You may remember Gus Kenworthy as the guy who rescued those dogs in Russia—a mother and her four pups—in the midst of a government push to euthanize thousands of strays during the 2014 Winter Olympics. But that’s not why Kenworthy went to Sochi. As part of Team USA, he went to win, which he did, taking home the silver for Freestyle skiing, Men’s Slopestyle, his first Olympic medal. But his biggest leap was still ahead.
In an October 2015 interview with ESPN The Magazine, Kenworthy publicly came out as gay. The decision wasn’t an easy one. “I had set myself up for the worst,” says Kenworthy, who feared a backlash. “I thought it was going to be this negative thing for my career, that I was going to lose sponsors, but it was something I needed to do for myself.”
The backlash never came—support poured in from every direction, and even his training improved, unencumbered by the weight of a secret that almost led him to quit the sport altogether. And with the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang only a few months away, Kenworthy is using his voice as one of the top athletes in the world to be out, proudly, and to empower others who may be in the same position he once was. The Olympian is a spokesman for P&G’s #LoveOverBias campaign, which aims to help us accept and view one another through a mother’s eyes—and credits his own mom, Pip, for her support and encouragement through his own coming out.
“If everyone could see everyone else the way their mom saw them, it would be a much better place for all of us,” he says.
Esquire got on the phone with Kenworthy to talk about Sochi, being a gay athlete in America, and the road to PyeongChang.
It was difficult to be silent about Russia’s LGBTQ+ policies.
Before the games there was all of this anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, and the team warned us not to say much about it. Protest during the Olympics is against the rules and can cost you your participation or medal. Being in the closet, I felt I was almost like, going against myself by not really speaking up. It was weighing on my conscience the whole time, and I felt very burdened. I didn’t even get to appreciate the medal because I had so much going on in my mind.
He considered coming out right after winning the silver.
There were a lot of moments that I thought about it. In the end, it just wasn’t the right time. As much as I think it would’ve been such a slap in the face to the legislation that was in place there, it also would’ve been a little bit of a slap in the face to my family, who I hadn’t had the opportunity to tell personally. And although I didn’t want to stay in the closet any longer, ever, I think that the way things worked out was for the best.
“I didn’t even get to appreciate the medal because I had so much going on in my mind.”
Being out has boosted his training.
When you’re able to love and appreciate and take pride with yourself, that makes everything easier. It makes it easier to train, it makes it easier to be in the gym, and it makes it easier for everyone else to accept and love you. If anything, I’m putting more time into [training] than I ever was. I was in the gym as much as I could be over the summer, six days a week when I was in one place. I’m putting in the time to make sure that my body is ready to compete at the top level.
He wants to change opinions in the U.S.
There’s a lot going on in the U.S. right now that I don’t agree with, but I’m proud to be an American. This is where I grew up, this is my home. If anything, I would love to go over there and be out and proud and change some opinions about what it means to be a gay man—I think a gay man winning a medal for the United States could certainly do that.
He hopes to inspire other LGBTQ+ athletes to follow his lead.
All I can really say is to encourage anybody who’s in the closet to come out, and congratulate anyone who has. I know that sports is a really scary place to find the courage to do that because it is so hetero-dominated, but there’s no correlation between sexuality and sports performance and capability, and the more out people that we have in sports doing well, the more we can break down stigmas and barriers and stereotypes, and the more accepting it will be for future generations.
Watch the #LoveOverBias video below: