Openly gay athlete hoping to make a difference

Olympic athlete Gus Kenworthy shared in a revealing interview with the Washington Post (WaPo) that some of his fellow athletes refer to him as “The Gay Skier”.

Rather than feel uncomfortable, the 26-year old athlete has decided to embrace the label – with pride.

“I’m definitely, like, ‘the gay skier’ now,” he told Rick Maese with WaPo, “and that’s fine. I knew I was stepping into that role when I did it. I, in some ways, don’t care that that’s the label that sticks because I am the gay skier, and I know that I took the step to come out publicly and decided to wear that badge proudly.”

Kenworthy is currently trying to earn a spot on the Olympic team. On Sunday, he took a major step in that direction by winning a U.S. Olympic selection event for ski slopestyle; the third of five qualifiers for the men’s team.

Since coming out to the in 2015, he has watched his status on the world stage and the LGBTQ community skyrocket. The freestyle skier still remains the only action sports star who is openly gay.

More: 10 facts about Gus Kenworthy!

While there may have been initial concerns about how his sexuality would impact his career, those worries have all but vanished.

In fact, for Kenworthy, coming out as gay has proven to be a smart move.

“We’re in a new time in terms of sponsorships,” said Tim Calkins to the Washington Post. He is a professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and specializes in branding and marketing.

“You go back, and maybe some athletes said they lost sponsorships because they came out. The thing that’s important right now is companies are really embracing this.”

“Partly, he is a great athlete. But now he’s also unique and differentiated. I think sponsors have said diversity is important, and here we have an athlete who brings together three things: athletic achievement, an endearing personality and the ability to make a statement about diversity,” Calkins said.

According to Michael Spencer, Kenworthy’s agent, all the athlete’s sponsors immediately expressed their support and began setting him up with organizations eager to partner with him.

“Everything kind of lined up,” Spencer remarked in the Wapo interview.

“He won an Olympic medal, he saved the dogs, he comes out, and then he ends up winning everything that year. People were really genuinely excited to be a part of it, like, ‘There’s something here, and we can tell a story with [Kenworthy] that’s different, that hasn’t been told’ — particularly in the ski world. It’s not like skiing and snowboarding — you can go way back, you’re not going to find much diversity.”

Kenworthy is hoping his increased visibility is helpful to others who identify as LGBTQ.

In the Wapo interview, he reflected on how things might have been different for him had he known of a gay athlete. “That would have given me so much hope. I think it would have saved me so much heartache,” he said.

GPB spoke to Dr. Tyler Fortman, a licensed psychologist and head of Tandem Psychology in Chicago about the importance of Kenworthy’s personal story to younger LGBTQ people.

“He gives so many people a reason to believe in themselves and hope for the future. What a great role model for teens and young adults who may be struggling with their sexuality.”

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