Olympian Gus Kenworthy on Coming Out and The Power of Authenticity

by Mark Daniel Snyder, Communications Manager

Gap Inc.

June 27, 2019

Gus Kenworthy came of age on the ski slopes of Telluride. “My mom would sing to me on the chair lift, wake me up at the top, and we’d do another round,” he reminisced. Skiing was something his entire family would enjoy together - his two brothers, mom and dad. For him it was an activity rooted in love and support from the very beginning. That warmness radiated through his stories at Gap Inc.’s recent townhall, part of the company’s ongoing LGBTQ Pride celebrations organized by employees on the Equality and Belonging team. 

Kenworthy is a man of many firsts. He was often announced as the youngest skier in the competitions he participated in: now he jokes he’s often the oldest. In 2014, the year the USA swept the podium in freestyle skiing at the Olympics, he won a silver medal. And, in 2015 he became the first action-sports star to come out as gay.  

At the 2018 Olympics, just before heading down the slopes, he hugged his family and gave his boyfriend a kiss. A journalist caught the moment on film, and it became a viral sensation, with many calling it a significant moment for LGBTQ athlete visibility. “It was just a super mundane kiss. Had I known it would have been a way better kiss,” Kenworthy laughed.  

Coming out was at first a struggle for the Olympian. “I was afraid I would lose everything,” he noted. “It was Valentine's Day, the day after I won the silver medal, and the media kept asking me things like ‘who is your celebrity crush?’. Lying on camera made me feel horrible about myself and it was really difficult for my boyfriend and our relationship at the time.”  The next season got off to a very rocky start, he was feeling depressed, even suicidal, but something clicked. “I decided at the end of the competition season I could come out,” he said, “And after I made that decision, I was more focused, won the next event and the one after that and after that, and at the end became world champion again. 

Upon the season’s end, Kenworthy came out in an ESPN article. “I set myself up thinking it was going to be horrible, debilitating. But the reaction was incredible. Even other athletes who had said homophobic things around me, called me up to make amends. I appreciated it.” His popularity only grew, and in 2018 he said he was the most endorsed athlete in the Winter Olympic games. “If it helped one person I would have felt like I did the right thing. I do think it did that. I’m more proud of it (publicly coming out) than any of my ski accomplishments.” 

Kenworthy’s heart shines through when he talks about his family and the things he cares about. The longtime animal lover was devastated to discover so many stray dogs while at the Olympics in Sochi, Russia. He recalled sneaking one into his hotel room to feed and take care of for a bit. And, later, he and his ex-boyfriend decided to adopt a family of dogs and bring them home. The media caught wind of all of this as well. “No one even knows I won a silver medal that year, it was all about the dogs,” he said. “It was a nice distraction from the competition, all I thought about was the dogs.” 

At his next Olympics in South Korea, Kenworthy partnered with the International Humane Society to bring attention to cruel dog meat farming practices. While touring one farm that was being shut down in a deal made with the animal rights organization, he witnessed a dog giving birth. To get a glimpse of Birdie, one of the puppies from that moment, who Kenworthy adopted, you can join the over one million followers of the athlete’s Instagram @guskenworthy

With so much under his belt, you’d think Kenworthy may be ready for a break, but he’s just getting started. He just completed the AIDS LifeCycle fundraiser – a bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles, which he plans to continue doing until he raises $1 million for the cause. And, not only is he training to qualify for the 2022 Winter Olympics, he’s also taking acting classes and will star on the next season of the hit show American Horror Story!   

The key words of advice Kenworthy had for Gap Inc. employees centered around being true to yourself. “I think I had the best season because I was living and competing authentically. Bringing your full self to work is so empowering. When you’re not, you’re hiding something. That takes energy away from what you’re trying to do or from your relationships. Live your truth, let your freak flag fly, be yourself – you’re going to be so much happier and productive, and it will be easier for people to connect with you and you with them...Write that down!”   

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