Update Feb. 18: Timothy LeDuc did skate in the pairs skating short program on Friday, the first out nonbinary athlete to compete in a Winter Olympics.
Original post: Figure skater Timothy LeDuc will make history when they enter Beijing National Stadium for the 2022 Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony Friday. Less than a year after Quinn and Alana Smith brought non-binary identities to the Olympic stage, LeDuc will do the same for the Winter Games.
The scope of the moment isn’t lost on the two-time national champion. LeDuc’s mere presence in Beijing feels significant, existing outside of the gender binary in the Olympic host nation so obsessed with maintaining traditional ideals of masculinity that it banned “unmanly” depictions of men across its media.
But LeDuc’s commitment to bringing non-binary individuals to a place of comfort goes far beyond simply walking alongside Team USA or taking the ice with skating partner Ashley Cain-Gribble. They see the Olympics as the most prominent stage to showcase firsthand how boxing people into culturally defined ideas of gender should be passé.
“My hope is now being openly non-binary and being outspoken about this, maybe it will make a path for other non-binary and queer athletes that come into pairs and ice dance,” LeDuc told Reuters. “I hope that, you know, me being open and authentic helps to move the conversation forward and help people understand more that people can … be amazing athletes and still exist outside of the binary.”
A major component of LeDuc’s message plays on the ice. Figure skating remains a sport steeped in traditional presentations of gender, but LeDuc and Cain-Gribble have made a point to push figure skating’s boundaries of gender representation, even before LeDuc began using they/them pronouns last year.
LeDuc regularly sports colorful eye shadow during media appearances while Cain-Gribble donned a full leotard for one of their routines, a practice that was banned by the International Skating Union from 1988 to 2004.
“We want people to look at our skating and know that they don’t have to change who they are in order to be a part of this sport, in order to do something that they’re passionate about,” Cain-Gribble told NBC Connecticut.
The two have also worked to break stereotypes in the “masculinity-femininity narrative” common in pairs skating programs. The duo ditched the romantic tropes that dominate pairs skating, choosing instead to focus on personal empowerment after being written off for not fitting figure skating’s rigid mold.
Timothy LeDuc could become the first publicly out non-binary athlete to compete at a #WinterOlympics.— NBC Olympics (@NBCOlympics) January 5, 2022
Get to know @USFigureSkating's non-binary trailblazer on the latest episode of @NBCLX's #MyNewFavoriteOlympian podcast: https://t.co/422eiZ010U pic.twitter.com/GfHF690kNM
“It just had everything to do with us both being such strong, amazing athletes and that we didn’t want to diminish either one of our amazing abilities on the ice,” LeDuc said.
“If I want to wear a dress, it’s because I want to. It’s not because somebody is … wanting me to be more feminine,” Cain-Gribble added.
LeDuc’s voice extends beyond the rink as well. After they and Cain-Gribble captured the 2022 pairs national championship last month, LeDuc used the moment to highlight human rights violations committed by the Chinese government against the nation’s Uyghur population before turning their sights to the domestic legislative battles against trans and gender-diverse youth.
“I see human rights being violated here, in my country,” LeDuc said. “I see trans people fighting for human rights. I believe that healthcare is a human right, and I see access to healthcare being denied.
“So often, state and local governments are the ones who are restricting those rights. I feel powerless sometimes, seeing the situation in China. I can use my voice here, yes. But what I can do here to defend human rights is be sure that I am vigilant.”