Update: In the hours after I wrote this, Johnny Weir replaced his original tweet. Details below the original story.
Former U.S. Olympic figure skater Johnny Weir is taking some heat for a tweet in which he praised openly gay Winter Olympians, but many of those criticizing Weir missed his point.
Happy that there are representatives of the LGBTQ community competing at the Olympic Games. Notably, @guskenworthy⛷, @Adaripp ⛸ & several more. I never “came out” in sport because being gay was something born in me & had nothing to do with my skating. I never came out as white.
Happy that there are representatives of the LGBTQ community competing at the Olympic Games. Notably, @guskenworthy⛷, @Adaripp ⛸ & several more. I never “came out” in sport because being gay was something born in me & had nothing to do with my skating. I never came out as white.— Johnny Weir (@JohnnyGWeir) January 18, 2018
Weir was referring to U.S. skater Adam Rippon, who has qualified, and freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy, who will know next week if he has qualified. Both men publicly came out as gay in 2015.
The tweet from Weir, who will be an NBC figure skating analyst at the Pyeongchang Games, was criticized by several people in reply:
—Maybe you thought it had nothing to do with your skating, but I’m sure there were boys for whom seeing an openly gay Olympian would have been very significant
—This is really, really tone deaf. Please consider supporting out athletes without making it about yourself. Representation matters.
—That’s fine. It’s the part where he equates it to being white that I have a problem with. Being white is not equal to being gay. White people don’t face homophobia or systemic oppression. Representation is important.
—Johnny I love you but that statement is so ignorant and hurtful to the LGBT community who have been struggling for years with representation in the media
—This is breathtakingly insensitive towards both LGBT people and people of color and I implore you to delete it and reflect before you even thinking of tweeting something like this again.
—Glad you think coming out is the same as white privilege, I’m mad and lost respect in you. What these athletes did and chose to convey was not easy ESPECIALLY AS PUBLIC FIGURES. The fact you’d equate sexuality and racial privilege is truly horrendous
—You’re just moving to another closet. You didn’t come out bc it wasn’t in your interest. Own it
While I share some of their sentiments, Weir’s critics totally misinterpreted his “I never came out as white” comment.
Weir has long contended that he was never in the closet, so he never had to come out and that his whole personality and ethos were clearly that of a gay man, as obvious as the white color of his skin. This is not a comment about race, but rather a play on stating the obvious, as if he said, “I never have to say water is wet or the sky is blue.”
Going back to the 2006 Olympics, Outsports felt free to discuss his sexual orientation in a way we never did about other athletes since it was so obvious to us he wasn’t hiding anything (“If Johnny Weir isn’t gay, then I’m not gay,” was a quote I gave to Yahoo in 2006). NBC ran a segment during the 2006 Games, “He’s Here, He’s Weir,” which was clever but not subtle.
At the same time, I always felt Weir was a little disingenuous when asked directly whether he was gay, giving winks and nods while never declaring it as a 100% fact. “I don’t feel the need to express my sexual being because it’s not part of my sport and it’s private,” he said in 2006, a sentiment he repeated in his tweet: “I never ‘came out’ in sport because being gay was something born in me & had nothing to do with my skating.”
This answer falls short since it ignores the central fact of how LGBT people are covered in the media — we need an affirmative declaration before we can apply the “gay” or “bi” or “lesbian” or “transgender” moniker to someone.
This rule applies to Outsports coverage as well. We struggle with knowing of some athletes who appear to be out on their social media without making a declaration, but who decline to discuss it. These athletes are not publicly out by our measure, never make a list of out LGBT people in sports and their impact on young LGBT athletes looking for role models is negligible.
Having openly LGBT athletes is still so important, with there being so few. Being “all but out” is not enough — you have to go the whole way. This is why Rippon will be the first openly gay American figure skater in the Olympics, not Weir, and why he is being celebrated for it.
Weir clearly changed his mind in 2011, after retiring, when he came out publicly as gay in a book. One reason, he told People: “With people killing themselves and being scared into the closet, I hope that even just one person can gain strength from my story.” While a cynic would argue that Weir waited to come out publicly until after retiring and to sell a book, I think it’s more a case of him being aware that symbols and role models are important and just teasing people isn’t enough.
Weir has nothing to apologize for in his tweet, even if I disagree with part of it. Let’s celebrate the sentiment behind what he wrote — we will have openly gay Olympians to cheer for in the Winter Olympics.
Weir deleted his original tweet and replaced it with a series of new ones:
I am so thrilled that there are out representatives of the LGBTQ community competing at the Olympic Games. Notably, @guskenworthy ⛷ & @Adaripp ⛸ among others. It is very brave for all of us to live our truths whether on the global stage or in our own homes.
Because of the attention on those athletes, many of you have written or tweeted because I am not referred to as “out” at either of my Olympics and in the traditional sense I wasn’t.
I wear my sexuality the same as I wear my sex or my skin color. It is something that simply is and something I was born into. I never “came out” in sport because I didn’t imagine it as a great secret & it had nothing to do with my skating or my dreams.
I was extremely lucky to grow up in a family/community of acceptance and perhaps that’s why I don’t see my sexuality as something that needs addressing. I am forever indebted however, to the warriors who came before me that allow me to lead the life I do so openly.
Many of you got upset last night when I tried to finish that thought in one tweet so I thought it needed clarification. I’ve got a busy day ahead so excuse me while I lotion...
While these new tweets are wonderfully written, I never thought he had to delete his original tweet. They expand on what he meant, but was perhaps not totally clear about.