Paul Poirier, Kaitlyn Weaver and Jason Brown: Figure skaters celebrate pride with personal coming out stories
The posts appeared within hours of one another, but there was no coordination among them.
On 11 June 2021, Olympic figure skaters Jason Brown, Kaitlyn Weaver and Paul Poirier each took to social media to share their own public coming out messages - a day that was met with celebration by many in the sport, as well as within the LGBTQ+ community.
"It just was so exciting to feel the way we do, and then feel some connection [with] this thing that is such a major moment in anyone's life," said Weaver, a retired ice dancer. "And so I just feel so lucky to share it with these two incredible people."
This week, the trio features on the Olympics podcast, where they discuss their personal journeys, the challenges they've faced, and what needs to change within the sport of figure skating to make it more encouraging and accepting for all.
"I found as I as I've gotten older, I find a lot of the changes that have happened in my life have really been around just allowing myself to be more transparent, to be that person that has their heart on their sleeve a little bit more," said Poirier, who in March won his first-ever world medal with partner Piper Gilles.
"I honestly didn't think it was anything to be discussed, not because it wasn't important to me, [but] just because it really wasn't a topic of conversation in my life," shared Brown, who helped the U.S. to a team bronze at Sochi 2014. "I never felt like I was hiding anything or that I carried this burden that I know so many people feel."
"I felt that unconditional love from everyone that I was around, so it really was that moment of realizing it is because the people that have come before me - the people that have spoken out - that I feel that I'm in the position that I am." - Jason Brown
Coming out stories in 'evolving' space
While figure skating can be seen as an accepting and encouraging sport, each of the athletes expressed hope for more authenticity and individuality. It wasn't until the PyeongChang 2018 Games that publicly out figure skaters competed at an Olympics.
"The pandemic has given me a lot of time to think and reflect, and I think I started to realize, no, actually these things do affect people and they have impacts on people," Poirier said about his decision to come out. "And I think knowing how big an Olympic year is... I think I'm very aware of the power that athletes have to share. We've seen so many athletes make really strong statements that have really resonated in public ways. And I think just by following the example of people that have done really amazing things before me, I think I felt a little bit more empowered to share knowing that it would have an impact versus thinking like, 'this is trivial.'"
"I think [the sport] is evolving," Weaver said of figure skating. "Just sitting here having this conversation right now is huge. And the work that especially the North American federations are doing to try and spread awareness and idea that we all belong here and that it can be a safe space; I think we have a lot of work to do to make it that."
"If skating is going to be part of the 21st century, it has to move forward. And I think there's a lot of people that love this sport so much that are going to pull it along and lead the way. And I'm very proud to join the group to be one of those people." - Kaitlyn Weaver
For Poirier, his coming out came with a finding peace in who he was as a person within the sport.
“I definitely felt this pressure for a long time that fitting the stereotype was some sort of ‘failure’ and sort of erased my individuality in a kind of way,” he said. “A lot of the struggle when I was younger came from that of wanting to differentiate myself and still feel like I was this unique individual person with agency and my own identity, and I think for me that was the thing I really had to work through.”
He added: “And I think this is something outside of sport that queer people have to deal with all the time: There are so many flavors of being queer and each person is an individual and doesn't go in this box. ... I think there's a lot of progress that's happening with this movement within figure skating. And that's really exciting. And hopefully we'll see that reflected in more sports as we kind of hopefully lead the way a little bit.”
Weaver: 'Visibility is so meaningful'
Weaver said she is most inspired by the feedback she gets from fans online – and the stories that they share with her.
“I think I find the most moving feedback comes from parents saying, ‘Hey, my queer child just came out to me. I have a young daughter who's in skating who now doesn't feel like she's alone. My son is trans and your visibility is so meaningful,’” she said. “I have to remind myself that this is a big deal, and I just feel very grateful to be here to do that.”
Both Brown and Poirier are aware: An Olympic season means more eyeballs on it – and more weight for their message. Even if it comes with added pressure.
“[This] is a time where there is so much attention, so if I could be as authentically myself and show that version to the public, that was a bonus,” he said.