Now that Olympic swimmer Ian Thorpe’s coming-out interview has aired on Australian television, the reaction he’s receiving is overwhelmingly positive.
Thorpe, a gold, silver, and bronze medalist over the course of the 2000 and 2004 Olympics, has been rumored for years to be gay, but until now he has denied it.
In the interview with Sir Michael Parkinson, broadcast Sunday on Australia'’s Channel Ten (and you can see a clip below), the Aussie swimmer said, “I’m not straight. And this is only something that very recently, we’re talking in the past two weeks, I’ve been comfortable telling the closest people around me exactly that.”
He said he had wanted to come out for some time but feared the reaction. “What happened was I felt the lie had become so big that I didn’t want people to question my integrity,” he told Parkinson. “And, you know, a little bit of ego comes into this. I didn’t want people to question that ... have I lied about everything?” He added that he felt some shame about not coming out earlier.
Now, he said, “I’m comfortable saying I’m a gay man. And I don’t want young people to feel the same way that I did. You can grow up, you can be comfortable, and you can be gay.”
His parents, he said, “told me that they love me and they support me. And for young people out there, know that that’s usually what the answer is.”
He has received several public messages of support as well. “Ian and I grew up together. Obviously we went through our careers together and we raced a lot ... but at the end of the day ... who really cares?” said fellow Olympic swimmer Grant Hackett, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corp. “It’s 2014, I don’t think anybody’s really too concerned about his sexual orientation.”
Rodney Croome of Australian Marriage Equality said Thorpe’s coming-out sets a good example for young people. “They’ll see that he himself has gone through a struggle and come out the other side a happier and more comfortable man and that he’s being supported for what he’s said,” Croome said, according to the ABC report. “I think that will inspire other Australians, particularly young Australians, to come out as well. I think what Ian has done will save lives.”
Diver Matthew Mitcham, who came out in 2008, before he won gold in that year’s Olympics, said Thorpe’s coming-out is more significant given the level of his fame. “There is no precedent, not on this scale,” Mitcham said, according to The Sydney Morning Herald. He said he was not surprised that it took Thorpe a while to come out, as he became well-known at a very young age, when he was not prepared to deal with questions about his sexual orientation.
While many Twitter users posted supportive messages, some online commenters said Thorpe’s coming-out was either belated or no big deal. In a column on Australia’s Gay News Network site, Nic Holas defended Thorpe against the naysayers. “Yes, it would have been of greater impact if Thorpe won those gold medals as an out gay man,” he wrote. “Yes, coming out now at this point does send a message that being gay was something he had to suppress in order to succeed. Yes, there are braver things non-famous LGBTIQ do all the time that will receive no attention and most certainly no financial recompense. Is it still incredibly significant that our Greatest Olympic Athlete also happens to be gay? Yes, it is.”
Meanwhile, in a less positive story from Down Under, on a Saturday night sports talk show, sportscaster Brian Taylor called Australian football player Harry Taylor (apparently no relation) a “big poofter” because he gave the royal wave to the crowd after playing his 150th match. There was immediate outcry, and Brian Taylor has apologized and will undergo counseling. Gay Australian Rules footballer Jason Ball, however, called the apology as “a bit hollow” and “half-hearted at best,” ABC reports.