All month long, Outsports is revisiting key moments in gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer sports history as part of LGBTQ history month. Today, we revisit the legacy of out champion figure skater Rudy Galindo.
It seems hard to believe in the wake of successes enjoyed by stars like Adam Rippon and Johnny Weir, but there was a time when gay figure skaters felt they could only hope to earn a medal by repressing their personalities on the ice. For the longest time, this was the case — as if there were an unspoken agreement among judges to deduct two points for excessive fierceness.
That all changed thanks in large part to Rudy Galindo, who paved the way for gay skaters to be who they are at the 1996 US Figure Skating Championships in his hometown of San José.
Before that momentous competition, Galindo admitted, “When I wasn’t placing well and was getting standing ovations, I was told it was because I was flamboyant and openly gay.”
It had to be frustrating for Galindo to know that everybody in the arena was impressed with his program except for the people scoring it. But he remained committed to showing his true self for the figure skating world to see, believing that someday he’d be rewarded for it.
That day came during the 1996 Championships. Galindo got the crowd on his side immediately in his short program, nailing a triple that made even the TV commentators involuntarily exclaim “Wow!”
Later in the routine, those same announcers exemplified the skating establishment’s discomfort with Galindo’s sexuality, remarking, “He is, I think, without a doubt the most stylish skater in this competition.”
Even after this performance brought the crowd to its feet, Galindo’s short program fell victim to obstinate judges, with two of them scoring him a 5.4 for Required Elements.
As the crowd booed, one broadcaster speculated, “It looks like there was a deduction taken for something.” When asked what it could be, he stammered, “I can’t think of anything.” Because this was 1996, it seemed to some that Galindo’s program was missing the U.S. Figure Skating Required Element called “systemic homophobia.”
So when it came to the long program, Galindo turned in a performance that simply could not be denied. From the moment he landed a triple lutz/triple toe loop, Galindo skated in total command for five minutes, even taking a moment to wave to someone in the crowd in the middle of his program. Quite simply, he was unstoppable.
This time, even the judges had to acknowledge his brilliance, with Galindo earning two perfect 6.0s for Presentation. After becoming the oldest men’s figure skating champion in 70 years, Galindo dedicated his victory to his late father and brother.
Following this momentous victory, Galindo continued representing his community, skating in the exhibition of champions while wearing a prominent AIDS ribbon on his collar. Galindo later explained his decision:
“I decided to use the music and create a program dedicated to my brother who died from AIDS two years before. The red ribbon had to be big because I wanted to make a statement about what the program was about.”
Galindo stayed visible following his moment in the spotlight, taking on the Grand Marshal role in various Pride parades and turning in a guest appearance on Will & Grace. In 2000, Galindo revealed that he was living with HIV and transitioned into coaching, where he remains today.
Looking back on his career, Galindo declared, “In my heart, I think that I opened some doors for people. I think that figure skating now values the more flamboyant skaters under the new system. It is better suited to those who have artistic strengths.”
Tomorrow — and every day in October — we’ll revisit another key moment in LGBTQ sports history.