It's been a milestone Olympics for openly gay athletes

Posted at 8:56 AM, Feb 23, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-23 08:56:02-05

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (CNN) - Two members of Team USA are making history at the Winter Olympics for their athletic accomplishments and for opening up about their personal lives.

For the team's openly gay athletes, Pyeongchang 2018 will be defined not by medals, but milestones.

"Hopefully, it opens people's eyes and people's hearts and changes people's minds," said freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy.

Kenworthy made a public display of affection for his boyfriend this time that he was too scared to make after winning silver four years ago.

"There are so many people in different parts of the world that face jail time death, and the fact that this kiss was beamed into their television is incredible to me," he said.

Figure skater Adam Rippon made a political stand against Vice President Mike Pence, declining to meet with him at the games. The Vice president is a longtime opponent of gay rights.

"I could even get emotional thinking about it, but like I've gotten so many messages from young kids like all over the country that my story has resonated with them," Rippon said. "It's incredibly powerful."

Veteran sports journalist Christine Brennan has covered 18 Olympics. She said the games give athletes an unparalleled platform, with a rich history of cultural milestones.

"In 1968, you had the black power salute, and of course now we have Adam and Gus - openly gay athletes talking about their lives," Brennan said. "Fifty years from now, people will be looking back and talking about Adam and Gus."

Brennan remembered a time not too long ago when gay Olympians had little choice but to live secret lives.

"Several decades ago, athletes could never have risked coming out," she said. "They would have lost everything, sponsorship - would have you think Brian Boitano on the skating shows, all that he had that came out of those Olympic Games. All gone, if he had come out."

Brian Boitano won figure skating gold in 1988, and he waited 26 years to come out in 2014. Boitano was a member of President Barack Obama's delegation at the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

"I felt great about supporting the president's message because it was such a powerful statement, a powerful way to go into Sochi and it was a powerful time," Boitano said. "The focus on sexuality now, it's happening because it needs to happen to promote open mindedness from the public and more people. And once that happens, then hopefully people won't have to talk about sexuality as much anymore."

Out and proud Olympians are amplifying their voices on social media.

Kenworthy says many athletes are still hiding in the closet. He hopes to convince others there's no reason to hide anymore.

"Adam and I may be the first U.S. openly gay Winter Olympians, but we're definitely not going to be the last," he said.

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