Friday, August 14, 2015

How Coming Out Helped Olympian Mark Tewksbury To Win Gold

Last year, I reported on how the Canadian Museum for Human Rights included the true story of Chris Vogel and Richard North - the first gay couple in Canada to try to be legally married in 1974! Now this year we have another piece of gay history on display - Mark Tewksbury's gold medal from the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. Tewksbury, who was closeted at the time, had only told his coach Debbie Muir that he was gay. He didn't reveal publicly that he was gay until six years after his winning the gold medal (in the 100-metre backstroke) because he didn't feel safe.

To me, the most amazing thing about his coming out story is that by taking those first steps in accepting himself he reached outward and in doing so began to feel a little less alone. His coach Debbie Muir was fully supportive of him and that allowed Tewksbury to be empowered both as an athlete and as a man. He explains: "For my entire career, being gay had been a negative, a liability, and in that moment, I looked around the room — true story — and I thought to myself, 'What makes me different from these guys?' And I thought, 'I'm the fag!' In a great way. I owned it... And I was totally empowered and went out there, dropped 1.2 seconds off my personal best, out-touched Jeff [Rouse] and won that medal by 6/100 of a second. I've always said that for me, that medal is a human rights medal. It was done via a sporting event, but it was done because someone created space for me to be me."

Mark Tewksbury has been an advocate for LGBT athletes for many years. He was the Ambassador for the historic Pride House at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games.