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Was Johnny Weir an ‘out’ gay athlete when he competed in the Olympics?

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Johnny Weir brought glitz and glam before there was Adam Rippon.

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Marshalls U.S. Figure Skating Challenge
Johnny Weir named his 2006 Winter Olympics swan outfit “Camille.”
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

When we wrote weeks ago that no publicly out gay man had ever competed in the Winter Olympics, one name kept coming back to us over and over again: Johnny Weir.

To be sure, these 2018 Olympics had the first publicly out gay Winter Olympics athletes to previously utter the words “I’m gay.”

Yet to say Weir wasn’t out at the Olympics in 2006, or especially in 2010, is to force our own standards of what it is to be “out” on a pioneer who publicly slept with Hello Kitty, took bubble baths with his male friends and claimed to never be anything but his true self.

Weir officially, publicly uttered the words “I’m gay” in his 2011 book, “Welcome to my World.” In the book he talked about feeling pressure from various gay Web sites to finally say the words, and that pressure didn’t exactly make him feel like he wanted to be part of the community (I’m confident those pressures did not come from Outsports).

Yet I’ve felt since 2006 that Weir was out without saying the words. I was reminded why by NBC commentator Mary Carrillo, who reminisced on air on NBC this Tuesday night about the segment she produced with Weir in Torino called “Weir Eye For The Skate Guy.” It was a brilliant play on words, and the perfect wink-and-nod to Weir’s sexual orientation. It was also a bold choice for Carrillo, who only recently told Outsports that she is part of the LGBTQ community. It was so important that in 2011 we listed it as the 31st most important moment in LGBTQ sports history.

Weir didn’t stop there in 2006, also doing an NBC spot called “He’s Here, He’s Weir.”

The idea that Weir was hiding his sexual orientation at the 2006 Olympics seems folly.

In 2009 Weir was the centerpiece of a documentary film called “Pop Star On Ice.” It was a revealing behind-the-scenes look at Weir’s private life. In the film he cuddled with Hello Kitty and took bubble baths with his best male friend. The idea that Weir was hiding his sexual orientation in this film simply isn’t true.

I got to meet Weir several times after his first Olympics, each time impressed with just how very open and honest he was about being Johnny Weir.

When I interviewed him for Outsports in 2009 in support of the documentary film, I asked him point-blank what he thinks when people ask him if he’s gay.

“To me, there’s no importance to making a show out of something that’s just you,” Weir told me at the time. “I promote Johnny Weir and I’m as ridiculous as they come. But that’s what I want people to see, is that I’m Johnny Weir. You can label me however you want to, but there’s not one thing in my life that defines me except myself.”

By the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, sports commentators were using homophobic slurs to attack him. He addressed the slurs with dignity and talked about the importance of making kids feel good about themselves. His friend said publicly in 2010 that he made the Olympics “gay.”.

Virtually everyone knew Weir was gay in 2010. During those Olympics, in which Weir finished sixth in the men’s individual competition, I called him the “the outest, proudest man in sports.” The idea that Weir was still hiding being gay during the 2010 Winter Games seems to be crazy talk.

Yet the debate about whether Weir was “out” continues.

I was on Cheddar last week talking about out LGBTQ athletes, and I took issue with Hornet’s Alexander Kacala who said Weir “wasn’t really being his true, authentic self.” I get it. Weir didn’t say the words verbally. I really do understand the position.

To be sure, he was not the first male Winter Olympian to say the words “I’m gay” before competing. That title belongs to Adam Rippon, Eric Radford, Gus Kenworthy and Jorik Hendrickx.

Yet as time moves on and Weir talks more about whether or not he was “out,” I increasingly find myself identifying him as the first out gay Winter Olympian.

He feels he was out. I felt he was out. And the need to put the values of the LGBTQ community on this man, who was so very clearly openly gay in 2006 and 2010, means less and less to me as time goes on.