TREY: But I did bring up to a friend who is prominent in the gymnastics community whether or not I should be open about it and the answer I got was actually no, that I should not and that it should stay to myself and it shouldn’t be out in the open for others to judge. You should always just stay as disassociated from that lifestyle as you can.
[EXPRESS YOURSELF INTRO MUSIC]
JESSICA: This week, the first ever gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender queer as all hell panel on gymnastics with Josh Dixon, Evan Heiter, Trey (not his real name), Randy Lane, and 9 time World medalist Alicia Sacramone.
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JESSICA: This is Episode 43 for August 27, 2013. I’m Jessica from Masters-Gymnastics
BLYTHE: I’m Blythe from The Gymnastics Examiner
UNCLE TIM: I’m Uncle Tim from Uncle Tim Talks Men’s Gym
JESSICA: And this is the number one gymnastics podcast in the world, bringing you this very special one-of-a-kind, first of its kind episode to the gymternet. So you might be asking yourself, why does this matter? Why do we care about this in gymnastics? Well the first thing is that we’re in the midst of a civil rights movement. When it comes to gymnastics specifically, the FIG has meets in countries right now where athletes can be thrown in jail for being gay. This is our sport. We want our athletes and gymnasts in our sport to feel comfortable, to feel loved, to be unafraid, to be who they are, to fear no consequence for being truly who they are. And that is why this matters to us. And that is why it matters to us if there is any gymnast out there who doesn’t feel comfortable fully being themselves. Remember that this show is PG 13 so please prepare yourselves because I’m about to talk about LGBT history here and I’m not going to whitewash it. Our panelists today and our fabulous straight ally Alicia Sacramone will talk a little bit about people who are against them, dealing with obstacles. So love, being in love, how that changed them. In that spirit of course, Alicia Sacramone does tell us her engagement story so make sure you listen for that. It’s really beautiful. We’ll also of course ask them about Peter Vidmar and what they think of that. And of course, we’ll talk about the Sochi Olympics where there’s increased violence against gay citizens, leading up to the Olympic Games in 2014. Feeling pressure to stay in the closet as a coach, pressure to stay closeted and not come out until you’re done competing, and how you can show support for your teammates, even if they’re not out to you, what you can personally do with your actions to support someone you know that might not be out yet. It’s really a fascinating conversation and to start it off, we’re going to start with a little quiz. Because you know we like to keep things fun especially with the history we’re about to talk about. So we’re going to do a little quiz on LGBT history.
UNCLE TIM: Alright, Jess. So what happened on June 29, 1969?
JESSICA: Stonewall riots in New York which kicked off the modern gay rights movement. I don’t know if there’s an ancient gay rights movement, but that’s the modern one that kicked off. It’s a bar and they used to raid it all the time and everyone had it so they rioted. It was fabulous. Go New York.
UNCLE TIM: Alright, you are correct with that. Stonewall happened. Then one of the next major events happened in November 1978 in my city of San Francisco. Jess, do you know what happened?
JESSICA: Harvey Milk was the first out mayor elected?
UNCLE TIM: Close! He was the first openly gay person to be elected into public office in California. He was on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors but that’s not what happened in 1978.
JESSICA: Oh was that when he was assassinated?
UNCLE TIM: Yeah. He was killed. Who was the first major lesbian athlete to come out and when was it?
JESSICA: Billie Jean King, she’s a tennis player. And she also beat that loud mouth guy tennis player. They played each other. It was like the 70’s?
UNCLE TIM: 1981. Close.
JESSICA: Late 70’s, 81. It was all bad fashion back then so
UNCLE TIM: When was Don’t Ask Don’t Tell instated?
JESSICA: So Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is a policy that Clinton put in place that basically said there won’t be a ban on gays in the military anymore but you can’t say you’re gay. As long as you don’t say you’re gay, you can stay in. I think it was like ‘93, ‘94?
UNCLE TIM: ‘93.
UNCLE TIM: When was it repealed?
JESSICA: This year. Earlier this year or late last year.
UNCLE TIM: I think it was 2011 if I’m not mistaken.
JESSICA: I feel like it just happened like last week.
UNCLE TIM: Well it kind of did but….
JESSICA: In the grand scheme of things, it was practically yesterday.
UNCLE TIM: And who is the movie Boys Don’t Cry with Hilary Swank about?
JESSICA: It was about Brandon Teena who was a transgender guy, so it was a woman living as a man, and he lived in Nebraska. True story. And some other people in his community found out he was really a female even though he was living as a male and they raped and murdered him and that was in ‘93.
UNCLE TIM: And who is Matthew Shepard?
JESSICA: So he was a freshman at the University of Wyoming and he was beaten, tied to a fence, I feel like by a freeway somewhere or a dirt road or something, tortured and left for dead and I think he died the next day. His death made a huge impact. It was the first time people really took hate crimes against gay Americans seriously and really compared it to hate crimes that had taken place against other races in the past.
UNCLE TIM: Yeah and that happened in 1998. To continue with our timeline, another question. How many former NFL players have come out so far?
JESSICA: NFL? 5.
UNCLE TIM: I’ll have to take your word for that.
JESSICA: Wade Davis, the guy with the Polynesian name, and a couple of other guys.
UNCLE TIM: As we know, names are not your specialty. What was Prop 8?
JESSICA: Prop 8 was an initiative in California that revoked the right of gays to marry in California. But happily, the Supreme Court just overturned that so now weddings everywhere here.
UNCLE TIM: Well the Supreme Court declined to rule on Prop 8, which effectively allowed gay marriages in California. So they didn’t really rule on it.
JESSICA: Yeah they sort of invalidated it’s right to be…it’s very complicated. In essence, everyone can get married again.
UNCLE TIM: Yes. What is the leading cause of death among gay and lesbian youth nationally?
JESSICA: It is suicide.
UNCLE TIM: Yeah. In 2013, the first openly gay player in the four major North American sports came out. Who was it?
JESSICA: Jason Collins, the NBA player.
UNCLE TIM: And thus concludes the quiz.
JESSICA: I think I did pretty well, I’m just saying.
JESSICA: TumblTrak is proud to sponsor our panel today. They have a brand new product called the laser beam. It’s really really different. I can’t think of anything that’s really like this in gymnastics, that we’ve ever had. It’s basically, it’s a visual aid for checking your balance on beam. So it’s a beam that has different colored lines on it. And you can use those lines as a visual cue, changes depending upon how centered you are on the beam. It’s something quite revolutionary and what I love about it is that it is a new and fun thing to try. And it helps me practice focusing on the beam and seeing the beam during skills, as well as being a low beam on the floor that will actually fit adult sized hands, so you don’t feel like your fingers are being sprained over the sides when you try to use those little beams that are made for little kids. My feet and hands actually fit on it. So check out the laser beam on tumbltrak.com. That’s tumbltrak.com.
Our first panel is with three gymnasts from the current generation. Josh Dixon is a California native who competed with the 2009 NCAA Championship winning Stanford team. He was the floor US national champion in 2010 and competed at last year’s Olympic Trials. In 2012, he was the first ever elite gymnast to come out while actively competing. There have been NCAA gymnasts, but never an elite. You know Evan Heiter, our next guest. He has been on our show before. He was a gymnast at the University of Michigan until retiring in 2010. Evan and teammate Ben Strauss made an It Gets Better video that is an absolute must see. So Google it or check out our website to watch it. The final panelist is going by the name Trey, not his real name. He chose to remain anonymous for the show and he will explain why. He is a current US international elite gymnast and a former NCAA national champion. We have disguised his voice for this episode, per his request.
Evan, tell me who the first person you came out to was.
EVAN: It was actually when I was pretty young, like maybe 6 or 5. I actually wrote, “I’m gay” on a post it and handed it to my mom.
JESSICA: How did your mom react when you handed her that post it note?
EVAN: I think about as surprised as anyone would be if a 5 or 6 year old slipped them a note coming out to them. I don’t know where I got that idea. It must have been TV or something. I think she just encouraged me not to worry about it at that point in my life. It definitely wasn’t negative but it was kind of like a brush off, I would say more so.
JESSICA: So Trey, tell us the first person you came out to.
TREY: I’m pretty sure the first person I told was, I don’t think I had told anyone personally, and I was hanging out with my teammates in college and I was a sophomore. And all of a sudden, I have this problem where I bottle things up, you know, but I don’t ever talk about things until all of a sudden there’s this problem. And that’s what happened. I was just sitting at a table with a bunch of people. I just started crying. I don’t really remember why. I decided to tell this girl who I had dated freshman year that I was gay and she was really pissed. It was really a strange situation and she was crying and I say it’s okay but she was really pissed. So I came out to her. I dated her and we had a history and it was just a very awkward time. And then all my teammates obviously, they all accepted me. Some of them wanted to seem like the hero and spread it around as fast as they possibly could you know. Those were the types of people that annoyed me. I just thought that it was my business and if someone wanted to talk about it, they should talk to me. For the most part, everyone did just that. They asked me about it, all my teammates confronted me and asked me why I thought it and why I was this way. Honestly, that was my coming out experience.
JESSICA: So when you say that they kind of spread it around, you mean they outed you to other people against your will?
TREY: Yeah it was one or two of our upperclassmen. One of the upperclassmen was gay and they wanted to make me feel comfortable and ended up spreading it around the whole team and letting them know that I was this way and they had to accept me. I’m like well it’s not their job to accept me if they don’t believe in it but ok don’t agree with it. I’m not the kind of person that will shove my values on anyone. But I was annoyed that it was not my choice to tell them. I mean, that’s how life is. You know, rumors spread like wildfire. I guess I should have told people to be a little more discreet when it happened. But that’s how it went down.
JESSICA: Well no that’s really helpful actually because we’ve had kind of questions like that from listeners. It’s really good that you brought that up because people have kind of asked what do you do and how do you show that you’re supportive and telling everyone you know is not the best way.
TREY: Be supportive obviously. (inaudible.) Make sure you have people telling one story. You feel violated as a person when you start dealing with people talking about you and things you don’t want them to. So I don’t know. I don’t think at the time, there were many gay gymnasts out at the time. There were a few.
JESSICA: So Josh, you came out to your team too. Can you tell us about that experience?
JOSH: This was a very interesting experience. Yeah so I was spending a lot of time with another athlete at Stanford. He was particularly new in my life. One of my teammates below me actually, he was a junior, asked me, oh Dixon who is this guy? I just explained to him that it was someone I was dating and I just came out to him at that moment. And off the top of my head, it was a little bit easier for me to come out to the class below me first just because I wasn’t as close with them. And with my class, the stakes were so high. And I had the typical oh that’s so gay type of rhetoric or poking fun at other known out athletes in some regards. I didn’t know how my new self would be revered. I knew deep in my heart they all cared and wanted the best for me. They still do.
JESSICA: And Trey are you out to, I mean you came out to your team but you’re not out in your regular personal life. I don’t know how to ask this exactly. You’re sort of out some ways in gymnastics and in some ways not in gymnastics.
TREY: I was going to say the way that I view it is it’s my life. It’s my own business. It’s not something people need to know. It’s not like people walk around and say oh hey are you straight? No that’s just not how it is. I think it’s irrelevant. I think eventually our country will be at that point. Obviously with the liberals getting their way I guess. I think our country will be at a point where eventually it doesn’t matter and that’s kind of the attitude that I take, that it’s not important for people to know because people don’t agree with it, whether we like it or not. There are people that are out there in my life, in all of our lives that may not agree with it. It’s not my place, I don’t think. I mean if someone asks me, then I’ll be honest. But I don’t think I’m going to tell people who don’t have an interest in knowing or it doesn’t bother them. It’s not like I need to tell them, hey I’m gay. I don’t like labeling it. I don’t like the stereotypes. I don’t like anything that comes with it because stereotypes are not true. I mean sometimes they are but I find more likely than not, they’re not true. I don’t want to live my life with anyone else’s rules.
JESSICA: And so why is it important, let’s just get this out of the way now, what’s the most important thing about being anonymous on this show? What’s the driving factor? Is it family? Is it athletics? Is it a relationship?
TREY: It’s kind of what I was saying. It’s family. People don’t necessarily agree with it. Not everyone agrees with it you know and I don’t really think it’s necessary. I work in a gym with kids. There are plenty of gay people who work with kids and do that. But I just don’t think it’s necessary to be walking around with a label on my head. I work at camps all over the country. Maybe if those kids found out I was homosexual, they wouldn’t view me the same way. And I think maybe when they’re older, they will. Or someday, kids will see being gay as being normal. But for now, I don’t think our country’s quite there yet. I just don’t think it’s necessary to put a label on your head. That’s how I feel.
JESSICA: So for all you, I just want to ask if there’s any negative experiences from when you did come out. For Josh, when you came out on your team or came out to friends, besides the inter-team gossip, did you have any bullying or anybody start using female pronouns with you, if that bothers you? Anything like that happen?
JOSH: Not really. Not that I could think of. Of course there’s jokes amongst teammates and close friends, not necessarily with female pronouns. But no, not that I could think of.
JESSICA: Evan what was your experience like?
EVAN: My experience coming out was kind of a mixed bag. I mean in hindsight and being almost four years removed out of school, I definitely view it as different and more mature perspective I guess. I’m not going to sit here and say that it was easy every day, especially after I was coming out and after I came out. You know, there were definitely times where I was like what is going on? I didn’t know how to feel and I didn’t know how people were really receiving me. But it wasn’t necessarily positive. And looking back on that, I probably didn’t respond to it as positive as could be but you know it was just the experience and how it unfolded. I think more than anything, I like to view my relationship with any of my teammates as a bond where you might not always like each other and agree with what you do, but you’re teammates. And that’s a special bond and that’s a special love that you have for someone that you share a common goal with. Hindsight is 20/20. And we all wore that black M on our chest and we wore it with pride.
JESSICA: When you say there was some negative reception, you didn’t respond in the best way. Can you give an example?
EVAN: Word gets around and word gets back to you. So basically, some of my teammates were thinking oh he’s just coming out for attention. And I guess to, I don’t know, solidify…I don’t know. I still have no idea. I still don’t understand it. That just really made me angry. Coming out is far and away, the hardest thing I’ll ever have to do in life. And for someone to think it was for attention and not really even want to discuss it with me, you know, that was hard. I can’t say I responded in an easier way. It was probably some expletives and a shrug the other way.
JESSICA: Looking back, maybe there’s someone who’s in this exact situation right now, on their team, what do you wish you would have said? Or how do you wish you would have responded? What advice do you have for them?
EVAN: It’s not my mission to change the way people think but I did notice a kind of 180 shift in some situations. It was like alright we’re cool and now we’re definitely not speaking as much. So I would just say value your teammates for who they are. Because in life, you don’t always get to choose who is put into your life and you don’t always get to choose your teammates. They’re there for a reason. We all have something we can teach each other. So just look at the bigger picture. The journey is a fleeting one as it is so make the most of it and don’t burn any bridges because we all have a lesson to learn.
JESSICA: Sometimes I feel like when we’re talking about this, like for me, when I was younger, people would speak very generally about situations and then I would be like, you know I understand that, but I still have no idea what to say or how to behave. Like, I wanted a script or like some exact example of here’s what to do when X happens. So I’m going to ask you, if you’re replaying one of those times or you’re replaying someone who said to you, “Are you just doing this because you’re acting out and you want attention?” What would you say or do?
EVAN: That is a really good question. And I haven’t had to put myself back into those shoes for a really long time but I would probably just say when did you decide to start living your life the way you’re living it? When were you given the choice to go right or left or be gay or straight and when did that happen for you? Because I didn’t get a choice. I didn’t choose this. It’s been my life forever. If you take offense to it, I’m sorry. But we’re just going to have to walk down our roads differently then.
JESSICA: I just want to say when I’m talking about the female pronouns, there was a kid on the Trevor Project sports panel, who talked about when he came out, he’s in high school, and his football coach immediately only started referring to him in female pronouns. And then the entire team did the same thing. And he was like alright this is ok as like a joke but the coach can’t be doing this. It wasn’t meant in a teasing, fun way. He wasn’t in on the joke. It was meant in a negative way so that’s kind of where I’m taking that example from. How about Trey? Have you had any negative experiences?
TREY: Nope. Nothing.
JESSICA: We are going to take a little break from our gymnast panel and talk to Coach Randy Lane about what it was like for him growing up in the 70s. We’re going to hear from Randy Lane now, who is currently a coach at UCLA. He’s going to tell us a little bit about what it was like growing up back in the day in Indiana. He started gymnastics, actually doing acrobatics, at age five and then ended up competing on the University of Illinois’ 1989 team that won the NCAA Championship. He went on to do stunts and commercials. He played Peter Pan in a Disney touring show. He has his Master’s Degree in Chinese Medicine and is a licensed acupuncturist. He’s been a head coach at UC Santa Barbara. He’s worked at UCLA and the University of Florida under Coach Rhonda Faehn. He was also an assistant coach at Michigan State. And we pick up the conversation as he was telling Blythe what it was like to coach at Michigan State and work under and with Dr. Larry Nassar who is now the team physician for USA Gymnastics. And all of this about how Chinese Medicine has anything to do with an LGBT panel discussion will all make sense.
BLYTHE: And I love this idea that you put forth, this healing people. This is what you do. And I understand that for gay athletes, you’ve become something of a mentor.
RANDY: You know I never saw myself in that role before. But it happened quite a few years ago. And a young woman actually came out to me and felt very comfortable and at ease with me. And I think that my nature is to be very helpful and to be a healer. I’ve been able to mentor people of all aspects, not just whether they’re gay athletes, but also the young women who are having other issues whether it be eating disorders or what not. I really have taken ownership of it, so to speak because I know that the trials and tribulations that I went through as a student athlete going through my own sexuality. So being able to have somebody that’s much older and has been around the block, I feel like I’m comfortable in that role now. And I feel like any advice that I can give them, any encouragement to be who they are, I’m going to do that every step that I can.
BLYTHE: Well it sounds like they are very lucky to have you around to do that. Can you tell us about growing up, what the climate was for gay athletes at that time?
RANDY: When I was growing up, it was taboo. It was never spoken of. It was never acknowledged in any way. I think that my senior year of college, it’s very difficult to think about those days because it was a very difficult time of being able to trust anybody with that information. But I find that anybody who surrounds themselves with friends they can trust, that was evident in my gymnastics family at the University of Illinois. I first came out to one of the girls on the women’s team and from that moment, she made it so easy for me to be okay with who I was. If she can do it, then why can’t the rest of my great friends and teammates?
BLYTHE: Did it make it easier after you’d come out to one person to come out to everybody else? Your coaches? Your teammates? The other people around you?
RANDY: No, it actually made it scarier. It was something that I had put out there. Here I was. I’d actually stated it. That happens a lot for gay athletes. They feel like there’s going to be that one person in their life that is going to reject them because of truly who they are. I went through that during my twenties. I think once I came out to my parents, which I was 25 when I came out to my parents, life became even easier. Once my parents accepted me for who I was, it didn’t matter who else did or didn’t accept me. My parents love me to this day because I’m true to who I am. Once an athlete comes out to their parents and not be shunned, I think it’s definitely a burden that’s taken off their shoulders.
BLYTHE: And Trey talked about this earlier. Many LGBT coaches feel this extra pressure to stay closeted at work. Especially if they work with children. Did you ever feel that way and did it affect you as a coach?
RANDY: I’ll come back to my earlier years, yes. It did feel very pressured, is a good word, to hide who I was. Working with collegiate athletes, it makes it a little easier to come out. I learned a lot through my early coaching years about being honest, especially with athletes. Some athletes that I coached had problems with me and my sexuality. And the main thing that I learned, whether it be on my own or through my mentors of great coaches that I’d worked with, was that they don’t have to respect my lifestyle but they had to respect me and my coaching abilities and what I was trying to teach them. Ultimately, it’s about teaching. Working with younger kids, they don’t need to know. I think that who you are in your home is who you are, not at work. You’re not that person. It’s just one aspect of me. I feel like definitely as a gay male athlete in a female sport, it’s much easier than if I was coaching in a male sport. If I coached boys’ gymnastics, yes it probably would have been harder. If a parent has any questions or concerns about my sexuality, then I am going to put their mind at ease and definitely discuss it in a very mature, respectful fashion because some people do have issues. I respect that. They also have to respect me for what I’m doing with their child which is try to teach them to be a better person.
BLYTHE: What kinds of fears do the athletes you talk to now have about coming out? Is it like the same type of thing that you had or is it different? We were kind of thinking about in gymnastics, there’s the question about safety about someone getting spotted by a coach who maybe doesn’t want you around or especially in a sport like football where there’s tackling and fear of being targeted for injury that sort of thing.
RANDY: I see the biggest fear for most athletes nowadays is being outed when they’re not ready yet.
JESSICA: We’ll hear more from Randy in a moment about what colleges are doing to address harassment of LGBT athletes in colleges and in the meantime, let’s go back to our panel and hear how coming out affected their gymnastics, if they feel pressured to stay closeted while they’re competing and what they think of Peter Vidmar.
Next question, I guess, so for Josh, when you came out, did you feel like it helped your gymnastics to kind of talk about relationships a little bit. Did it help your gymnastics? Did it strengthen your relationships? How did it feel? Relief? How was it?
JOSH: Definitely relief like you wouldn’t believe. I felt so free. It was such a burden and it was a part of me I felt like I had to conceal or was concealing. And definitely my gymnastics improved because I wasn’t carrying this burden in the gym. We take our physical aptitudes to do the sport as well as physical trials of gymnastics for granted. So much of what we do is mentally taxing. And so much energy was spent on worrying about coming out and not being me, that it really strayed from my ability to really take on the mental challenges and develop that toughness. My old coach, JD Reed often referred to me and my mental game as a mental midget. Which is kind of funny, but when I came out and came around to navigating that ground in practice, in competition, I could really understand what he was referring to, what moments I avoided by stepping up and a level of simplicity and calmness which allowed my growth as a gymnast to be executed. I don’t know, I credit so much of making the senior team the last year of college to coming out and discovering my new self. So yes. It was definitely a yes.
JESSICA: And how about for you Trey? For the people that you have come out to in gymnastics, is there some relief or some sense of community there?
TREY: Sure yeah. I definitely felt some relief. I was living away. I kind of sort of had of two separate lives. I moved away from home. I was able to be myself at school a little bit. When I went home, I wasn’t able to be myself just because I had not come out to my family. Definitely at school, I had relief. It definitely made me feel more comfortable. At first, it wasn’t all relief just because I didn’t feel comfortable with people knowing that about me. I didn’t know any other gymnasts that had come out that had had a positive experience. So I was just nervous at all times that people were judging me or people were doing this, which I really shouldn’t have been concerned about. But at first, I definitely was concerned that about would my teammates agree with it and blah blah blah. But in the end, it was definitely for the better. You know, after the first year or so, I definitely felt really comfortable and the team that I left was definitely 100% supportive. I love them all. I miss them all. I definitely consider them my second family and I thank them for supporting me through my gymnastics career as it has been. I definitely owe a lot of success to my college program and my teammates there.
JESSICA: That always makes me so happy to hear. There are so many positive things about college teams. It warms my heart. So let’s talk about being in a college sport like gymnastics that is judged. We don’t get to just go the highest and whoever goes the highest wins. We’re judged. Did you ever have any fear about coming out, that you would be judged lower because someone had a bias against you or that for the national team, that you wouldn’t be chosen for the national team because of bias. Is that ever a concern in the back of your mind?
JOSH: I don’t know, maybe a small thought in my mind about potentially my gymnastics being put up for being more subjective or judged differently, different criteria. But ultimately no. We all know that gymnastics is sometimes subjective at this level. And what we’re trying to do at the higher ends of the collegiate level and at the elite level with our national team and everything, you’re judge on your gymnastics and that’s about it. It’s a pretty even playing field across board. And yeah there’s some gymnasts who have bigger names and maybe sometimes they get a little help from the judges. But to some respect, they earned that because they made a name for themselves in the sport. At some point, they’d come across the same type of oh I’m going to get this score because this other guy has a name. You just have to take whatever questions or concerns that might be floating around in your mind and look at it as you know well I’ll have to be good enough so that I can’t give them an option to place me below someone else. I guess that’s my mentality towards that subject.
JESSICA: Evan, how about for you?
EVAN: I think I was just more happy to be judged at that point. It took gymnastics to a much greater level. I think for me, that was pretty much an afterthought.
JESSICA: And Trey, how about for you?
TREY: I’m not saying that coming out will cause gymnasts to get lower scores by any means. It goes back to kind of what I was saying with some people don’t agree with it still. It’s the older generation, doesn’t agree with it, not everyone, but I think some of the older generation doesn’t agree with it and I just don’t think it’s their business or their place or to have…..I mean obviously they can have opinions. In order to keep them in their own little community and their own little world, you know they grew up in a time when not everyone came out and most people still aren’t out that are their age. Someone that I know, I won’t say it, but I did bring up to a friend who’s prominent in the gymnastics community whether or not I should be open about it. The answer that I got was actually no, that I should not, that it should stay to myself and it shouldn’t be out in the open for others to judge. You should always just stay disassociated from that lifestyle as you can. I mean it sounds terrible but I’m saying it that’s how it is. You know, people judge others based on what they know. And if they don’t know, then they can’t judge you.
JESSICA: And you know what, even if it’s not popular, the reason that I’m so happy to have the three of you representing on our panel is because you have very different experiences and different perspectives on this. That is representative of the reality. If everyone was like oh it’s all rainbows and giggles, that’s not how it is. I think it’s really important that you’re speaking from your experience because that is the reality for a lot of people.
TREY: Can I bring up, are we going to talk about the?
TREY: Can I do it? Can I go first?
JESSICA: Yes! It was Janet Jackson, that’s who I was thinking of who was secretly married for like fifteen years because she didn’t want anyone to know about her personal life. She wanted it to be her private special place where she could protect it.
EVAN: Trey’s like Janet Jackson.
TREY: [LAUGHS] Oh my God!
JESSICA: I sent these guys the questions ahead of time. I talked about the Peter Vidmar lost his job as the chief de mission of the London Olympics because of his direct involvement with California’s Proposition 8 campaign which revoked the right of gay couples to marry in California. And that is the law that the Supreme Court struck down on June 26. So I asked them in my email, should someone who actively campaigned against equal rights for LGBT citizens in California, should that disqualify someone like Vidmar or future board members from having this position of representing the athletes or being a board member for USA Gymnastics?
TREY: I was just going to say Vidmar lost something that’s a pretty big accomplishment, to receive that honor for the Olympic Games. And he was unfortunately unable to take the job and to do that for himself. I think that could have been great for his career, you know. He’s an Olympic gold medalist right?
JESSICA: Yeah. ’84.
JOSH: Perfect example. What is he thinking? Why would he be so outspoken about gay marriage? It just bewilders me that he would go out of his way and support something like that when he knows, I’m sure many of his gymnastics friends are gay and might not even be out to him. And for him to do that to the gay community, I mean the gay community loves the sport of gymnastics. There are gay gymnasts in the community. It just didn’t make sense to hear that about him, that he was so opposed to it. And that’s what I was saying about it being irrelevant to your life. You can live your own life and not have an opinion about what other people do with their lives. Because it doesn’t affect you. I would love to hear why he’s so opposed and supporting Proposition 8.
JESSICA: Yes, and ironically in interviews, he said he doesn’t understand why the athletes reacted this way because this doesn’t have anything to do with their sports lives. Right after he talked all about his coach and his family being the only reason he could win a gold medal.
EVAN: I think it speaks to, sorry Trey
TREY: Oh go go go
EVAN: I think it speaks to the fact that a lot of the times being so passionate about a sport, and especially being a public figure, the rules and the lines kind of get hazy. It all kind of mixes into one especially once you’re an adult, you feel empowered to share your opinions and thoughts. I think that for every opponent you have, to a gay lifestyle or homosexuality in general, you have a proponent nowadays. Because I feel like USA Gymnastics has been supportive, definitely not outspoken but supportive of their athletes, both past and present and been a figure where there needs to be a figure. I think it’s a shame for the sport of gymnastics that Peter Vidmar feels that way. I don’t think it’s definitely based on impression from gymnastics but I think the sport lost out on a lot as well as him personally for not being able to fulfill that role. Because as he is an ambassador for the sport as he holds positions, he wasn’t able to do that one. So I think it’s a shame.
JESSICA: Josh you had a very different experience with him. Is that right?
JOSH: Slightly. I mean I guess first off, I know Peter through the lens of gymnastics only. He’s from the same state. I’ve worked with him a few times in the younger youth groups at camps. I have so much respect for what he’s done in the sport just because I know him as one of the guys on the ’84 Olympic team who won the gold medal. That’s the only team to do that in gymnastics. I just love the fact that that in itself is so brilliant. But outside of those lines, with regard to political stances, especially LGBT issues, I mean obviously I have to respect his opinion and his stances. But for that position specifically, the chief de mission for the Olympic Games, it just seems that someone who is so outspoken about a certain inequality doesn’t coincide with the goal of the Olympic movement which is to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating through sport. And ultimately the USOC might have seen somebody having known ties, Peter Vidmar, having known ties to advocating against any type of equality, which is ultimately a juxtaposition to what the character that should be embodied by any board member or USOC affiliate. So that’s ultimately why he I think didn’t hold that title. And it’s disappointing but definitely I still hold him in high regard in the gymnastics world.
JESSICA: So to Evan and
JOSH: Wait also side note. You were talking about the different experience. Also after my coming out story, that I guess was pretty big in the news last year. He sent me a personal email saying, “I support you. I’m looking forward to seeing you through the Olympic Trials process.” And it was just to see that it was like a heartfelt message from Peter Vidmar. I know I have his support in whatever do in gymnastics and that was comforting to know.
JESSICA: In the past, we’ve had listeners ask us how they can show support and acceptance of a closeted teammate. There are two scenarios here. There’s like and I think they’re gay and I want to show them I’m okay with it. And there is another one that’s like I absolutely know for a fact but they still are in the closet around me. How can I show my support? So Josh, what advice do you have for that teammate?
JOSH: Hmm. I guess just speak openly about maybe if you know a gay family member, friend, teammate and how you still maintain a close, normal and ultimately not different relationship with this gay person in your life. Also, for me, some of my teammates that I hung out with, they would have gay friends. And they would be like oh yeah I hung out with his boyfriend and it was really fun. Or make it a point to speak openly with supportive rhetoric about current LGBT topics or people in the news. For example, with Jason Collins, you can just casually bring up, “Oh did you hear about Jason Collins coming ou? First professional basketball player to do so. I think that’s awesome. That’s made me support him as an athlete and a person and I think it’s a really cool moment for our sports in the country and a cool moment for him.” Reinforcing positive rhetoric is always a good way to go.
JESSICA: Evan, what’s your advice?
EVAN: I think it’s important to just recognize that the journey is really different for everyone, especially coming out and coming to terms with being gay. Really, there’s no science to it. There’s no perfect way. The best thing that you can do is to just be a friend and remain their friend through anything and kind of make up your mind that you value their friendship and you want to be there for them and then I think things will play out accordingly as they need. Because your friends are your friends for a reason and that’s because they understand you and they support you through anything. I was on the team with out teammates who were older than me and had previously been at Michigan. And I think the big thing for me was creating my own identity. Being gay is definitely a commonality that a lot of people have with each other, but it’s not necessarily like oh you guys must be friends. Or you’re totally the same which I think is a big misconception. So it’s about creating yourself. I think as a supporter, it’s important to not lump and categorize people together.
JESSICA: Trey, how about for you?
TREY: I agree with both Evan and Josh, everything they said. Only small thing I’d like to add is to try and always maintain respect between you and that person. Because if they feel threatened or if people like you don’t support it….You know, I know on my team, the guys always used the gay term. I think it’s a sensitive subject in men’s gymnastics because it does have kind of a, you view gymnastics as kind of gay or effeminate. If this gay person on your team is getting that vibe from you, then they definitely won’t want to come out to you so just be careful with the words you use. Don’t use derogatory terms. Don’t make fun of gay people. Because if they hear you saying that, why would they want to be open with you about themselves? I think it’s really important to maintain a level of respect and just watch the words you use and how you talk about people. Then you’re good to go. Maybe someday they’ll come out to you.
JESSICA: And that is a perfect Segway into my next question. In America, at least anyway, I don’t know if it’s like this in every country. Japan, I think it’s totally not like this. Like my friend, Japan’s men’s gymnastics is so popular and seen as so masculine. And my friend just came back from Japan. He brought me these little tiny Legos that are all different men’s gymnastics Lego figures that you can make. I was like oh my God, that’s the greatest thing ever. Yes, I was like what is this?! I love Japan! So it’s just totally different. Ok Segway about Japan there. Anyway, it’s masculine there. Right, and here it’s seen as kind of effeminate. We use the word gay to seem like effeminate, which is totally offensive. Gay men are men. I can’t stand it when people say that. My question for you guys is, how will we change that? What would play a stronger role in changing this perception? So if the men’s gymnastics team won a gold medal in Rio or if more pro athletes in the so-called masculine sports where people hit each other like hockey and the NFL were to come out, Josh which one would make a bigger difference do you think? Or neither if you have a different suggestion?
JOSH: Hmm. I mean it feels like definitely both. Just because the exposure gymnastics would get if the team won gold would be extraordinary more than normal. And the same thing with professional athletes. Gymnastics is really popular during an Olympic year but outside of that the exposure to the public is nothing compared to popular major league sports. So having more openly gay athletes in professional leagues who pretty much have year round exposure can break down those same types of barriers. I guess it starts with giving an audience a respect for what they do, turning it into a respect for what they’ve done to get there, and then a respect for the athlete and what that says about their character. I don’t know I feel like not only with gymnastics but just different sports where you’re literally judged by you aesthetic and how you’re doing what you’re doing on top of what you’re actually doing. Like figure skating, gymnastics, diving, ballet to some extent. And then I guess one side note which should be interesting to look at as you changing the perception, one thing I could think of off the top of my head is the popular emergence of crossfit and how it might parallel to the exposure gymnastics got with the PGC. So crossfit is getting big and PGC was picked up by ESPN and some of the people in the crossfit culture might see that and be like man, I’m struggling with these basic gymnastics exercises in my daily workout and these guys are doing superhuman stuff. So like right away there’s a respect for what they’re doing as a sport and then that could turn into a respect for that person or what they’re doing and just take the whole [inaudible] out of the picture. So yeah.
JESSICA: Crossfit, hmm I like that point. Evan how about for you? What do you think would make the biggest difference?
EVAN: I guess as a kind of a note at the beginning, if there’s a message to be made like if you’re doing gymnastics, own that. Like we wear short shorts and our sport is artistic.
EVAN: You have to recognize it for what it is and if you want to passionately try and butch it up and constantly be on the defensive, I feel like that’s just convoluting the sport and further distancing it from the public. So gymnastics is what it is because it’s beautiful, complex, difficult, and all of those things. And we rarely get a chance to shine. So I would just encourage all athletes regardless of sexual orientation to own what they do and really just be the best that you can at it. So as opposed to I guess something else. Or you know not feeling passionate about it. As far as a team winning a gold medal in Rio, I think the public perception would definitely peak there. That would be a great story for the sport in general regardless of any gay or straight athletes who are on the team. That would be phenomenal. But I think that gymnastics kind of almost creates a culture where since it is associated with being effeminate and gay people to where a lot of the heterosexual athletes who might be a bit more close minded or not agreeing with homosexuality feel really passionately to defend and kind of be outspoken. And those are kind of the catalysts for some of the bullying that you might hear about or instances like that. So I feel like that culture is kind of created from what gymnastics is at its core. I feel like it’s so important for professional athletes to come out, just for their own sake. And if they can be an advocate for gay people and a role model, then more power to them. But I think all the above, everyone come out.
JESSICA: I totally [LAUGHS] I love that you just said that. Because everyone come out now. Let’s make a date and we’ll just do it. Everyone on the same day.
EVAN: We don’t need to pick just one day, it can be any. Wednesday. Sunday. They’re all good.
JESSICA: I think that what you’re saying is that if I can interpret for a moment, is that you’re really saying it’s effeminate is really saying that it’s gay which is to say that it’s wrong and it’s not ok for boys especially to be graceful or be artistic. And that all comes down to a fear of, and this very very very old idea that being gay is wrong. And so anything that feels like it’s a little bit in that direction is wrong. And that really is the core of the problem, not anything to do with what’s the best sport or what’s the most masculine or anything like that.
EVAN: Yeah but also let me touch on the fact that if you put your three or four year old son in gymnastics, I can almost guarantee that the basis of motor development that he gets from the sport of gymnastics will make him a better football player, soccer player, or gymnast down the road. There’s really no doubt in my mind about that. So, suck it up, watch him do a cartwheel, and score a touchdown. Because those things go hand in hand.
JESSICA: [LAUGHS] Yes! Ok. How about Trey? Do you have any thoughts on this topic?
TREY: I mean I don’t have much to add. They covered it pretty well. I would just say that I think that having pro athletes that are very well known that if they were to come out would make a huge stride for the gay community. Just because you know everyone looks up to these athletes and everyone in the country looks up to these football players and basketball players and you know what? Some of them are gay. And if they were somehow if there’s ever a community in the United States where it’s acceptable or whatever, when they feel comfortable to come out, I think that would make strides for the generation coming up. Because to have someone that you look up to all the sudden be gay, maybe people will just completely change their perception of being gay. Just because their favorite person in the world, their favorite athlete or whatever is gay. And I think that that would just make such a big difference. I think a men’s gymnastics team winning a gold medal at the Olympic Games would completely change the sport of gymnastics in our country, but I don’t necessarily think that having a team win a gold with a gay gymnast on it or not would really change the way that people view gymnastics in our country. It would have to come from an outside source I really think like a football player or a really popular wide receiver or something. It would take one of those guys to come out and people be like oh wow, if that person’s gay and they’re ok with it, then wow what am I caring about.
JESSICA: I agree. Josh, tell me just finish with like one positive story. The best thing about coming out or just something positive that’s come out in your journey. Best thing.
JOSH: Hmm. I guess I would have to say definitely positive messages and letters I’ve gotten from people saying how my story has been an inspiration to them. Their child, their friend, somebody who they knew coming out, if not themselves. And all along I can only think of who that person was for me. And it was a dear friend at school who I still hold close to my heart. And yeah I don’t know, I often times wonder if I hadn’t seen, I don’t know, this person be out and so close to this friend’s family, teammates, and grown close to this person, if my coming out would have even happened while I was still at school. Or if I would have experienced certain successes in and outside the gym because of it. So yeah. That and hope that I can be that person for other people. So yeah. I think those are [inaudible].
JESSICA: Evan how about for you?
EVAN: I think it’s really similar in terms of feedback and encouragement I guess that I’ve received. One of my teammates and I, Ben Strauss who’s on the team with me, we made an “it gets better” video when those were emerging on the internet a few years back. And it’s gotten over 10,000 views which to me is like unfathomable still at this point. And even recently I get messages from people just thanking us for doing that. So, you know I think it was Ben’s idea and he really put it in motion and just inspired me to be a part of it. And I’m eternally grateful for all the feedback and the effect that we’ve been able to have in this world. Because I feel like that’s something that not a lot of people can say that they’ve done, so I feel like it’s such an opportunity and continues to be. And then I feel like just the opportunities in general are just at my disposal. I think that if you’re not standing up for something, then it’s falling by the wayside. So I feel like opportunities like this are really good. You look back at all of the great civil rights movements from our history, and it’s outspoken people who just won’t go away. So I’m glad that I’m not going away.
JESSICA: And I have to thank you so much for that “it gets better” video too. Because I made one at work and when I first mentioned it at work years ago, people trying to bring up the subject because we just didn’t have anyone out in our entire workplace. And everyone just looked the other way. Literally. Looked the other direction when I mentioned hey, we have no one gay who’s out here, that’s kind of awkward don’t you think? Why do you think that is? What’s wrong with the culture here? Everyone looks the other way. Come later I used the video that you guys made as an example of what we should do, and we made one and we had every single office around the world participate in it. So, I just can’t thank you guys enough for that. And it was one of the first “it gets better” videos that I watched, and I just loved it. So anyway. Ok Trey, tell me what’s the most positive thing that’s happened for you for someone you’ve come out to.
TREY: I think the most positive thing that I can bring from my experience is just that it’s just been an eye opener. There was definitely a time in my life when I didn’t understand being gay or, I viewed it as negative too. And I just want to- I mean is it ok if I just say what the most important thing about coming out to me has been?
JESSICA: Yes, absolutely
TREY: I think the most important part about it for me has been that people do accept the life that I choose to live and it has made me realize what kind of life that I want for myself. You know, I don’t think any experience in life can demonstrate that for you other than coming out. And learning that you’re comfortable with yourself and other people are comfortable with yourself. It opened up a lot of doors for me and I know what kind of person and what kind of life I’d like to live when I’m old and I have children and a husband. So it will happen for me someday. Yeah. That’s it.
JESSICA: Aww! That was such a good note to end on! Makes me so happy!
JESSICA: Wasn’t that the sweetest? That warmed my heart. Let’s go back over and talk to Randy about Athlete Ally and then we’ll talk to Alicia Sacramone.
BLYTHE: So if you’re a professional athlete or if you’re an NCAA athlete, is there a safe place to go if you think- if you want to talk to somebody or if you think you’re being discriminated against or if you’re afraid a teammate or somebody or a rival could out you?
RANDY: You know there is. And I think it’s becoming more prevalent at different universities. At UCLA we have Athlete Ally and it’s a program specifically to help educate not only the coaches of all the sports at UCLA but also the student athletes. At UCLA we have a little sticker we put on our doors or our desks symbolizing the fact we are an athlete ally and you can trust us if you choose to make a statement about who you are. So Athlete Ally I think is one of the greatest things that could ever happen to our university I know.
BLYTHE: I see. And you know unfortunately there’s still kind of a school of thought that thinks the so called macho sports don’t have gay athletes. How would you respond to that?
RANDY: [LAUGHS] I would say I know some of those macho sports do have gay athletes. There are definitely athletes that are on professional teams that are in those “macho” sports that are gay and are closeted. And once they start coming out, it will definitely open up the door for other athletes to follow in the future. I just think it’s amazing that I never thought that I would see this during my time as a coach or even here, that it has become more widely accepted. And I think in 10 years it’s not going to be even an issue. I hope it’s less than that. But I think that those macho sports, especially the coaches, are seeing that they need to change their ways and they need to change the ways with what is happening today. And that’s kind of exciting to be a part of.
BLYTHE: It is interesting how you make reference to there was a time when a professional athlete actually thought that he or she would have to choose between being a professional athlete, a sports figure, and just being who they were as people. With gymnastics, you have this kind of, you know, a gymnastics career is generally it’s not a lot of years. But also unfortunately the ways of making a living as a professional athlete are a bit limited maybe. You know, maybe a little less limited if it’s the Olympic year. But yeah. And do you feel that there might be athletes in gymnastics who are choosing to stay in the closet because they feel it might limit their ability to make money professionally? As a professional athlete. Is there still a stigma about that?
RANDY: I would say yes, but I was this whole past year, I was waiting for a professional athlete to come out. As long as that person has great character and incredible integrity and they represent not only their sport well but their family well, their university, their team, their teammates, I don’t think that endorsers of any product should ban them just because of their sexual orientation. If somebody, I mean we know in society that if you have a sex tape leak on the internet, well you can be a star and you can be a reality star. And it’s often sad that character is never really brought into the picture when as a person who buys something, I look at the character of the person selling it to me. Not so much their celebrity. If a person cuts them from a contract just because they’ve come out as a gay athlete, then shame on them.
BLYTHE: Do you have a final piece of advice for teammates who want to support a closeted teammate? You know, how would you suggest that they go about showing support?
RANDY: I think that the first thing athletes that want to support their gay teammates, I think they have to really think about their language. Sometimes we say things, and especially if you’re younger, you say things that you don’t think about that could be hurtful. And I think that’s the number one thing is to be able to understand your own language and understand that you supporting your friend and teammate is going to be through your actions and your words. And it may take years and years for your teammate or friend to come out to you. But I think they’re going to do it on their own time, and then you can really step up and be the true friend that you are and say I’ve known forever and I love you no matter what. And it’s just one aspect of you that makes you a complete person.
JESSICA: And now the woman who needs no introduction. The one, the only, the woman who punched out a wrestler on YouTube, our favorite Alicia Sacramone is here.
BLYTHE: Actually ok so first of all thank you very much for taking the time to do this Alicia. And secondly I have a few questions regarding to what’s been going on on the internet the past couple days that do not have to do with being an LGBT ally.
BLYTHE: So do you mind if we go into that a little bit as well?
ALICIA: No that’s fine
BLYTHE: Awesome. Alright well let’s do that first actually.
BLYTHE: So I understand that you’re engaged. True or false?
ALICIA: It is true. I got engaged about two weeks ago. And been trying to wedding plan ever since [LAUGHS]
BLYTHE: Then congratulations! And would you mind? We asked Jake Dalton a few weeks ago to share his story of how he got engaged. And if it’s alright, would you mind? I’m sure there’s so many fans that would love to know exactly how it came out.
ALICIA: Sure. Brady and I were actually on this whirlwind of traveling. We had to go to Vegas for a speaking engagement and then we went to Ohio for his charity event. And then he throughout was like, “Well we should probably go to Boston to see your parents one last time before football season starts.” And I was like, “Yeah ok that’s fine.” So then my mom, I called her and was like, “Hey we’re coming to town just so you know.” She was like, “Ok cool that’s good I have an invitation from Children’s Hospital in Boston inviting you to an event. It’s their last minute [inaudible] blah blah blah.” I was like, “Ok. Well when is it?” She said, “It’s the day you get in.” I was like, “Mom I’m only in town for a few days. I really don’t want to go to a charity event. I’m tired I just want to hang out.” So they somehow convinced me into doing it. And I’m like alright fine. So we land in Boston, I have to change, get ready for this event at the airport. So we drive over and I pull up to a theater. And I was like ok cool new venue whatever. And so I walk in and the women says, “Ok the event has already started. We’re going to take Brady and seat him and then let me prep you really quick.” So she was giving me a whole spiel how I need to get on stage and speak a little bit. And I was like, “I don’t even know what I’m speaking about. I’m screwed.” So then I walk and the theater’s empty. And Brady is on stage and he puts on a little performance for me which was awesome. So cute and touching. Then he asked me. And his parents had actually flown in and were waiting at my parents’ house for when we got back. So it was really special and unique and it was so exciting.
BLYTHE: Oh my gosh. And did you have any inkling at all that this might be coming?
ALICIA: No literally no idea. It was so funny. We’ve talked about it, but it wasn’t something I’d pictured in the immediate future. So when it was happening I was like oh gosh it’s happening right now [LAUGHS]
BLYTHE: And wedding-wise what have you decided? Would you say that you’re wedding planning right now? What are you doing and what are you thinking about in terms of, well in terms of anything? It’s a huge event.
ALICIA: We’re trying to keep it small and low key, just really close friends and family. But I feel like that’s going to end up being bigger than I anticipate. So I was looking at venues and just trying to secure a date with both of our crazy schedules. It’s been pretty tough so that’s kind of where I’m at.
BLYTHE: Awesome. Alright so let’s move on and actually get to the LGBTQ stuff. And so one thing that we were wondering when we were brainstorming questions was why is this, can you talk a little bit about why this subject is so important to you?
ALICIA: For me I grew up, my mom owns a hair salon so I’ve grown up with gay men in my life from I was a baby. And for me I, there was never any judgment passed. We were always very accepting as a family. And for me when I see people being mistreated for a personal choice, that really, it hurts. And I just want people to accept one another and mind their own business because it really isn’t anyone else’s concern but your own. So I just want a feeling of acceptance to be something that’s known in the world and especially in our sport. We are teammates but we are also competitors, so you have to be supportive of one another to be a successful country. So I think being supportive of a lifestyle choice is something that coincides with that as well.
BLYTHE: I see. And you haven’t been shy about your religion in the past. And we know that there are some people in the religious community who believe that being gay is sinful against the word of God, that kind of thing. And how do you reconcile that with your faith as a religious person?
ALICIA: You know I, like I said I try not to judge. It’s not my place. And the higher being is something that, something I put my foundation in and I want to believe in. And that’s just like, it’s a personal choice for me. And I don’t feel like I have the authority to say what is right and wrong. And so I can still love and appreciate somebody even though my religion may not agree with their belief.
BLYTHE: Ok. Just to put this out there, you seem like the type of woman who doesn’t take crap from anybody. And for listeners who want to be an ally like you and who may have witnessed harassment or bullying of their peers from someone in a position of power, what advice would you have about confronting and stopping the bullying for them?
ALICIA: You know everybody has a voice and you should speak up if you think that something is wrong. And it’s true, I don’t like to take crap from anybody. And I think everyone’s opinion matters. And if you feel like something is wrong, don’t be shy and turn the naked eye to it. Just say something. Most people respond when someone’s called out they’re going to be like oh, I didn’t realize [LAUGHS] other people were actually taking offense to this. So I think if you just be bold and that can actually make a difference.
BLYTHE: Was there ever an incident where you felt like you interjected yourself into a situation because you felt like someone was being mistreated?
ALICIA: I think a few instances just that I’ve seen poor behavior on other people’s behalf. I’ve been lucky enough where I haven’t had anything too drastic happen in front of me or I had to be a part of. So fortunately I haven’t been in anything like that so it’s a good thing in my mind.
BLYTHE: Yeah definitely. Do you feel like society is more open, has become more open say in the last 10 years to all types…
ALICIA: For sure
BLYTHE: …of sexuality? Yeah.
ALICIA: I think everything’s kind of become more liberal and accepting. I think it’s moving in the right direction and that’s awesome. I think we need to embrace all kinds of people and I think, I mean, look at everything on TV now. It’s not just, they have shows about people being gay and lesbians and seeing how it is from their point of view. And I think that’s great to enlighten people what they’re going through.
BLYTHE: Has it been hard for your guy gymnast friends? We’ve talked about this with a few guests on the show. It seems like if you’re a male gymnast at some point in your adolescence, somebody is going to say to you in a derogatory way, “Oh you do gymnastics that’s so gay.” What would you like to respond to that?
ALICIA: Considering that all those guys could probably beat up any man put in front of them, I really wouldn’t make a comment like that to them! I definitely heard people say that. Like, “Oh you’re super strong, they must be gay.” Why? Because they can do really intense strength skills? They lift as much as you guys do? Oh because they wear spandex? Pretty positive almost every sport wears spandex so I don’t see your fear is coming from.
JESSICA: Just you know if there was any message that you wanted to give somebody out there who’s on the National Team or a kid that’s competing right now who’s scared to let people know who they are, and feels like they don’t have support in the gymnastics community, is there a special message you’d want to give to them?
ALICIA: I would just want to let them know that they shouldn’t underestimate people. Because I think a lot of people would be more accepting than they would think. And obviously terrifying to open up such a big secret about yourself. But you’ve got to believe in your teammates. They’re going to support you, even if they are a little bit hesitant at first, it doesn’t change the type of person you are. And if they liked you before, they will certainly like you after. And if they need someone to talk to, feel free to come my way. I mean I couldn’t be more accepting of a person. My cousin is gay. I have so many gay family friends and acquaintances. So I’m cool with it all the way around. And I think everybody should feel loved.
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JESSICA: So let’s talk about what our panelists had to say. First I have to say just how pissed I am at the person who told Trey not to come out. I just feel like how dare you. What you should say when someone asks if they should come out or not is you should say, “You’re loved no matter what. And I support you no matter what.” I just feel like that’s the only answer. That’s just, ugh. What do you think?
UNCLE TIM: I agree. I wish that we could’ve gotten a little more information about this person. I wonder how old this person was. I wonder if this person was maybe in their 50s or something. Because I feel like the culture back then in the 70s and early 80s was very different. Maybe that person remembers Dave Kopay, an ex running back for the Redskins. He came out of the closet in 1975 after had retired. And I don’t know if you know this Jess, but when he came out, he said he was not the only gay football player and some people did not like that. Some sports fan angrily accused Kopay of lying for the sake of publicity. So that might be one cultural reference. And it might also remember when Martina Navratilova came out in 1981. The Women’s Tennis Association told her not to come out. But she did anyway. And I think that there’s also this problem on the men’s side that there’s this precedent. And male athletes typically come out after their athletic careers are over.
JESSICA: Yep, totally right
UNCLE TIM: Dave Kopay as I already mentioned did, Greg Louganis the 1984, 1988 Olympic gold medalist did. He came out in 1995 to Oprah on her show. The Gay Games was started by a retired decathlete in 1982 and so it seems like there’s this precedent. And so there’s this attitude that “why don’t you just wait till you’re done with the sport to come out.” And I’m not saying that’s right. I’m not saying that’s right. I’m just trying to understand somebody else’s perspective.
JESSICA: Yeah that’s true. And I mean we do have to clarify the person who told him not to come out is not part of USA Gymnastics. So I just want to be clear about that. I actually asked USAG for a statement, and Leslie King got back to me and she reminded me how supportive Steve Penny was last year when Josh came out. And she also gave me a statement, which is that, “The official policy of USA Gymnastics is one of inclusion in the gym, on the competition floor, and in the arena. Gymnastics is an incredible sport that is open to any and everyone who is interested in learning, participating, competing to be the best of their ability, regardless of their religious, ethnic, or cultural background or sexual orientation.” And you know I feel like we have to kind of address this. I feel like Trey is going to get some crap for not coming out and for making the choice that he has to stay anonymous in the sport. And I just, I mean I talked about this in the interview. I respect his position and I’m so glad we had the people we had on because it’s important to see all the sides of where people are and what their perspective is and their reasoning for wanting to stay in the closet professionally I guess. And I just, you know I was listening to Cyd Zeigler on Outsports and he was debating with Wade Davis, who is a former NFL player, about you know Cyd Zeigler called people who were afraid to come out “cowards.” And Wade Davis was like you don’t know what someone’s situation is. You don’t know the details of their life. You don’t know if they’re outed too soon or they come out too soon, they’re going to kill themselves next week. It’s too much for them. You don’t know if their safety in their life and they can really, there’s some unknown or unintended consequences are going to happen. So I just hope that as gay friendly as the gymnastics community is, that people will just show him the love and support rather than insisting that he come out. I feel like the point that Cyd Zeigler made that was really good was the he said people don’t come out because they’re afraid of not being accepted and being shunned. And I feel like if you want to encourage someone, the best thing to do is show them that they will be supported, show them that when they’re ready the support is there and waiting for them. What do you think?
UNCLE TIM: No I totally agree. To echo what you’re saying I think that there’s a certain attitude in the gay community in general, not just in sports. I think a large section of the gay community believes that everyone should come out of the closet period. And like you said, I don’t think that they understand that some people have barriers or mental blocks or even issues of safety. And I think back in episode 14 when we originally talked about this Jess, you mentioned the issue of safety. And it’s not always safe for people to come out. I’m not saying that this is the case with Trey. But generally speaking it could be. I mean you and I both live in California. I live in San Francisco which is a pretty darn liberal place. Glen Burke perhaps the first out pro baseball player was living in California when he came out to his teammates in the 1970s. Josh Dixon, kind of the face of being out in men’s gymnastics, also living in California when that happened. Though Palo Alto is a little more conservative. Not everyone has that lifestyle. And you know, just to give one personal story. I dated a guy from Alaska who unfortunately was the victim of a terrible hate crime in high school while he was living in Alaska. So to my fellow gays, you know out there, before you judge someone being closeted, I guess just try to see where that person is coming from and think about maybe this person might have some issues or some legitimate reason for not being completely out yet.
JESSICA: I’m glad you mentioned that and shared that about the guy you were going out with, because I really debated whether I wanted to bring up anything negative. Whether I wanted to compare the violence in this civil rights movement that has happened in other civil rights movements. And because our panel was so mostly positive, and in terms of violence nothing happened, that I wanted to make sure that we balanced it out by talking about it outside of the panel and how real that is. So I’m glad you brought that up. And it is a real issue. And that’s one of the scary things about what’s happening right now. And that leads to a perfect segue into talking about the Winter Olympics and what’s happening in Russia which is absolutely terrifying and horrific.
UNCLE TIM: Some people are talking about Russia right now because the Winter Olympics are going to be in Russia in 2014. And some people believe that male homosexual as sexuality is illegal in Russia which is not necessarily the case. It was in the Soviet Union, starting in 1934. But it was decriminalized in 1993. And as quite common, lesbianism was never criminalized. It was just male homosexuality.
JESSICA: Lesbians are always favored [LAUGHS]
UNCLE TIM: Yeah. And so the issue regarding the Sochi Olympics is related to a recent law that was passed in June. It fines individuals up to $1,500 dollars and organizations up to $30,000. And those fines are for propaganda of non traditional relationships to minors. So it’s not necessarily just a gay law. It’s directed at any sexual relationship that can not lead to the production of offspring. So it could be you know, it could be using birth control or something technically. And within Russia there have been mixed reviews. The head of Russia’s human rights council has spoken against the law, but the Russian orthodox church has supported it. As for how it will affect athletes, there also have been mixed views. According to the head of the Russian committee on physical training, sports, and youth, the new law will not apply to the participants and guests of the 2014 Winter Olympics. However, the Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko said that if an athlete goes into the street and starts propagandizing being gay, then of course he will be held accountable. And so it seems like two things need to happen right now. One, the Russians need to decide whether the law will apply to the Olympics, and two, they need to decide what constitutes propaganda. And so that’s kind of what I see going on.
JESSICA: I feel like we’re going to be China all over again. Like the Beijing Olympics. Like let’s just pretend there’s no human rights issues here. Let’s sweep it under the rug. Oh, it’s illegal basically, the rest of the year, but during the Olympics we’re just going to ignore it all and let’s just all have a big party like everything’s fine. I just, that’s not ok with me. And I know I don’t, some people have talked about a boycott and I think that never solves anything. But I’m totally against a boycott. But I am for major international social pressure to make changes for the right reasons. And you know, you mentioned Greg Louganis earlier, and he has a petition up with Athlete Ally. And I encourage you guys to go and sign it and it’s just trying to put that international pressure on and get more people to sign this petition to say we need to make a big deal out of this and make sure that while if athletes are protected while they’re there that are gay, we want to also protect all the citizens of Russia the rest of the year while the eyes of the world aren’t watching Russia.
UNCLE TIM: So as I was saying, lesbianism was never a criminal offense in the Soviet Union. And I was wondering why we didn’t have any lesbians on our show Jess.
JESSICA: Well Uncle Tim, I searched high and low for lesbians. I tried every connection that I have, and I did find one who wasn’t out at all until she was totally done with gymnastics. She just didn’t really feel like her story was, could really make a difference or would have an impact and I couldn’t convince her otherwise. I don’t know. I also just think that on the one hand it’s not as stigmatized as it is with men, and so there aren’t a lot of- on the one hand it’s also like well then why isn’t there anyone that’s out, right? If my theory is correct, then where, why can’t you find them all over the place. If it’s 25, 30% of the population is gay, where are the gay female gymnasts? Or maybe it’s that women come out later? I don’t know. I really tried and maybe I can convince the gymnast, a national champion, to come on at some point. But I think she’s amazing, she has incredibly inspiring story, she’s been through so much. So I don’t know, what do you think?
UNCLE TIM: So I was reading for this and I read a study by two scholars, Lane Blind and Diane Taub. And they did this study on managing the lesbian stigma in college sports in 1992. So it’s an older study. I couldn’t find anything more recent. They talk to five basketball players, four track and field athletes, three volleyball players, three swimmers, three softball players, two tennis players, two divers, and two gymnasts. And all the athletes according to their study were highly aware that women in sports are labeled lesbians in general. And I was thinking about that, like how can- so typically when something has- when a sport has a stigma of being a lesbian sport, it’s because it’s seen as rather masculine. And I was thinking how can these girls in spandex leotards with bows in their hair and eye glitter and stuff be seen as lesbians. And then I started thinking oh yeah, wait, these girls have giant muscles. And so I could see how there could be this stigma of lesbianism even in gymnastics. Even though I don’t really think that I’ve ever heard anyone talk about that. But I guess I could see how that would be an issue.
JESSICA: Hopefully in the future we’ll have one of the fabulous lesbian gymnasts on the show. I’m not going to give up. In the meantime, let’s talk about places the FIG holds meets where gay athletes don’t have full legal rights. Are there any places?
UNCLE TIM: Hm. Well I was curious about this. So I looked at where the FIG holds its World and Challenge Cups. And overall the organization has done a good job choosing locations for the events. And I’m not sure if it’s intentional or not, but anyway. They host competitions in rather LGBT friendly countries. The French International of course is held in France, which decriminalized homosexuality already in 1791 as part of the first French Revolution which is crazy. That’s really early. They host a Challenge Cup in Slovenia, which as of 2006 allows official registration of same sex relationships. There’s also an upcoming competition in Asia, Croatia, where same sexual activity was legalized in 1977. And as of today, August 5, Croatia is drawing up plans to give gay couples civil unions. So like I said, overall, good. However, we gotta talk about Qatar. Yeah. Homosexual acts between adult females are legal, whereas homosexual acts between adult males are illegal and can result in one to three years in prison. In 1995 I want to say, that an American received 90 lashes for homosexual activity and was sentenced to six months in prison for that. And because of this actually the International Federation of Football Association FIFA has been criticized for allowing Qatar to host the World Cup in 2022. So.
JESSICA: Seriously you know there is a lot of gay hooking up in a party that goes on with the World Cup. Are you kidding me? FIFA. Mm-mm.
UNCLE TIM: So yeah. So hosting a gymnastics meet in Qatar, yes probably great for promoting the sport there, not necessarily safe for gay gymnasts I would say. What do you think Jess?
JESSICA: I mean on the one hand, you know me I’m super extreme in my opinions and I’m like anyone who’s not full civil rights screw you! And you’re not even- we’re not going to let you have your gymnasts compete! But that’s terrible. On the one hand I think it’s good. We had Coach Rick on the show and he was talking about how much progress the FIG being there has made for women. And you know, studies show that where women have equal rights, human rights in general for everyone are better. So I feel like anything that empowers women will eventually empower anyone and that extends to LGBT citizens. So I don’t know. It’s a process. I also want to just note that we do acknowledge that we’re talking about in these countries where it is legal to be gay, we’re talking about sex. We’re not talking about full rights. Like the right to marry, the right to your partner can come visit you in the hospital when you’re sick, insurance benefits, all that kind of stuff. So we acknowledge that, we’re not saying that’s all exactly the same. We’re just talking about the actual if you give your boyfriend a smooch, are you going to jail kind of a thing. So. Alright let’s talk about China because they are hosting the 2014 World Championships. And I’ve heard totally mixed things about China.
UNCLE TIM: Yeah right so I mean we hear about human rights abuses. However in terms of LGBT issues, China is technically somewhat more progressive than you’d think. Homosexuality, the act of homosexual sex, was legalized in 1997. And in 2001 homosexuality was removed from the official list of mental illnesses in China. In 2008 an LGBT center in Beijing opened on Valentines Day. And as of July 1, 2013, China will allow foreign same sex partners of residence to apply for dependent residence permits. But that is not to say that China is edenic. According to a recent PEW survey, 57% of the Chinese do not accept homosexuality. So they’re against homosexuality. So that’s a pretty high percentage.
JESSICA: At least it’s a start. Unlike Russia where they’re adding things to the books right now and there’s so much violence going on against gay citizens in Russia. So. Then again it’s China so even if people were getting offed right and left every day, we would never hear about it unless there was press there because they don’t have a free press. So take it all with a grain of salt, that’s what I’m saying. Before we wrap this episode up, I want to give you guys some resources. If you’re interested in becoming an Athlete Ally and showing your support, whether you’re gay or straight, check out Athlete Ally. Go to their website. You can also check out goathletes.org. They connect LGBTQ, Q stands for queer, it’s old school, student athletes with other queer student athletes. And they serve as a united voice to encourage schools to create safer spaces. So if you’re looking for other athletes to talk about what you’re going through, that’s a great place. If you’re having struggles and suicidal thoughts, you need someone to talk to, you don’t feel like there’s anybody out there who understands what you’re going through, check out The Trevor Project. They have a 24 hour hotline. Even if you’re not to the point where you’re totally suicidal, you’re just feeling really depressed or alone, give them a call.
JESSICA: So in the Olympics in Mexico City, it was during the civil rights movement in the 60s in the United States, two athletes from the United States put up what’s either known as the black power sign, putting their fists in the air when they’re on the medal stand, or a general civil rights unity sign. And we thought that it would be awesome if we had something like that that gymnastics fans could do to show their support for their LGBT teammates and the fans could do to show the LGBT gymnasts who are competing. So say you’re at Nationals in two weeks. I don’t know just as an example. The way that you can show your support is by throwing up the lambda sign. That is a greek symbol that generally is known to- well not generally, it is the official international symbol for gay and lesbian rights. And it signifies unity under oppression. And the spartans in ancient greeks were also known as the lambdamonians. Something like that. So it’s very ancient. It’s awesome. And the way that you show it is that you make a triangle with your hands and then you put your hands straight up in the air and show that lambda symbol and the gymnasts will know that you’re thinking about them. Or if you’re on the podium winning Nationals or something or your level 5 meet or whatever and you want to throw up the lambda symbol on the podium, that would be cool. We support it. I don’t know what would happen in the long run but we think it’d be awesome. If you appreciated what you heard on this extra long extra special show, first of its kind, please tell our guests. You can tweet to them and tell them that they are the heroes of this movement and that you appreciated hearing from them. Josh Dixon is @joshndixon on Twitter. Evan Heider is @yoev. Randy Lane is @coachrandylane. Alicia Sacramone is @asac3. The number 3. Asac3. And you know if you want to tell Trey that you appreciate him too and tell him that when he’s ready to come out in gymnastics the love is there and waiting for him, you can tweet @gymcastic and then put in the hashtag #trey and then he will know that you were thinking of him. All the other ways to support the show, write a review, donate, buy stuff from our Amazon store, tell us what you thought of this episode. We want to hear from you. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find us on Twitter. Everywhere else. And we have a phone number 415-800-3191. Thank you all so much!
ALLISON TAYLOR: This episode is brought to you by Elite Sportz Band. Elitesportzband.com. We’ve got your back
JESSICA: Visit elitesportzband.com, that’s sportz with a Z, and save $5 on your next purchase with the code Gymcast.
JESSICA: That’s going to do it for us next week. Next week we will have a preview of the National Championships. And mother of baby Grumpus, the one and only Spanny Tampson will rejoin the show. Until then I’m Jessica from masters-gymnastics
BLYTHE: Blythe Lawrence from the Gymnastics Examiner
UNCLE TIM: I’m Uncle Tim from Uncle Tim Talks Men’s Gym
JESSICA: See you next week!
[[OUTRO MUSIC: LADY GAGA “BORN THIS WAY”]]
JESSICA: So I just want to thank you guys so so much. And I just want to add like one tiny more thing. Is that today when you mentioned the 16th Josh I kept thinking is there something special about that day? Whey is the 16th sticking out in my mind? I can’t, what? I kept thinking about it, thinking about it. And I realized it’s my dad’s birthday today. And my dad passed away a couple years ago. And he was the person in my life who always made sure that I knew gay people, that I grew up around gay people, that I knew what was going on in their lives. And I just- he would be so happy. And I have no doubt in my mind that he had some part of today being the day that we finally did this recording. So I just want to thank you guys and let you know my dad would be so happy and proud right now.
EVAN: Thank you, that was beautiful
TREY: That is beautiful