I grew up one among athletes, artists, dancers and performers. Some of them were gay.
Much of my childhood and early adulthood was spent twirling a baton, spinning a flag, tossing a sabre, and dancing my way across a football field. While my beloved sports were not Olympic events (yet!), it was through my participation in competitive baton twirling and later in color guard and Drum Corps International that I experienced a glimpse of what the Olympic hopeful knows.
I, too, know the adrenaline rush that comes with performing in front of an adoring crowd. I know the wonder that accompanies international competition. And I know the immense pride that follows the execution of the perfect routine, on the big stage, months or years in the making.
I know the glory of the performance, but I also know what it takes behind the scenes.
I know what it feels like to push myself for just one more rep – in spite of the bruised and bloodied hands, in spite of the aches and pains, in spite of the sweat stinging my eyes – for the simple chance at the dream. Like Olympic hopefuls, I, too, know what it feels like to miss out on what some might call a “normal childhood” in order to have my shot. And looking back, I wouldn’t trade it for all the “normal” in the world. Because I got to experience the world.
Had any country or committee dictated that I could not have my moment or that my team could not have its moment?
I would have been devastated.
Olympic athletes dedicate their lives and livelihood to the fleeting chance for a shot at glory – a chance that comes only every four years. Because of the quadrennial nature of the beast, there is often just a small window of time when age, experience, health, and preparation combine in perfect harmony. Consider that both the minimum and the average age for Olympic gymnasts is 16. That window is just barely cracked open.
For many athletes, gay and straight, that window is Sochi.
So, I appreciate what President Obama said when he announced that he does not support a boycott of the games:
We’ve got a bunch of Americans out there who are training hard, who are doing everything they can to succeed. Nobody is more offended than me by some of the anti-gay and lesbian legislation we’re seeing coming out of Russia. …One of the things I’m looking forward to is maybe some gay and lesbian athletes bringing home the gold, or silver, or bronze, which would, I think go a long way in rejecting the kind of attitudes that we’re seeing there. And if Russia doesn’t have any gay or lesbian athletes, it will probably make their team weaker.
Yes! Let them compete. Let them shine. Let us – the athletes, spectators, allies, and supporters – shine in Sochi.
It was Martin Luther King Jr. who said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that.” Exactly. Only the presence of all our athletes can bring the light to this dark place. For we cannot celebrate the full spectrum of humanity on what is our grandest stage if that spectrum is not fully present.
I cannot imagine the void without the brilliance, leadership, instruction, and innovation of some of my competitors, colleagues, coaches, and teammates who happened to also be gay. Sometimes the expression of an individual through art or sport is the very embodiment of beauty and grace. And it is breathtaking.
Simply put, a boycott of the Sochi games would leave a gaping darkness.
For the young athlete dreaming of her own medal one day, missing the inspiring performances by her home country, there would be darkness. For the parents who’ve sacrificed along with their dreamer child, seeing his void when his turn is called, there would be darkness. For the hundreds of thousands watching, looking for a hero who is like them, needing to know it gets better, there would be darkness.
So, bring it, 2014 Olympic athletes – gay, straight, queer, transgender and allies. Bring that beautiful spectrum of light to Sochi knowing that you can be the force to drive out the darkness. Show us the full depth and beauty of human sport, grace, and competition – and do it on the greatest of all stages.
Take your moment for it is yours to take. And we will stand by you, proudly waving our respective flags, together, with all their colors.