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Exclusive | Gus Kenworthy feared he would lose fans when he came out as gay

The Olympian freeskier uses his platform to raise awareness of the LGBTQ community

2019-12-12

Words: Steve Brown

Gus Kenworthy feared he would lose fans when he came out as gay.

The Olympic silver medallist rocked the world after kissing his then-boyfriend Matt Wilkas live on camera during the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

After that kiss, Gus became an advocate for the LGBTQ community and has continued to use his platform to raise awareness for the community including taking part in AIDS/LifeCycle - a seven-day bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles - as well as refusing to meet with President Donald Trump at the White House.

But, while speaking exclusively to Attitude, the Olympian - who starred in the latest series of American Horror Story - admitted he never thought his profile would soar as high as it did and feared he would lose all his fans after coming out.

He said: "In terms of skiing I had a pretty decent sized platform before coming out.

"I was actually scared I was going to lose all my followers because I thought that people wouldn’t follow me because I was gay and there wasn’t anyone else in my sport so I was nervous it was going to have the opposite reaction that it ended up having.

"But yeah, I was offered a tonne of support and it was pretty incredible and I did it in a public way because I was hoping to have an impact on other people in a similar situation, people in sports, people in small towns, anyone who kind of felt they couldn’t be themselves because of the environment they were in.

 
 
 
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"I think I did have that impact and did reach some of those people and it felt like a job well done and I also realised that when doing it in such a public way it would automatically make me a bit of a role model, I sort of knew that like I was doing something publicly so I wanted to be the best representation that I could and sometimes I think I do a good job, and sometimes I don’t.

"But I am always trying to do my best to be a positive influence."

In the UK, there is still no openly out Premier League footballer but over the years we have seen a number of rugby and Olympians - including Tom Daley and Keegan Hirst - come out as LGBTQ.

 
 
 
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And Gus told us he believes its hard for players in a 'team sport dynamic' to come out because they shift the way they are viewed but also how the team is portrayed.

He continued: "I think it’s hard for any team sport dynamic to come out because in individual sport it’s scary for a number of reasons and there’s always different fears like endorsement deals, being judged poorly, whatever it might be.

"In a team sport, there is a team dynamic so not only are you stepping up and coming out and potentially shifting the way you are viewed but also how the team views you, the team dynamic.

 
 
 
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"I think often those fears are not warranted. And we’ve seen like Robbie Rogers came out and was celebrated and it was so wonderful. I think like it’s scary for a team dynamic and I think that’s why in the US we see so few people in football, basketball, the major league sports, and perhaps it’s the same reason that it’s been a struggle for footballers over here."

But Gus went on to say that if people 'take that leap of faith' it will eventually become easier for everybody else and says the fear of losing sponsorships is 'just not reality'.

"It’s just scary but once a few people start to take that leap of faith, it will become easier and easier for everybody," he said.

 
 
 
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"You conjure up the worst possible scenario and you dwell on that and fixate on that until you believe that to be a reality and once you perceived reality for what’s going to happen, it’s hard to kind of change that thinking.

"So, for like me, I was like, ’Oh I will never have that many followers, I’m never going to have that many sponsors, I will never make any money, this is the end of it but at least I will be true to myself’.

"Literally thinking that is what it was going to be and it was just the opposite. You really sink into those dark, scary feelings. And I’m sure that’s the same for any closeted person playing football but it’s just not reality."