LeDuc will become the first openly non-binary athlete in the US Winter Games

BEIJING (AP) — Adam Rippon delivered one of those quintessential Olympic moments four years ago in Pyeongchang, when his dazzling free skate helped snag the bronze medal for the United States in the team event to begin the figure skating program.

Not only did Rippon leave fans breathless, he became the first openly gay American to win a medal at the Winter Games.

Timothy LeDuc wants to do the same for American athletes who identify as non-binary.

LeDuc, 31, and partner Ashley Cain-Gribble won their second national title last month in Nashville, giving them a spot at their first Olympics. Although they are a long way from reaching the podium in pairs in Beijing, the final discipline of the figure skating program, they could help the United States win another team medal if they are selected to perform.

Either way, LeDuc will be the first openly non-binary American athlete at the Winter Games when he hits the ice.

“It’s been a really long journey for me, embracing my gender,” LeDuc said. “I’ve had some amazing people in my life who have helped me through this journey.

“But I hope when people see my story, they won’t say, ‘Timothy is the first non-binary person to achieve this level of success in sports.’ It’s that queer people can be open and play sports. We’ve always been here, we’ve always been part of the sport. We just haven’t always been able to be open.

This is true even for figure skating, which has always been one of the most inclusive winter sports.

Take, for example, Brian Boitano, who won gold for the United States at the 1988 Games in Calgary. His confrontation with Canadian rival Brian Orser – the Battle of the Brians – is among the most memorable in sports history. But it wasn’t until 2014 that Boitano came out as gay when he was selected for the US delegation to the Sochi Games in Russia.

Orser, now a world-renowned coach, came out as gay a decade after the Calgary Games.

Even the flamboyant Johnny Weir, among America’s most beloved figure skaters, thanks in part to his work as an NBC analyst alongside Tara Lipinski, only came out as gay after competing in the 2006 Winter Games and 2010.

“I’m not ashamed to be me,” Weir wrote of coming out in his autobiography. “More than anyone I know, I love my life and accept myself. What’s wrong with being unique? I’m proud of everything I am and will become.

What he has become more recently is a member of the US Figure Skating Hall of Fame.

Indeed, the stigma that might once have attached to gay, lesbian or transgender athletes has faded as the public comes to know and accept them. Last year, Canadian women’s soccer player Quinn became the first openly transgender and non-binary Olympic medalist when she won gold in Tokyo. Weightlifter Laurel Hubbard, skateboarder Alana Smith and cyclist Chelsea Wolfe – all transgender – also took part in these Summer Games, among at least 186 openly LGBTQ participants, as Outsports reports.

It has given skaters like Jason Brown, who came out as gay last June and will compete for the United States in Beijing, the freedom and courage to do so during their competitive days rather than wait a long time after hanging up. their skates.

In fact, LeDuc originally came out as gay when he was 18 years old.

It wasn’t until last year that the 31-year-old from Cedar Rapids, Iowa went non-binary. The term is used to describe a person who does not identify as exclusively male or female. The Human Rights Campaign says it can also encompass agender, bigender, genderqueer and gender-fluid.

“It is extremely important for non-binary youth to see people who are similar to themselves compete at the highest level of sport and to be accepted for who they are,” said Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality in Washington DC

“One of the biggest challenges that non-binary people face is this notion that they’re alone and no one else has experienced what they’re feeling,” Heng-Lehtinen said. “They show other non-binary athletes — and everyone else — that you can be yourself, live your real life, and achieve your dreams, no matter how small.”

LeDuc may be the one carrying that message, but it resonates among Team USA members — sometimes in a vanguard fashion. Take American ice dancers Madison Chock and Evan Bates’ free skating, where she plays an alien in love with an astronaut to music by French electronic music duo Daft Punk.

Chock says the space-age romance — which could land them on the Olympic podium — conveys the welcoming spirit of the U.S. figure skating team.

“The core of our program is love and acceptance, and it’s about finding love and acceptance in someone who is different from you,” Chock said. “We’re finding a way to find more similarities than differences, and I think that’s a very important message for people to remember. We want to remind everyone that we are all more similar than different.

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