clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

He's here, he's Weir, and I am loving it!

Criticism from the LGBT community of openly gay Johnny Weir for his “flamboyant” attire – or for going to Russia at all – couldn’t be more misplaced.

Figure skating champion Johnny Weir comments for NBC the Figure Skating Pairs Short Program on day 4 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Iceberg Skating Palace on February 11, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.
Figure skating champion Johnny Weir comments for NBC the Figure Skating Pairs Short Program on day 4 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Iceberg Skating Palace on February 11, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.
John Berry, Getty Images Sport

Gay NBC figure skating commentator Johnny Weir has been the target of some criticism during the Olympics. The heat directed at the out gay figure skating champion hasn't come from anti-gay Russians, but from gay Americans here at home.

Think about that. For months we have had the "us vs. them" mantra beaten into us by seemingly every LGBT activist and media outlet in the country. "Russians bad, Americans good! We must do everything we can to stand up to those homophobes!"

Yet here we have a well-known gay American - Johnny Weir - doing that very thing, standing up to the Russians and refusing to back away from who he is, and LGBT people are slighting and attacking him for it.

One of those chorus members is CNN anchor Don Lemon. The out gay journalist appeared as a guest on another CNN show over the weekend to lob anti-feminine jabs at Johnny.

"No one likes a gay minstrel show," Lemon said, "so let's just put that out there. About some of his flamboyant and over the top and all those, it seems those are the people who get the attention, but they don't represent all of gay America."

It's no accident that the LGBT community is represented by a rainbow. We come in all different colors, shapes and personalities. We are drag queens like Dixie Longate and Hedda Lettuce. We are athletes like Michael Sam and Britney Griner. We are comedians like Ant and Wanda Sykes. We are politicians like Barney Frank and Tammy Baldwin. We are trailblazers like Janet Mock and David Kopay. We are all of these people, and all of them represent -- in their own way -- the rest of us.

Just because Johnny doesn't dress like me or talk like me, that doesn't mean he doesn't represent me. He and I are two of the stripes on that rainbow, both part of a community that celebrates diversity. You don't have to be a white, middle-aged gay sports fan from Massachusetts to represent me. Every color of that rainbow represents every other color. We are a community, and we only win the battles we're waging against people like Vladimir Putin if we behave like a community.

Nobody wins when we point to people like Johnny and decry his flamboyance or the attention he gets for it. Lemon qualified his criticism with comments about liking Johnny and backtracking with, "there's nothing bad" about this. But decrying Johnny for being a "gay minstrel show" and complaining that he's getting too much attention for it sends Lemon's very clear message. This isn't just about Lemon - He isn't the first person I've heard say these things, he's simply the most high-profile.

Too often we get caught up in worrying about stereotypical portrayals of gay men. This anger had a place 15 years ago, but not today. Today we have powerful representations in the media of all the stripes in the rainbow, all of which are getting plenty of attention on TV, in film and in the news.

The biggest national story of the last week was of a 6-foot-2, 250-pound black defensive lineman who is headed to the NFL. You can't get much further -- on the outside -- from Johnny than Michael Sam. I didn't hear anyone hopping on TV to decry that this football player "who doesn't represent the entire LGBT community" was getting to much attention.

Yet when it comes to more "feminine," "flamboyant" men who fit the age-old stereotypes of gay men, some feel the need to lash out.

We should never forget that the modern-day LGBT rights movement - which now offers us so much protection and equality - began when a bunch of drag queens in high heels decided they had had enough.

The most powerful piece about Johnny at these Olympics is that he's doing his job and, by all accounts, he's doing it very well. So much has been made about how "impossible" it is for LGBT people to be accepted in sports. Here we have an out and out-there gay man hired by Olympic broadcast network NBC to provide commentary on his sport and to do his job. They have embraced Johnny in all his overtly flamboyant gayness. This is cause for celebration, not consternation.

Johnny's very public profile does not diminish the lives and experiences of other gay men who prefer blue jeans and football to a pink jacket and an afternoon at the ice rink.

Some LGBT activists are also furious that Johnny went to Russia at all. They believe that isolating LGBT people in Russia is the best way to affect change there. Johnny was never going to take that bait. Others attack him for not doing enough in Russia, claiming that simply wearing "flamboyant" clothes doesn't send a message.

The important thing is that Johnny is in Russia and he's not backing down. For many people, "flamboyance" is the defining characteristic of gay men. In a country where gay "propaganda" is outlawed in some cases, and gay men are being dragged off the streets by gangs, Johnny is making a powerful statement simply by being there and "being Johnny." When he shows up on a fishing excursion wearing a fur coat and designer sunglasses, it gives the Russians around him pause for just a moment - The gay people they hear about on TV aren't so far away, even if for just the afternoon.

I'm proud of the gay men who are stereotypically "flamboyant." Despite societal pressures to conform to something they are not, they continue marching to the beat of their own drummer. We all, as LGBT people, are empowered when any of us expresses him or herself to fullest capability.

That's what Johnny does. Every time he wears a sequin jacket or a bowtie made out of a teddy bear, he removes another brick from the wall.

I don't walk or talk like Johnny, but I love and embrace him. It's time all of our community did too.

Also read: Bill Plaschke's column on Johnny Weir in Sochi