Inside the ‘frozen closet’

55-1-31-2014-coverPretty much everyone knows about the Russian government’s persecution of LGBTQ people—and the protests, both small and large, planned for the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi.

But did you know that some gay people are facing discrimination from their own U.S. sanctioning bodies?

Newsweek has a fascinating story about how U.S. Figure Skating officials and coaches put pressure on gay male figure skaters to “butch up” and act more masculine:

The common assumption that male figure skaters are gay—and the latent and often blatant hostility behind it—is the sport’s deep and dirty secret. It colors the attitudes and actions of skaters, coaches, judges, officials and even the fans …

That sniggering stereotype has been prevalent for decades, even though few elite skaters have come out publicly, and only one, Rudy Galindo, came out during his Olympic-eligible career. This closet door is locked tight because skaters—gay and straight—know that so many of the people judging them, from judges to sponsors to TV viewers, want the female skaters to be “pretty ladies,” and the men to be, well, men.

And the spokeswoman for U.S. Figure Skating sounds like she’s right out of the 1950s: “Homosexuals?! Good heavens, no! They’re all red-blooded, American boys!” It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.

U.S. Figure Skating has the largest female fan base of any sport, but its TV ratings have been declining for years, and its fan base is getting older.

If you read between the lines, you have to wonder if the “powers that be” are worried about TV ratings—that older women won’t watch if they know the male skaters are gay. (Which I think is a bunch of crap—it assumes that women watch figure skating only because they’re fantasizing about the men—but to paraphrase an old saying, no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the people who run TV networks and sports leagues.)

Update: Buzzfeed, of all places, actually has a much more nuanced and detailed story on the same topic. (Hat-tip to Helen Boyd for spotting the story.)

Writer Blair Braverman reports that American figure skating has an internalized homophobia that borders on self-loathing, and a lot of gay men who police other gay men’s behavior if they’re too “queeny”:

To insiders … it’s no surprise that skaters are reluctant to speak out on LGBT rights, let alone come out themselves. Most male skaters and officials are committed to keeping their sport in the closet, whether that means choosing “masculine” music, hinting about a girlfriend, or outright denying any connection to homosexuality.

Again, it’s right out of the 1950s, when gay male actors like Rock Hudson and Raymond Burr were forced into sham heterosexual relationships to satisfy their studio bosses.

But figure skating? It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.

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