Sass On Ice: Catching up with Olympic Figure Skater Johnny Weir

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February 9, 2018
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Photo by: Getty/Deborah Feingold
Johnny Weir

The following is from the Winter 2018 issue of Lambda Legal's Impact magazineBecome a Lambda Legal member to become a subscriber!

About a decade ago, Johnny Weir was the talk of competitive figure skating, not only for prize-winning turns in national and world competitions but for his glitzy, fur-trimmed costumes and outspoken sass. He didn’t flat-out say he was gay until 2011.

But the disclosure proved provocative when, in 2014, NBC paired him with fellow skater Tara Lipinski to announce figure skating for that year’s Winter Olympics in Russia — just a year after the country had passed a globally controversially law banning “gay propaganda.”

(Weir got flack for not boycotting the games but insisted that his very presence there was a strong pro-LGBT statement.)

At this winter’s games (Feb 9-25) in PyeongChang, South Korea, Weir will once again team with his “bestie” Lipinski to call the primetime figure skating competition.

He talked with Lambda Legal's Impact magazine about his fashion, his attempts to remain apolitical in tense times and his feelings about openly gay Olympic heartthrob Gus Kenworthy.

You’re always traveling for appearances and skating shows. Where are you today? I’m home in the greater Philadelphia area where I grew up, doing all of my real-life stuff. I start every day with Pilates. In my sport, your body has to be small up top and larger on the bottom, to maintain your center of gravity when you’re jumping or rotating. Pilates helps me do that. Plus, it doesn’t bore me. Then I have a dermatology appointment and a hair appointment.

All your outfits on Instagram are so incredible. What are you wearing today? Leggings, a cashmere sweater, a big fur and an Hermès Kelly bag.

So you’re sticking to the fur despite flack you’ve gotten from animal-rights activists? They would’ve had a better chance of getting me to go fur-free had they not threatened my life. And I buy a lot of vintage fur and try to avoid the Asian fur farms, where most of those horrible videos are shot. So we can end this conversation.

Fair enough! So are you and Tara really besties? She lives in California, so we’re separated a lot, but when we’re working together, we have adjoining hotel rooms. I was a bridesman in her wedding. We talk every day and we have a podcast together. She’s the only other person who understands my life because she has a similar one.

You’re a longtime Russophile. How do you feel about Russia being officially excluded from this year’s Winter Olympics because of their doping scandal? Russian athletes who’ve been cleared of doping charges will still be able to compete under the neutral OAR (Olympic Athlete from Russia) flag. It’s a huge success for the Olympics that such drastic measures were taken against state-sponsored doping. But it’s sad that Russian athletes can’t compete under their own flag.

“We have to find a way to fight through this,” he says of the political climate. “The best thing I can do as a public figure is just to be myself—to be gay.”

Five years ago, Russia was passing laws against LGBT people, and now here in the U.S. we have an administration that’s targeting them, trying to ban transgender people from the military, taking the side of the baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple and aiming to stack the courts with anti-LGBT judges. I’m no fan of this administration. Did I think about other countries where I could get passports after Trump was elected? Certainly. But I’m proud to be an American and I’m here for the long run.

Have you become more outspoken about LGBT rights? I choose not to be a political person. My goal is to work hard and live my happiest life. But I’ll admit that when you’re living in a country that is discriminating against not just LGBT people but women and African Americans, it’s hard to keep your nose down. We have to find a way to fight through this. The best thing I can do as a public figure is just to be myself— to be gay.

Have you seen I, Tonya, the new movie about former Olympic skater Tonya Harding, who was involved in the attack on fellow skater Nancy Kerrigan? No. I’m good friends with Nancy, so I don’t think I want to support Tonya Harding. She hurt my friend.

Recently, you tweeted a rebuke to an ESPN writer who said that figure skaters should wear uniforms, not costumes, to be taken more seriously. Figure skating is part theatrics, part sport. I challenge any athlete from any sport to do what I do and not cry. It is so demanding on your body.

So what bothered me about that article is that he said that figure skating wasn’t a sport. It’s been in the Olympics since 1908 and it’s earned its due. And we shouldn’t wear uniforms. Part of the sport is about choosing the music, the costume, developing a character.

So now we have free-skier Gus Kenworthy poised to become the first openly gay person to compete in the Winter Olympics. Do you wish that that had been you back in 2010? I understand that being gay is an identity for a lot of people. As for me, I was born white, gay and male, but my whole life has been centered around trying to succeed apart from those things. I want to be a great skater, an entertainer and a good person.

So I don’t care who was the first or who will be the last, but I care that the Olympics give an equal chance to everyone who wants an opportunity to compete.