When a large chunk of North Americans wake up Friday morning, Olympic history will have been made. Team USA figure skater Timothy LeDuc will have become the first out non-binary athlete to compete at the Winter Olympics.
Barring a surprise medical issue, LeDuc’s moment will happen alongside their skating partner, Ashley Cain-Gribble, delivering the same powerful cultural statement made by Alana Smith and Quinn during the Summer Games.
That is a guarantee.
What isn’t is if broadcasters will honor and respect LeDuc’s identity when they take the ice. It’s the same worry present ahead of the games last year in Tokyo where Smith and Quinn challenged the binary at the Olympic level for the first time.
Will correct pronouns be used? Will those calling the action identify the significance of the moment? If they slip up, will they know how to properly correct themselves in a respectful, affirming way that doesn’t overshadow the moment?
During #WinterOlympics2022, many athletes’ awesome performances and stories impress us all. Without a doubt, Timothy LeDuc is one of them!— Foundation for Women's Rights_台灣婦權基金會 (@WomensRightsTW) February 15, 2022
As the 1st openly non-binary skater, Timothy bravely represents #LGBTQ rights on one of the world's biggest stages.https://t.co/YyuIORjFVU pic.twitter.com/oBmCf7yWuA
I wish these questions didn’t float around in my head on the precipice of the first AMAB gender-diverse athlete bursting onto the Olympic stage. But they live there, if not because of my own experiences, then as a result of how Smith and Quinn’s identities were treated last year.
CBC commentators misgendered Quinn during their first match of the Tokyo Games. Smith was misgendered during the Women’s Skateboarding Street event by broadcasters from the Olympic Broadcasting Services, NBC and BBC.
NBC’s Todd Harris and Paul Zitzer were the only ones to apologize and correct themselves on the air.
Moments defined by trans and non-binary joy that gave those communities a place among sports’ highest peaks still delivered an all too familiar twinge of erasure that many can’t escape in their daily life. It complicated snapshots that should have solely been defined by their empowering nature and collective enby pride.
That’s why the networks broadcasting the games must learn from their mistakes. The excuses of last July are gone. Erased.
LeDuc’s Olympic debut represents another moment in the changing face of how gender is represented and discussed within athletics, especially as trans and gender-diverse individuals’ access to gender-affirming sports participation remains a political target in this country. Neither that evolution nor the fight to continue it are going away, which is why the time for asking people to respect gender-diverse identities is done.
American pairs figure skater Timothy LeDuc is non-binary and uses they/them pronouns. Get it right this time.