As the first openly gay American male to qualify for the Winter Olympics, Adam Rippon says that one’s sexuality shouldn’t matter. The recent Dancing With the Stars: Athletes champion, who took this year’s Olympic bronze medal in the figure skating team event, tells Yahoo Lifestyle he considers himself first and foremost a dangerous competitor.
“What I love about sports is that you are judged for the quality of work that you do,” he says. “For me, being gay hasn’t been a big deal, but my coming out was such a moment where I was embracing who I was. When I was able to embrace who I was, I felt that’s when my career really took off.”
Rippon’s confidence took years to develop; he says he didn’t disclose the fact that he was gay to his friends or family until he was in his early 20s.
“Growing up as a figure skater, I was even more resistant to coming out and being gay. Because as a young kid, just for figure skating, I was teased a lot,” Rippon confesses. “I thought I’d just be the stereotype that everyone thought I was anyway. When I got to an age where I realized that I am gay … I tried so hard to be so many different versions of myself."
One incident that reshaped his thinking occurred during the 2014 Sochi Olympics, when his friend and fellow figure skater Ashley Wagner publicly denounced the Russian Olympic Committee for antigay propaganda. Rippon says that her act of heroism changed his life.
“At that moment it was important for me to share my story,” he says. “When Ashley spoke out, she made me feel powerful. What she gave to me in that moment, I wanted to give back to other people.”
Rippon shared his coming out story with the world a few months before the 2016 U.S. National Championship, an event that he won. “In skating, you only have four minutes to prove to the judges and to the audience and sometimes to the world what you’re made of. Coming out before the nationals helped me embrace who I was. I felt power going out there.”
Rippon’s subsequent leap to the Winter Olympics gave him a platform to help the LGBTQ community. He’s using his voice to support organizations, including GLAAD's College Ambassador Program and the Trevor Project, for which he'll be hosting the TrevorLIVE gala on June 6 in New York City.
“Life is really all about raising each other up, and helping each other out,” he says. “I want to give a voice to those people who may not feel like they’re being heard. That’s when I feel my most powerful.”