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Openly gay Olympic athletes changing the face of competition

Team USA
Figure skating Olympian Adam Rippon is helping redefine athleticism.

Athletes like Team USA'sAdam Rippon are breaking barriers for LGBTQ athletes at this year’s Winter Olympics. A record number of 14 openly gay athletes are participating in this year’s games, twice as many in the 2014 games.

University at Buffalo Visual Studies Program Director Jonathan Katz says the increase can be attributed to a new generation's perspective that is challenging traditional standards of masculinity and femininity.

"A new generation raised with the idea that there's nothing wrong with them and that there's something really wrong with a world that still holds fast to, in some cases, lethal homophobia," he said, "and, bless them, they thought it their responsibility to make the world better for others." 

Credit Twitter
A tweet from Adam Rippon in Dec. 2017.

Rippon became the first openly gay man to win a medal for the United States. He took bronze in his free skate performance. Katz said it is much harder in team sports to be openly gay.

The Canadian Olympic Committee is hosting the Pride House in the Olympic Village. The first Pride House appeared in Vancouver during the 2010 Winter Olympics. However, this year is the first time one has been hosted by a national Olympic Committee.

"This feeds on itself, so that the young gay boy, lesbian girl, queer kid watching the Olympics will no longer feel that this is not a world that they have no right to enter," Katz said, "and we will start this see, from this point forward, more and more openly queer athletes."

Katz said these athletes are now understanding themselves politically and that Rippon’s presence on social media has played a big role in emphasizing representation.

"They're doing it in ways that social media enable because, of course, the official news accounts in some of the more homophobic and repressive countries would never carry an interview or other open public event. Social media can."

Nick Lippa leads our Arts & Culture Coverage, and is also the lead reporter for the station's Mental Health Initiative, profiling the struggles and triumphs of those who battle mental health issues and the related stigma that can come from it.