When the Miami Beach Gay Pride Parade takes over Ocean Drive Sunday, April 8, it'll mark the tenth anniversary of the event. The celebrity grand marshal who'll mark this milestone is Olympian and freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy, who competed in both the Sochi and Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. Kenworthy, who came out as gay in 2015 and is known as the first openly gay action sports athlete, will lead the loud and proud parade on Ocean Drive alongside ally grand marshal Roxanne Vargas.
Kenworthy, who won a silver medal in slopestyle at the Sochi Olympics and numerous medals at the X Games, has never been to Miami Beach. In fact, the 26-year-old has never set foot in Florida. “I’ve been dying to go. It’s going to be beautiful and warm," he says. "Pride is always a beautiful celebration. There are going to be beautiful guys there, and I’m eager to be part of it."
Kenworthy made international news at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, when a brief kiss with his boyfriend, theater actor Matthew Wilkas, went viral and was met with overwhelming support. On social media, Kenworthy wrote of the on-camera kiss: “Didn’t realize this moment was being filmed yesterday but I'm so happy that it was. My childhood self would never have dreamed of seeing a gay kiss on TV at the Olympics but for the first time ever a kid watching at home CAN! Love is love is love.”
He explains to New Times that the kiss was merely mundane to Wilkas and him, but he's glad it has made a positive impact on the global culture. “That kiss was so insignificant in the moment but so significant for what it stood for. It’s been amazing [because] there’s such a lack of [LGBTQIA] visibility and representation in the sport... I didn’t feel like I had a role model who was out, proud, and successful and in sport [when I was growing up]. I hope to be that for anybody else. I want to be the person I needed as a kid. It’s been incredible that it’s helped people,” he says.
“It’s hard for straight people and straight athletes to understand how difficult it is for people in the closet. There’s so much shame being gay until you get to point where you can embrace, love, and accept it and then it becomes the favorite part of yourself. All the years of hiding and being fearful and feeling ashamed, it’s important to be vocal about it now and help other people.”
But with supporters of the LGBTQIA community come the haters, including the Trump administration, which recently proposed a discriminatory categorial ban on transgender people planning to serve in the military. Kenworthy doesn't mince words: “The current administration is incredibly fucked... The administration has done things to repress the LGBT community." Though he's not trans, he says he takes the issue personally. "Whether or not a transgender ban affects me personally, it affects my community. If one person is attacked, the entire community has to have their back. We are a family and a minority, so we need to band together.”
He encourages activists to continue protesting and making their voices heard, and most of all, he encourages all those opposed to the current administration’s discriminatory policies to make their views known at the ballot box. “Vote. Register and vote... in the midterms and the next presidential election.”
Despite his strength and visibility now, Kenworthy acknowledges it was difficult for him as a gay youth to accept himself and come out. “I certainly had suicidal thoughts, anxiety, depression, and self-hate," he says. "It’s real, palpable, and brutal, but you get through it."
He offers a message of hope to those struggling. “Accept yourself, embrace it, then everyone else can accept it and love you too... I never want to tell people when or how to come out, but I encourage kids to find it within themselves to accept who they are and, if they feel comfortable, open up to a friend, teacher, or parent... I think that any young person having those fears needs to know that anyone else who has come out before and are now proud and happy has also had those same fears, anxieties, and feelings.”
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For LGBTQIA youth in crisis or feeling suicidal, the Trevor Project runs a 24/7 phone lifeline at 866-488-7386. The nonprofit also offers text and chat lines during certain hours.
Kenworthy says concentrating on the positivity has always helped him, even when bombarded with hateful comments on social media and elsewhere. “When people are saying fucked-up comments and horrible things, they want a reaction and to get a rise. Ignore it and focus on the positive.”
And it is that positivity that Kenworthy is looking forward to seeing at Miami Beach Pride this year. “I’m excited about seeing the love that's going to be there and the crowd. For me, one of my favorite parts of Pride is the parents that are there holding signs that say, 'I love my trans daughter' and 'I love my gay son.' It’s nice to see that love and support. It’s important for everyone to see that acceptance, support, and love.”
Miami Beach Gay Pride Parade 2018. Noon Sunday, April 8, on Ocean Drive, Miami Beach; miamibeachgaypride.com. Admission is free.