Two Gay Athletes, Decades Apart: Divers Greg Louganis and Aaron Ach on Their Experiences | NowThis


I’m Greg Louganis. I’m almost 60. Oh my God. I can’t believe I’m turning 60. Yeah. Five five time Olympic medalist. New York Times best selling author, five weeks in a row, and I speak, activist for the LGBTQ community, and I’m still here. My name is Aaron. I’ve been a diver for eight years. I started just before I entered high school, and then over the last four years I’ve been a diver at Princeton. Back in the ’70s, ’80s, it really wasn’t too cool to be in sports & be gay. So there were a lot of closeted individuals. I didn’t feel comfortable— I mean I was close— I was out to friends and family, people that were close to me, but to be able to speak about it in public, that was that was kind of the stopper. I mean I had agents and managers who said you know you’ll lose endorsement contracts, you’ll never work again. So yeah, we had a long way to go at that time. Sometimes — we’re a small team. Diving is a small team. And we were traveling internationally, there was an issue of, ‘OK who’s gonna room with the fag?’ And you know, a lot of times I can look back now because there’s been some time and space and a lot of those divers that I used to dive against, I really don’t know how much of it was true homophobia. I think that very little was true homophobia, I think it was more jealousy because I was winning. I was winning at the time, so they thought, ‘well maybe we can get him this way.’ And so I really didn’t put a whole lot of stock of kind of the harsh words that were directed my direction. I really have, I obviously wasn’t living during that. I was born in 1997. I’m only 21 years old after all. But it is it’s just remarkable to me how much has changed since then. I know that people say that often but just to provide context. I was not— I had had people, I had had not just big figures like yourself, who had done it a number of years before I ever had to, but I had — there had been a couple of people even at my high school who had who had started blazing a trail well before and I think it’s so important to recognize how cumulative those effects are. Obviously sort of the marginal power of the first people, the first visible figures like yourself, whether that be as a gay man, or as an Olympic-level person who’s living with HIV, something that there are so many misperceptions about. Yeah, I mean, hearing those stories are incredibly important, but it just it provides it provides such a strong foundation that that people can keep building up higher and higher. My coach was an incredible ally of mine, and he was so supportive. Yeah, Ryan O’Brien. And he was incredible. And it’s important for, I think, the general populace. I mean we’re still the same people. You may have new information about us, but it really doesn’t change who we are at the core. And also it’s kind of a ripple effect, too. Because if they see other people, and they say, ‘Oh my god, they’re OK with it, then maybe I’m OK with it too.’ So it really does have a ripple effect. You know some some people might have these cement ideas in their heads. Realize, you know, just by being yourself, you know you can really affect so many people. It was interesting because like a lot of people ask ‘When did you come out?’ And that’s a hard question for me to answer, because I was out to my friends and family, people in USA Diving knew about my sexual identity. It was just my policy not to discuss my sexual identity with members of the media. Because and understandably so, I feel like everybody’s entitled to a personal life, and so I kept my personal life personal. But the divers and most people knew about my sexual identity. It’s just that the general public, [it] wasn’t out there in the media. I was really worried about telling my dad and brother. I didn’t necessarily have a reason to feel that way. My dad had always been an emotionally in-touch person, but I mean I think every gay kid, every gay boy, at least, has this this fear of telling their father, and I broke down in tears at the table but I’m so unbelievably fortunate that that my family threw their arms around me. And for any parents who see this, it is a process. There are a lot of questions that are unanswered in the moment, that a kid comes out to you or the entire family. And it’s it’s really scary but it gets so much easier, and it gets so much easier when love is present. So if there’s anything about my experience that I wish I could translate to other people it would be it would be that support from my family. And then so my diving coach was supportive and then fast forward a couple of months I was in the middle of— actually think that I had just finished recruiting. I had come to Princeton for my recruiting trip, fallen in love with the place and verbally committed, I had met other prospective gay teammates for the first time which was which was really important. I think, and just sort of feeling a part of a community. It wasn’t— once again it wasn’t at the forefront of every conversation we were having, it just was feeling like there was some air let out of the tires in my interactions with people. The one thing that was really transformative for me, as far as my journey into being more of an activist and identifying more as an activist, was when I did my book, ‘Breaking the Surface.’ I felt like I was sharing my weaknesses: That I was HIV positive, that I was a gay man, that I was dyslexic, that I suffered from depression, I was an abusive relationship. All of these things that I thought was sharing my weaknesses. But when I went on book tour, I realized by sharing my weaknesses I was actually sharing my strength, because I had people coming to me and saying you saved my life. People saying that I came out to my family about my sexual identity through your book. I came out to my family about my HIV status through your book. I was co-editor-in-chief of our high school of our our monthly high school newspaper, and I wrote a column from the perspective of a closeted gay athlete. Sort of calling for increased levels of intervention when there homophobic language used, and for a heightened conscientiousness when heteronormative language was being used in the classroom, and in the locker rooms, and stuff like that. And so I think that from an early time I had this intuition of how of how prominent a role culture — the cultures in which we were immersed affect our experiences. And that became very intertwined with my story. And then that I think that that definitely enabled me to to feel comfortable engaging and helping other people start to feel the same way, whether that’s in athletics, whether that’s in spaces that they don’t feel are particularly LGBT friendly. It just, it became it became part of my story. Such an important part of my time in athletics, and most manifest, I think, in the last year and a half has been my my role in restarting an organization, or a chapter of a national organization called Athlete Ally on Princeton’s campus. Sort of helping individuals and teams celebrate diversity & inclusion of LGBT players, coaches, etc. in athletics, so anyway I could not be happier to be here. Well I think the most important thing is speaking up and speaking out, and just allowing people to get to know you. The more we make it normal, the more casual that we can make it, I think it lessens the stigma. It really lessens the stigma. I mean, and that’s also, too, for myself personally is talking about my HIV status. Actually I think it was. Ji Wallace, who was the Olympic silver medalist in 2000. He saw me on an interview with Piers Morgan in London and Piers asked me about my HIV status. ‘Oh yea, I’m doing fine you know which my T cells have never been higher.’ And he heard us talking about it and was like, ‘Oh my God. If Greg can talk about it, I can talk about it.’ And so that’s when he came out about his HIV status. The amount of stress that alleviates from your life is really incredible. You know, that you don’t you have to hide anything from anybody, and that you can be who you are and share who you are. And we all have ups and downs. I mean we all good days, we all have bad days, but to be able to share ourselves entirely— you know, I even had one speaking agent that told me to tone down the ‘gay thing.’ And I’m like ‘Oh my God are you kidding me?’ And so you know there’s still some of that out there. Yeah there’s still some that out there. But, you know, you can choose to be a part of it or not. And I chose not to be a part of that. I am who I am. And thank you for being who you are. It’s such a remarkable moment for that right now. I think that the that the power that particular representatives have of the gay community and also with the wider LGBT community, it’s just — it’s enormous. And also, our sexual identity is such a small part of us, and we have so much more to offer. And you know we’re not just the labels that we give each other. So every person is so much more than whatever label— Black, white, green, whatever, gay, lesbian, bi, transgender— you know the one thing that was interesting in my journey is learning about the trans community. Because they’re so, so marginalized especially trans women of color, trans people of color. Just their journey, and each journey is different. It’s funny because like I do a lot of these events and I said, ‘Look I belong belong to the LGBTQ+ community, and I know a lot about the G in the ‘LGBT,’ but you know the rest the letters you know I had to do a lot of homework and research and talking to people and getting to know people. And that’s really key that we connect on a human level. And be empathetic to the challenges that each have.

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