When my great friend, fellow skier and competitor Gus Kenworthy came out openly as gay, I was thrilled for him. I was so happy that Gus could finally be free from a secret that had been tearing at him for so long, and also to be a role model for many people, of all ages, dealing with the same issues. Gus is a very strong person and a very talented athlete and I’m proud he can finally stand up and be who he is. To me, people are beautiful regardless of their sexual orientation if they are a good person.
Soon after he came out, I wrote some posts on Instagram that made me look very close-minded. It made it appear as if I was bothered that Gus had come out, and that is the furthest thing from the truth. I believe everyone has the right to be who they are and not be discriminated against for it. I hope, and believe, one day more people will start to open their minds as well, and this includes the community of freeskiers and snowboarders.
I didn’t ever intend to start a fire and think some people used selective quotes to misrepresent my beliefs about Gus. This saddens me and denigrates my views on the LGBT community, because I fully support equality. Gus' coming out to me was never anything "surprising" but was more of like, "YES!!!!" I’m stoked for you dude!"
I do stand by my feelings that Gus at first was looking for more publicity for himself, rather than intending to help the LGBT community as a whole. I want him to prove me wrong. I hope he uses his coming out to help the LGBT community and raise awareness. A lot of people think I wrote the post out of jealousy of his fame, but I’m nothing but happy for Gus. I have always been a person to accept people for who they are.
I have been around gay people my whole life. I was mostly raised by my mom, Holly Flanders, who was a two-time Olympian. She has many gay friends who she used to race with and she raised me to have an open mind. She let me follow the paths I chose instead of trying to control me. Through this style of being raised I learned so many things through life experiences. I am straight, but even I questioned my sexuality when I was a kid. I'm sure many people have and I'm not afraid to admit it. I'm sure if I had discovered I was gay, someone like Gus would have been a huge influence in helping me to feel comfortable with myself.
I am also a close friend with Gus’ ex-boyfriend, who happens to be one of my favorite people on Earth. He visited me for my 21st birthday and made me laugh the entire time and truly made the experience so much better for everyone there. However, at that time Gus hadn’t come out. They both hid the nature of their relationship in respect for Gus. He was worried about coming out in a sport like freeskiing, where being gay could be considered "not cool" and many gay slurs are often used. I can’t even imagine how hard that would be. Gus should have every right to celebrate and be with whom he loves.
I won’t lie – I’ve used gay slurs because I didn’t realize the power behind the words and how commonly they are used. I plan to make my best effort to end these slurs that many, including myself, have used so blindly in our sport and erase them from my vocabulary.
What Gus did for the skiing community was to put a face on something that has long been hidden. I’ve been skiing for a very long time and I’ve met many different kinds of people. One of my best friends I grew up with is a transgender woman. Her parents rejected her when she was very young and was struggling with her identity, which made me sick to my stomach. I’m overjoyed for her now to have the strength to be the person she truly is.
I have many gay friends, one of which just called as I’m writing this to come over and just hang out. He's the man and is always hilarious. I also know many athletes in the snow sports industry, men and women, who are openly gay and also some who may still be uncomfortable with coming out. I hope that Gus can help other LGBT athletes and people who are still in discomfort with themselves to find the strength to be themselves and live life happily.
Regarding our sport, skiing and snowboarding are on the way to accepting open LGBT athletes. However, sadly I don’t think everyone in the sports is fully accepting yet. Many people in general need to open their minds, and our sport is one that is considered "macho" and still needs time for athletes to evolve their minds and accept that it’s 2015. I hope and believe that soon, especially with more people stepping up and accepting people for who they are, we can start being more open-minded.
The fact is we are all out there on the ski slopes to have fun and shred. My challenge is to all skiers and boarders alike to discontinue talking shit over the Internet and social media and using gay slurs and making hurtful comments. This all needs to STOP and we need to realize we are all in our sport to shred as one big family. What a person does off the hill is something that is their business. On the hill we are all one community that loves to shred and support each other. If hiding one's sexuality hinders an athlete’s ability to perform at top potential, that’s absolutely heartbreaking and this is why I am so happy for my friend Gus to be able to finally come out and be his true self. I will continue to be an ally for equality and also support my skiing family, which Gus and I have been a part of for a very long time.
Gus is a brother for life and not only an incredible skier, but also a friend. Nothing will ever change that. I absolutely refuse to let misinterpreted statements I made on social media tear us apart. I value this friendship more than words can describe and would never want to lose Gus as my friend, brother and such an amazing competitor. I love you, Gus, and I will continue to support you no matter what.
Love and peace to all,
Alex Schlopy, 22, lives in Park City, Utah. He is an X Games gold medalist in Big Air and world champion in Slopestyle. He can be followed on Twitter and Instagram (both @aschlopy).
Story edited by Jim Buzinski