Fresh from his second Olympics — and his first after coming out as gay — freeskier Gus Kenworthy is opening up about his boyfriend, the intolerance he’s faced and what it means to be public about his sexuality.
“It’s more important than ever to have representation and visibility because it will inspire the next generation,” Kenworthy, 26, tells the U.K.’s Gay Times in its latest cover story.
“Being gay isn’t the only part of me,” he says, “but it’s the best part of me and it’s one of my favorite parts of me.”
In addition to the interview, the Olympic medalist stripped down for an accompanying photoshoot for the Gay Times, baring his chest (and arms and legs).
“Every out person, even if it’s in regular daily life, inspires someone else, whether they know it or not, and it’s especially true in sport and movies and music,” Kenworthy says. “In any place where people are given a platform and are in the public eye, I think it’s important for them to be out and proud.”
At the 2014 Winter Olympics, in Russia, Kenworthy was one of three American men to sweep the podium in freestyle skiing, where he earned silver. Though his boyfriend at the time was with him at the Games, he was still closeted.
The next fall, Kenworthy announced he was gay in ESPN the Magazine and returned to the Winter Olympics last month one of only two openly gay men on Team USA. He made fast friends with the other, figure skater Adam Rippon.
“I love the guy,” Kenworthy previously told PEOPLE of bonding with Rippon. “I think he’s hilarious, I think he’s so sweet, so charming.”
Joining him in Korea was his boyfriend of about two-and-a-half-years, Matthew Wilkas.
Speaking broadly about romance, Kenworthy tells the Gay Times, “It’s important to remind people that there is no one way to have a relationship. Each and every relationship is special and unique and different and what works for one couple may not work for another, but it should be noted that gay relationships are just different than straight relationships.”
“Commitment and monogamy are not necessarily the same thing,” he says. “You can be completely devoted to someone, married even, and still be in a relationship that’s open.”
While Kenworthy says this may not be the best fit for “every gay couple,” “If there’s trust and respect — the two most important things in any relationship — then being open can be mutually beneficial for both people involved and can actually, in many ways, make for a stronger, more developed relationship.”
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While Kenworthy failed to medal in South Korea in February, he made headlines when NBC aired a quick pre-competition kiss between him and Wilkas.
The moment earned plaudits — and backlash, Kenworthy says.
“It sucks. We got a lot of negativity going into the Games just because of being open about who we are,” he tells the Gay Times. “Then I shared a kiss with my boyfriend. I didn’t know it was being filmed but some people were like, ‘Why are you shoving it in our faces?’ We’re not doing that at all, we’re just existing.”
He notes: “If a hockey player kissed his wife after a game, there’d be no comments about it or it’d be ‘such a cute moment.’ But because we’re two guys, while a lot of people were saying, ‘That was a cute moment,’ or, ‘That was an important moment.’ There were others going, ‘We don’t need to see that.’ ”
It’s not the only time Kenworthy says he faced homophobia during these Games.
“It takes my entire mental strength not to respond to all the comments. So many times there are things on YouTube, Instagram or Twitter going, ‘Why were you even at the Olympics? You got last f—— place. You’re a joke, you’re a f—–,’ ” he tells the Gay Times.
But he has a succinct response to the detractors.
“I got into the [freeskiing] finals, so that’s not coming last because you have to beat a lot of people to get there, and it’s the Olympics, the f—— pinnacle of sport that’s hard to make it into. They’re like, ‘I could have done better than that,’ and my thoughts are: ‘Cool, f—— do it then.’ ”
The latest issue of Gay Times hits newsstands Wednesday, and is also available to buy online.