When Gus Kenworthy arrived in PyeongChang, he had no intention of making major waves.
The gay freestyle skier was competing at his first Olympics out of the closet, but his goal wasn’t to attract the world’s notice. Prior to a slopestyle run last Sunday, he did just that though, simply by kissing his boyfriend Matt Wilkas.
The peck showed up on the live NBC broadcast, and suddenly it was getting coverage all over the globe.
“It’s kind of crazy because the kiss actually felt so insignificant in the moment,” he said in an interview with Yahoo Canada Sports in PyeongChang. “It wasn’t some crazy passionate thing, it was just a little kiss good luck before my run.”
Since attracting the unexpected attention, Kenworthy is using his enhanced platform to speak out about the status of the LQBTQ community in the Olympics’ host country of South Korea – a nation where homosexuality is legal, but marriage and other partnerships between homosexuals is not.
The way Kenworthy sees it, the first step is bring more people into the open.
“I think the only way to shift perception in a country or a region of the world is through visibility,” he said. “So the people that are able to speak out and be out and be proud are the ones who are going to change people’s opinions.”
That starts with those in country’s most prominent positions.
“I’m sure there are people in public positions in Korea who are also part of the LGBTQ spectrum and if those people could stand up and speak up I that’s something that could do a lot for a lot of people.”
Of course, all of that is easier said than done. The cost of coming out of the closet varies in countries around the world. It’s always difficult, but there are added complications and risks depending on where you are. Even so, as someone who has been publicly out for three years, Kenworthy can speak to how much living his life authentically has improved it.
“I’m from a country where I’m allowed to be out, and so many people aren’t and I don’t want to tell anyone to do anything that’s going to put them in danger,” he said. “But I do think that anyone in the closet is going to be happier when they’re out, even if they lose some people along the way.”
For Kenworthy, that difference has made an Olympics where he came 12th in slopestyle even more rewarding than his silver-medal winning performance in Sochi.
“I got a medal in Sochi, which was incredible obviously but getting leave here knowing that I actually brought myself to the Games and I was true to myself and I gave it my all. I think I’m leaving with my head held higher than last time with a medal when I wasn’t being honest about who I was.”
Although Kenworthy will shortly departing PyeongChang, there’s no doubt the plight of the local LBGTQ will stick with him.
“I’ve met a lot of LGBTQ people from here in Korea and I hope that my story gives them hope and that it will be a new world for them in the near future.”
More Olympics coverage on Yahoo Canada Sports