It’s hard enough competing at the elite athlete level, let alone feeling all together different and isolated from everyone else at the same time – alone, odd and scared.
Now that DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) has been abolished in the U.S. and Prop 8 was dismantled in the California Courts, finally there’s hope for gay men and women not only in America but around the world to be allowed to marry and obtain the same civil rights as everyone else. Some of the world had already beat us to it. Others are slowly following suit.
Russia now has this unbelievable law prohibiting anything gay – literature, support for gay rights, same-sex unions and rainbow flags. So now what will really happen in Sochi for the 2014 Winter Games?
I certainly wouldn’t want to be a gay athlete competing over there for the Games, or a coach or a spectator. And there’s only so much comfort and protection one gets while residing in the Olympic Village. Besides, who wants to be held hostage in a temporarily perfectly created village just for you? Eventually you have to venture out.
Will the Sochi police really protect the LGBT community while in their city? I think not.
I fear we’ll witness a dreadful occurrence in a public place during the Games. And what a shame that would be.
Below is an excerpt from my memoirs where I talk about my own experience leading up to the 1980 Games in Lake Placid as an in-the-closet Olympic athlete. Now, 34 years later with hopes of a changed world, I do see many great changes for the better and, unfortunately, one huge step backwards.
Excerpt from “Out In The Cold” by Randy Gardner and Allison Hope Weiner:
Tai and I shared a lot during our three-decade career. The fact that I was gay initially seemed to benefit our skating. Since we weren’t a romantic couple off of the ice, we didn’t have to take our work home with us at the end of the day. But the downside was that as our fame grew, we shared the heavy burden of keeping my sexuality a secret. If the world found out that I was gay, all of our endorsements would end and we certainly wouldn’t be as popular. People liked thinking that Tai and I had met as little kids and turned into a loving couple. It was already difficult enough to deal with being a young, famous champion athlete and being a closeted gay man just made it worse. I struggled with how to handle the truth. Sometimes I opted to simply remain in a state of denial. It just seemed to be the easiest solution. I knew that coming out would change how everyone saw me.
As I became a successful skater, I knew it was professional suicide to be openly gay. When I competed in skating back in the seventies, it wasn’t acceptable in any sport to be openly gay. I had to do everything in my power to avoid suspicion, including pretending to be in relationships with various girls. It was hard work living my life always on guard that someone would discover the truth. Keeping the secret about my sexuality was very difficult and made me feel isolated and unsettled.
I used my training and my commitment to skating to distract me from dealing with the issue. It just was safer that way. I knew that if I came out, there would be no commercial endorsements in my future. No one in the 1980’s would hire a gay athlete to sell any product. We heard all the time about star athletes not getting commercials or personal appearances simply because there were rumors circulating that they were gay. I knew that coming out would hurt our chances of reaping the commercial rewards of championship skating. There would be no toothpaste ads, no Wheaties boxes and no Ford commercials. I’d worked hard for these things. I wanted the money, the exposure and the status of being on the front of a Wheaties box. So, I continued with my secret. I’d worked too hard to have it all taken away. And, there was also Tai. I felt a particular responsibility to her to make the most of our career and not to destroy everything by revealing my sexual orientation, so I stayed in the closet. I didn’t tell anyone—not even Tai. I always suspected she knew, but we never discussed it. (When I finally told her, she turned to me with a sly smile and said, “You silly boy, I knew that.”)
© Randy Gardner 2013. All Rights Reserved.