. I wish little Chris knew that we’d get here some day. But Adam’s story doesn’t end there…

ARCHIVAL AUDIO:

…Adam Rippon he has had quite a week…

… A star is born. A star is born. That was one of the best interviews I’ve ever seen, very charming … 

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): …Adam becomes like America’s sweetheart…

ARCHIVAL AUDIO:

… he does not hold back. He is so himself …  

… Reese Witherspoon tweeted at you, Britney Spears, Sally Fields…

… it would seem like you had the most fun of any Olympic athlete, is that an accurate assessment? … 

… It’s been a complete whirlwind … 

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): And it happens in huge part, not just because he’s the first out US winter Olympian, but because Adam’s just hilarious and incredibly charming… and let me just say: 99.99% of interviews with skaters are them saying stuff like “I just went out there and skated my best and I’d like to thank my parents and my coach and say hi to my pet guinea pig back home in Delaware”… like painful to listen to. But Adam –– he was the opposite –– he was just so, so himself…

ARCHIVAL AUDIO:

INTERVIEWER: We’re trying to figure out who’s had a better Olympics than you? 

ADAM: Well, I don’t know, maybe someone… Who actually won them? 

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): And that’s the thing. He didn’t win gold! He places 10th in the individual competition, but he is the star of the Games… and he’s on every talk show, he’s on Dancing With The Stars, he goes to the Oscars… and four years later, he’s still in the spotlight, hosting TV shows and reporting for NBC.

ARI SAPERSTEIN (host): God, that’s incredible because that level of success and fame usually only happens to Simone Biles and Michael Phelps, like, the uber-dominant gold medalists… so, for the 10pth place finisher to be the star of the games, and to still be such a big figure… It’s amazing.

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): Adam’s whole journey and Olympic experience – it taught him something about what he’d been conditioned to believe about coming out in the sport….

ADAM RIPPON: Of the Precautionary tales I was told, none of it was real. What I was told, was it true? No. But it was true for them. And I think that’s the biggest thing that I’ve taken away.   

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): What Adam realized is that the judges and officials and coaches who discouraged Adam from being himself on the ice –– most had good intentions. Some of them were queer, themselves, and projecting their own trauma onto him.

ADAM RIPPON: It was told to me in really good faith, from really good people, and they were just trying to help me, and they were trying to save me from the experiences that they had themselves. I think what I knew that they didn’t know was that maybe more people would be ready, and they’d be ready to hear what I might have to say.

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): And it wasn’t just Adam people were ready to hear from –– but a whole new generation of queer athletes… That’s after the break. 

ARI SAPERSTEIN (host): It took until 2018 for Adam Rippon to become America’s first openly gay Olympic skaters… and now its four years later, another Olympic year…So Chrism what’s going on with the queer community in figure skating today?

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): Well, we’ve seen about as much progress happen in the past four years as the forty years preceding it, with multiple queer skaters competing at the 2022 Olympic games…

JASON BROWN: What’s going on right now, it’s being brought to the table as something that you’re allowed to discuss. It’s not, you know, being avoided in any way.

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): This is Jason Brown, who we heard from at the beginning of the episode. And if you remember, Jason competed at the Sochi Olympics back in 2014 and then made his second Olympics this year, going to the 2022 Beijing Games –– which is so full circle when you think about it: There was Jason, 19 years old at the 2014 Olympics with the backdrop of all this hesitation and fear about being visibly queer, now here in this moment, in 2022, as one of the open, proud faces of skating, ready to be in the spotlight –– ready to be himself.  

JASON BROWN: I really broke free of that weight of perfectionism. I’m just trying to be as authentic and as genuine as I possibly can be, because I think that any role model that I want or that I would want to look up to. I wouldn’t want them to act a certain way because they think they have to. 

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): In just eight years, it’s gone from no out skaters at the 2014 Olympics, to a handful competing at the 2022 Olympics, including Paul Poirier and Eric Radford for Canada, Guillame Cizeron for France… and representing the US alongside Jason is another skater, Timothy LeDuc, who’s breaking new ground for the LGBTQ+ community…

TIMOTHY LEDUC: For me, as a non-binary person, people pushing me into the masculinity box, being told that your value as a skater, and as a person comes from portraying masculinity on the ice and off the ice — that’s been especially damaging. And, it was really difficult deciding whether or not to come out as non-binary during my competitive career. Ultimately, I knew for me, through my whole life, I’d really tried to find authenticity, and I knew part of that was speaking publicly and openly about my both, my gender and my sexuality.

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): Timothy is the first openly non-binary Winter Olympian, and Timothy’s hoping to make a difference to others in the way Adam did…

TIMOTHY LEDUC: Watching Adam compete in Pyeongchang and seeing him just nail it— it just felt like he went out there and did that for us, you know?

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): And Timothy’s visibility is huge on so many levels… but especially considering that Timothy is a pairs skater.

TIMOTHY LEDUC: When the “Romeo and Juliet” storyline that we see in pairs and ice dance is centered as what is required to be successful, then it becomes problematic, because it pushes out other people and other other identities that want to come into the sport and be authentically themselves.

ARI SAPERSTEIN (host): Yeah so, you talked a little bit pairs skating in our first episode, how skaters have pressure to perform both traditional roles and a hetero love story on the ice …

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): And Timothy and their partner, Ashley Cain-Gribble, perform a program that takes that tradition and throws it out the window…

TIMOTHY LEDUC: It’s meant to showcase two strong athletes coming together to make something beautiful, rather than it being this masculine/feminine energy or this dominant/submissive energy coming together on the ice.

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): Pairs skating always centers around the contrast between men and women –– but Timothy and Ashley, they dress in matching outfits without gender signifiers, they’re both in pants with beautifully stoned tops, and they’re mirroring each other in the choreography … they’re equals. The focus of their program is on how strong they both are and how strong they make each other.

KARINA MANTA: To watch them skate and just like being uniquely theirselves. I think figure skating owes a lot to them for pushing the sport to be something that it wouldn’t be without their work and their bravery.

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): This is Karina Manta, a former Team USA skater. Remember when I said there’s been a lot of change in the past four years? Karina’s a pioneer in one of the new frontiers or representation.

KARINA MANTA: I was the first queer woman to come out while competing on the international circuit.

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): Back in 2018, Karina Manta was an elite-level ice dancer –– and not only did Karina have an out skating partner, Joe Johnson, but she also had openly queer skating friends like Timothy that she could be herself with…

KARINA MANTA: Timothy, they were one of the first people I came out to beyond just like people like I trained with. We were at an event together. I ended up coming out to them, like, in our hallway in the hotel, and I just felt safe with them. 

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): While there’s that archetype on the men’s side of the sport that Timothy talked about –– the “masculinity box” –– there’s rigid gender norms within figure skating that are just as damaging to women. When they’re told that there’s only one way a female skater should look or act … it boxes out a lot of talented women who don’t fit within that mold …

KARINA MANTA: And a lot of queer women that I’ve spoken to have been told in some capacity either like the way they run, like the way they move.  And I’m sure that straight women who skate get it too, like,  they’re told they’re too masculine all the time because skating really idolizes this version of femininity that maybe nobody fits, nobody can fit, but it’s pushed on us. 

AMBER GLENN: When you think of, you know, a woman being with another woman, sometimes you think, Oh, well, which one of you is the guy? And oh, she’s probably more masculine. And that doesn’t fit what I want in figures to see in a figure skater. 

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): Amber Glenn also had many of the same fears as Karina. Growing up there were literally zero models of out-women in the sport…

AMBER GLENN: I didn’t really see myself, and what I wanted to be, in another skater.  I couldn’t relate to anyone. So there’s, kind of, that fear of okay of if I come out, they might not see me as being someone who is graceful, that heteronormative pretty princess– and I’m not that.

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): Much in the way that Timothy’s a role model for Karina, Timothy and Karina are role models for Amber…

AMBER GLENN: Timothy, they really helped me understand to be comfortable with myself, and accept who I am and what that really means… And Karina, I had seen her come out in this wonderful way and saw how inspiring it was.

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): And while a handful of other women in the sport have come out since Karina, Amber, being one of US’ top single skaters, has become far and away the most visible out female skater since coming out in 2019. And now Amber, who didn’t have anyone to look up to, has become that role model for a new generation…

AMBER GLENN: I had so many people reach out to me with their stories. I even had, at nationals, like a month and a half after I came out, I had a young girl run up to me, crying and giving me a giant hug, and her mom just telling me that me coming out gave her the courage to come out to her mother … and how it saved the relationship … and just having that one experience, just filled my heart to know that I at least made somewhat of a difference to somebody.

ARI SAPERSTEIN (host): For so much of skating’s history, queer people who have come out have been gay men –– these people you’re talking about like Timothy LeDuc and Karina Manta and Amber Glenn, it seems like the sport’s LGBTQIA community is starting to see representation on the ice for more letters than just “G”. To hear about these past four years, it feels like the beginning of something big…

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): It does, but it’s also very much just that: the beginning. And now that we’ve covered the past and present of queer skaters, I think it’s time to talk about the future…

ELIOT HALVERSON: It’s going to be a long climb, to be honest. 

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): This is Eliot Halverson, who we heard from in our last episode. Eliot was a two-time junior national champion. And Eliot knows that even with the recent progress for the LGBTQ+ community, there are still skaters who don’t have the support they need.

ELIOT HALVERSON: If a trans skater came along that was at a Team USA level and would need to start to be under international sporting rules. And as of right now, it would not be kind to a trans skater like that.

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): Eliot publicly came out as trans a few years ago ––and last year joined US Figure Skating’s brand new Diversity Equity and Inclusion taskforce. She’s trying to help move the skating world in the right direction… which means moving it away from how she was treated by the skating world growing up…

ELIOT HALVERSON: I am a proud trans non-binary person. In skating there is just a lack of understanding of what being queer is. As I entered a more serious rink when I was around 10, they were running a comb through every kid through thelens of is this kid gay? I mean, I was asked if I was gay at a very, very young age and told that I was gay. You’re in this environment where all these adults and all these people are telling you that you’re different, and it’s that you’re gay, you start to listen to that. And so I really thought that that was the thing about me that was different.

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): It’s not just that Eliot and other skaters are faced with people who are outright discriminatory, but also .. there are so many people who are woefully under-educated, who conflate gender and sexuality, who don’t understand what it means to be trans.

ELIOT HALVERSON: I feel like I’m met with so much confusion a lot of the time, of like, “Oh, this is just so much to learn.” It’s, “how can I possibly call somebody “they/them” I just… I can’t wrap my head around that.” It’s like, you know, yes, this is a lot to learn. And to be honest, yeah, it is. A lot of it is confusing. So can you take that confusion that you’re feeling? And can you imagine what it’s like to be an eight year old experiencing that about yourself? It is confusing if you have a boy body and the world is telling you you’re a boy and you know that you’re not. That is fucking confusing, even if you know it. I knew it and it was confusing. And so, turn your confusion into empathy, because you have to have compassion for the people who are actually experiencing it.

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): Skating is a sport of traditions, it’s easy to think that there’s only one way to express yourself in order to win. But as we’ve seen time and time again in this story, all it takes is for one person to dare to challenge the norms, to imagine new ways of existing on the ice … and that’s how those rigid traditions begin to fall away …    

ELIOT HALVERSON: I think when you’re young, it’s so easy to just listen to those external voices more than you listen to your own… and that’s society, that’s U.S. figure skating, that’s your immediate friends and family. And my big wish for the skating community is to stop telling kids who they are.

CHRIS SCHLEICHER (host): When we look at these athletes, what’s made them all feel brave enough to come out, whether it was during their careers or later in life… it’s support. Not just from judges, and coaches, and officials, but from fellow queer skaters who were role models… from the friends and families who accepted them… from the fans, the young, queer kids who finally have queer heroes to cheer for, and even skaters, like me, who are so happy to see that things finally changed, even if it wasn’t during our time. We’re getting to a place where the whole rainbow of our community can finally be seen on the ice.

ADAM RIPPON: It’s not perfect. There’s still this internalized homophobia aspect to it at times, but there is acceptance that I never would have imagined. Like, fans come to events with rainbow flags…  

AMBER GLENN: When I went to my first championship event, there was actually a rainbow flag in the crowd for me— it was wonderful.  I actually started getting teary-eyed before I started skating. I had to get myself together. I felt so much love and happiness.

TIMOTHY LEDUC: The first time I saw rainbow flags for me. I literally started crying on the ice because it just— it blew my mind. I’d never seen that before, and didn’t think that I would get to see that maybe in my lifetime.

ADAM RIPPON: And they hold them up when, like, the queer skaters are out there regardless of the country they’re competing in—and it’s beautiful.

ADAM RIPPON: If you go and you’re like, the only way I’ll be happy is if I win, you will be very disappointed when you realize that when you do win, then you need something else. And it’s like a never ending cycle. I think that there are so many people who are stuck in that mindset. But, living your truth, and being the best you can be— this is what really matters. That’s when you really feel the most satisfied.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s