Olympian Jason Brown is living life as his authentic self.
Four months after publicly coming out, the figure skater, 26, is thriving as a proud gay man and representing his sport with more love than ever before as he attempts his second Olympic run at the Beijing Games.
On June 11, in the middle of Pride Month, Brown opened up about feeling lucky to have been surrounded by strong LGBTQ+ role models and being inspired by them to come out on Instagram. Speaking with PEOPLE recently, the athlete reflected on the decision behind his inspirational post.
"I have the most insanely loving and accepting family in the entire world and the people that I've grown up with, and I've been fortunate to be surrounded by. The LGBTQ+ community has always been a part of my life. I have five other openly gay, LGBTQ+ cousins. I've had coaches since I was five that have been gay and it's just always been around me," Brown said.
"I've always seen the beauty in their diversity and how different each and everyone was. Obviously, oftentimes, there are stereotypes in certain situations. I think for me, that wasn't my reality," the 2014 Sochi Olympics bronze medalist shared. "The representation in film and media was growing. For me, it was just normal. Growing up, I didn't ever question my sexuality. I didn't think about it one way or the other. I liked who I liked, and it was just ever-evolving."
Brown, who won gold at the Finlandia Trophy this month, had extra time to reflect during the COVID-19 lockdown last year.
"When COVID truly hit, and we had that first initial lockdown, there was a lot of obviously political conversations, diversity conversations, racial conversations that were really happening and people were really talking," he recalled.
"I think it was that first time that no matter what anyone was doing, it was like, you were forced to sit there, listen, see what was going on, and have these conversations. I just remember hearing a lot of people that I knew talk about what it was like being gay and the struggle that it was," Brown said. "It was so surprising to me because I felt like we had come so far. My reality was, 'Wait, it's not a big deal.' "
Calling himself "fortunate," the Olympian said, "I don't even think twice about it. It was so normal," and credits his loved ones for their constant support and love.
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"My family all knew. It wasn't like I ever tried to hide any part of that, of who I was. If I had any media, I mean obviously they don't ask about it if you don't share it, but I would have been comfortable talking about it, if they had brought it up. I wouldn't have lied or denied it or whatever," he said.
Though Brown said "it was just part of my norm," he also "realized in those moments how it wasn't for so many people." Sharing his story and identity, the star wanted to express why LGBTQ+ visibility is so important.
He had planned to come out on social media over a year ago, but he said he couldn't find the right words.
"So it was actually, I really started thinking about it [during the COVID lockdown]. I actually wrote something back then. I couldn't formulate the words to say it the way that it felt right," he said.
"It didn't come together the way that … Obviously, it's hard to put pen to paper and get what you're trying to convey and get those emotions across. I couldn't and then the season started and I just got back to a laser-focused season," Brown said of his timing.
"Then, fast forward to the next offseason and one night I couldn't sleep and it was during Pride Month. Just because randomly you can't sleep and in five minutes I just was inspired to write that," he remembered.
"Two days later I posted it and it felt right. I was like, 'I was ready, but I had been ready to say something.' I just didn't know how to word it," Brown said. "For me, it was much more of a thank you note to the people that have come before me that have normalized it and been there for the representation that made it so normal for me."
Brown's lengthy caption on June 11 was accompanied by a photo of him in front of a wall that had the phrase "love wins" spray-painted on it. "I've always been shown the beauty in embracing love in every form. I never questioned my own sexuality or even thought much about it because it didn't matter. I am who I am, and have always been fortunate to be surrounded by people who made me feel like that was enough," he wrote in part.
"I believe that love will always win, and every story will unfold differently for each individual. Mine unfolds a bit now. I'm gay, and that's a story still being written," he continued.
Fellow Olympians and LGBTQ figure skaters Johnny Weir and Adam Rippon showed support for Brown's Instagram post.
"I realized the importance of stepping in and being another voice for people coming up," Brown told PEOPLE.
To learn more about all the Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls, visit TeamUSA.org. Watch the Winter Olympics, beginning this February, and the Winter Paralympics, beginning this March, on NBC.