Two-time Olympic figure skater Johnny Weir is gearing up for a trip back to the next Winter Olympics — but he’ll take some time out of training next week to participate in Philadelphia’s first Winter Pride.
The out skater, a native of Coatesville who was raised in Lancaster County, said he’s looking forward to being back in the area.
“I couldn’t say no to supporting my home state and also to supporting my community, the LGBT community, in my home state,” Weir said about the Winter Pride invite. “This community is so important to me and to my family and everyone around me, so I jumped at the chance to perform at Penn’s Landing and help ring in what’s going to be a very, very good time for everybody.”
Weir, 28, made two trips to the Olympics and is a three-time U.S. National Champion and the 2008 World Bronze Medalist.
He acknowledged that he is gay in his 2011 memoir, but said his own acknowledgement of his sexuality was an organic one.
“I never lived in a closet so I didn’t have one to come out of,” he said. “My coming-out process wasn’t much of a process and I almost feel bad saying that because I know it can be torturous. My husband was in the closet until a few months before we were married. I just never had to officially come out to anyone, I was accepted as I was and that’s a beautiful way to grow up.”
But, Weir said he knows his experience was different than that of many LGBTs, which is why he’s eager to use his celebrity to affect change.
“Me being publicly out — I never really thought there was a purpose to that — but I think it’s helped people find the strength to be themselves,” he said. “There are kids I’ve met at performances and even in other countries — in Japan, in Russia — and I shouldn’t call them kids, they’re 18, 19, 20, but they told me how much empowerment they got from seeing an out Olympic athlete performing who’s proud and happy and good at something. There’s fear or rejection and losing your livelihood that keeps people in the closet, but that I’ve been able to do great things has helped a lot of people.”
Despite the acceptance he has experienced by fans and family, Weir said there are challenges for out figure skaters.
“We’re usually judged by people who are more than twice our age and in a different generation with a different philosophy. Then there often isn’t money or sponsorships in figure skating now for people who aren’t cookie-cutter, all-American; being gay doesn’t often go into what a big company is looking for. Figure skating is a beautiful sport but it’s not exactly supportive on all fronts, which definitely shocks people.”
Some LGBT athletes heading to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia have expressed concern that anti-LGBT sentiments in the country could color their experiences there, especially after organizers recently nixed the proposed Pride House for LGBT athletes.
But Weir said he has always seen a welcoming environment in the country.
“Figure skating is the most popular sport in Russia and I’ve been accepted like a superstar there,” he said. “It’s hard to say what LGBT athletes there have to deal with but, the same as with any country, you have to be smart; you don’t need to be caught making love in a metro, whether you’re gay or straight. And even in someplace like New York you could find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time and encounter someone who doesn’t like gay people. I’ve felt so secure in Russia and not oppressed at all; I wouldn’t be booed for being gay there, I’d be booed if I performed badly.”
Weir made his first Olympic appearance in 2006 and again four years later.
While the 2014 Games are still a year off, he’s already working toward a medal.
“My eyes are strongly focused on the Olympics next year, and I’m working very hard to pursue that dream of competing in my third Olympics and winning a medal,” he said. “Whether on the ice or in the gym, I’m constantly working on improving myself so that, even at 29 at the next Olympics, I’ll be just as strong as I was at my first.”
Once the Olympics are over, Weir said, he’s eager to continue his television career. He has served as a judge on two seasons of “Skating with the Stars,” guested on “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and starred in his own reality show, “Be Good Johnny Weir.”
He’s currently working on a treatment for a variety show he described as “where Sonny and Cher left off, with the humor of Jimmy Fallon, the news of ‘Dateline’ and the craziness of ‘SNL.’”
Weir and husband Victor Voronov plan to eventually have a child, he said, and he’s looking into writing a children’s book.
“I can’t wait to see what’s next. I hope I’m busy until I’m unable to walk anymore.”
Winter Pride runs from 6-8 p.m. Feb. 22 at Penn’s Landing. Organizers suggest arriving early, as the event will start promptly at 6. Weir will perform and receive the first-annual Winter Pride Award, and the Philadelphia Freedom Band will perform during the skating session. Free shuttles will run from a number of sponsoring bars in the Gayborhood, starting at 5:15 p.m. through 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $20, which includes two hours of skating and skate rentals. For more information, visit www.phillypride.org.