Sports and gay athletes and sports fans: information on jocks, sports news and more. We encompass the sporting passions of gay and lesbian sports fans everywhere. Get news and post your opinion.


Visit the Outsports Store
Sport Sections
NFL  College F'ball
Gay Games
Women's Sports
Local Sections
View Member Profiles
Local Events
Local News
Local Teams & Leagues
Community Outreach
Featured Articles
From The Wire
Making A Difference
Out Athletes
Out on Campus
Regular Columnists
Week In Review
Tops & Bottoms
For the Eyes
Locker Rooms
Picture This
Other Sections
About Outsports
Gay Sports News
Outsports in the Media

Gay Pioneers on Ice

By Patricia Nell Warren
Special to

Recently, during the 2004 U.S. figure-skating championships, the networks aired some old footage. They couldn’t resist including that magic moment in 1996 when Rudy Galindo realized that he’d finally won the long-pursued U.S. gold medal. He’d been sitting tensely in the kiss-and-cry area, waiting for the judges’ scores. For nearly a decade Galindo had tried to crack the U.S. championships, never placing higher than fifth, sometimes falling as low as 11th. Many of his fans worried that Galindo would never nail the gold, no matter how well he skated. He was getting older, and he was now openly gay. According to The Enyclopedia of Figure Skating, “There was little doubt that [this] fact made some in the skating establishment nervous.”

But that night in 1996, Galindo had skated such a perfect and powerful “Swan Lake” program that many in the stadium had tears in their eyes. This time, as the audience came to its feet in a wild ovation, 7 of the 9 judges placed him first. Beaming with joy, Rudy hugged everybody in sight. It was not only a moving sports moment, but also a landmark moment for gay people. In 1996 the number of out American athletes in any sport could be counted on the fingers of one hand. The win made Galindo the first out U.S. figure-skating champion.

"I'm an openly gay trailer-trash Mexican,” Galindo grinned to the press. “How could they not love me?"   

Homophobia, American Style

Galindo was not the first figure skater to come out while still competing. Probably the first was John Curry of Great Britain, 1976 Olympic gold medalist, who first discussed his sexuality openly on his way to the 1976 Games. Next came Matthew Hall of Canada, 1989 Canadian bronze medalist, who came out in 1992. Nevertheless, after Galindo’s sensational win, one might think that more U.S. skaters would be inspired to step out. But to date only a couple more elite U.S. male figure skaters have openly identified themselves. As to possible lesbians on the ice, the women’s closet is evidently even deeper, darker and icier than the men’s closet. Galindo himself, asked about this by Gay People’s Chronicle, said, “People think that there are a lot of gay people in figure skating, but actually there are not -- there are hardly any at all.”

Whether GLBT skaters are many or few, the fact is -- U.S. figure skating suffers from a distinct kind of home-grown homophobia. Not only does the attitude infect the sport from within –- from some skaters, coaches, judges, fans and sponsors, but it also infects the sport from outside. Much of this outer homophobia comes from male sports fans who wouldn’t be caught dead at a figure-skating event. Some of these men hate figure skating the way Fred Phelps hates fags. Indeed, they believe that the sport is inherently an immoral pinko fairy pastime.

Looking through online sports blogs recently, I found some appallingly hateful statements about figure skating. Many flared online during the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. Typical was the rant of one blogger: “Speaking of filthy homos, this weekend's Olympic games are polluted by figure skating. Now, if you believe half of what classic literature tells us about the Greeks (and even believing half is difficult) they were a pretty queer bunch themselves. But they at least had contests that had something to do with athletics, such as javelin throwing, boxing, chariot races, and running. This figure skating crap is the biggest disgrace in the current perversion of athletic contests that the UN tries to pass off as ‘the Olympic games.’ … You Nancies already got your ‘Gay Games,’ please stop fagging up real athletics.”

Homophobia against figure skating has gotten so bad that male teen skaters face bullying if they let it be known that they’re involved in this sport. Witness the tribulations of 12-year-old Aaron Vays last year. Vays had already medaled in juniors, and aims at Olympic competition -- yet the bad guys at his school were assaulting him verbally and physically on a daily basis. Vays told the New York Post: “They say I'm a fag and a communist, that skating is for girls." His angry parents claimed the school did nothing to stop the violence, and they’re suing.

Rainbow Ice
is an important GLBT skating website created by Lorrie Kim. As of 1999, according to Rainbow Ice, 20 elite male skaters were definitely documented as gay. Half are Americans; the rest are from Canada, Great Britain and Europe. Yet in other countries, openly gay skaters don’t seem to encounter the same intensity of hate. Slovakia proclaimed its Olympic gold men’s-singles medalist Ondrej Nepela as its greatest athlete ever, and put his face on a postage stamp, following his death from AIDS. Canada has honored its 1987 world champion Brian Orser, who was outed by a partner’s palimony suit. Even in Great Britain, where Oscar Wilde was once thrown in prison for “buggery,” the establishment had no problem knighting openly gay John Curry, and choosing him to carry the British flag at the Olympic Games.

But the United States puts no political laurel wreaths on any gay skater’s head. How did things ever get so bad in our country? As with many other sports, it’s a long story.

he People’s Pastime

Once upon a time, ice skating seemed to have no problems with image or sexual orientation. Like cross-country skiing and bobsledding, ancient skating was invented by people living in northern latitudes. It was a way to get winter work and winter travel done. Archeologists find bone skates that date back to late Roman times. But the ancients thought skating was fun too. In the 12th century, an English clerk recorded that "many young men play upon the yce . . . Some tye bones to their feete, and under their heeles, … [they] doe slide as swiftlie as a birdie flyeth in the aire." By the 14th century, the Dutch were carrying skating to a new technical level, thanks to iron blades and their miles of frozen canals.

Ice skating's first link to anything sexually unorthodox began in the 1600s in England, during the reign of Charles II. The country had just thrown off the Puritan military dictatorship of Oliver Cromwell, and restored the pleasure-loving Catholic Stuarts to the throne. King James I, a previous Stuart, had been openly homosexual; the new king, Charles II, may not have been gay but his glitzy court encouraged all kinds of sexual liberties. While in exile in the Netherlands, Charles had learned ice-skating and brought it home as a new leisure fad. Skating clubs sprouted across Britain.

Gradually skating forked into two categories, with a sharp demographic line between them. There was ice hockey and speed skating, viewed as more lower class and "manly". “Manly” was code for “heterosexual” – a slur that had social intent, since upper-class families had the political power to shield their homosexual members from exposure and punishment. And there was "figure skating”, viewed as more genteel, artistic and effete. English-style figure skating challenged its practitioners to carve figure 8's and other elaborate patterns on the ice with their blades -- hence the name.

From Britain, ice sport leaped to colonial and Victorian America, and finally got competitive. Ladies could skate for fun, provided they were "lady-like" and did it in long smothering skirts, but they were barred from competing. By the Civil War in 1860, affluent Americans were crazy for figure skating. Their improved strap-on skates now had steel blades. At the Championships of America, male competitors were stiff, formal and unexpressive in their starched collars and tailored jackets and trousers. Arms were used only for balance. The skater was earth-bound -- a man’s blades barely left the ice.

Then, in 1863, came the defining moment in figure-skating history -- a moment that may have touched off the first anti-skating homophobia in the U.S.

An American Expatriate

Jackson Haines, born in 1840, was a well-to-do young New Yorker who studied ballet in Europe starting at age 10. There, ballet was solidly established. Educated Europeans were familiar with the traditional steps of male dancers – arabesques, jumps, turns, etc. But in 1857, when Haines returned to the U.S., ballet was almost unknown here. Many Americans viewed ballet with Puritan suspicion, considering it "foreign" and "immoral." Rumor had it that many European male ballet dancers were homosexual. And the rumors were true -- as far east as Czarist Russia, dance had become a haven for gay and bisexual performers.

In 1860, since Haines couldn’t get work as a dancer, he joined a New York skating club. During the 1863 Championships of America, the 23-year-old shocked everybody by turning figure skating into a performance. First, he created a musical accompaniment for himself by hiring an orchestra to play at rink-side. Instead of gentlemen's wear, Haines sported a stagey dance costume (with time he'd be seen in everything from Cossack dress to women's frocks and a bear suit). He went airborne with balletic jumps and leaping turns. He used his arms theatrically and expressively as in ballet port de bras.

In a word, Jackson Haines invented figure-skating as we know it today – performance, theme, music, costume, and dance-based moves that demand real athletic ability. To make it easier, Haines had redesigned his skates, screwing the blades permanently onto the high-laced boots.

Startled judges did award Haines the championship in 1863 and 1864. But the U.S. public and many in the skating establishment gave the young upstart a chilly reception. The nation was plunged in four years of horrible civil war, becoming deeper-dyed in militant Protestant religiosity than even in colonial times. Evidently many felt that Haines was bringing the foreign, indecent influence of ballet into a sport that they’d adopted as “American and manly.” Some spectators must have felt a moral gag reflex as they watched Haines do a ballet arabesque, sailing along swan-like on one skate with his arms spread wide. When he waltzed, they didn’t like it any better. The waltz, recently imported from Europe, was regarded as risqué even for heterosexuals.

In 1865, undaunted, the young man went back to Europe – like so many other American artists whose genius met hostility here at home.

Europeans welcomed him with open arms – especially in Austria. The Viennese were wild for waltzing. They were also wild for ice-skating -- in winter the frozen Danube River was crowded with skaters. To the music of Strauss, Haines showed the Viennese how to put waltzing and skating together. His “waltz jump” was a half-turn in the air, possibly based on the ballet tour jeté. Shortly Haines was running a Viennese skating school that would spearhead development of “International Style figure skating.” Three of Haines' successors -- Ulrich Salchow of Sweden, Tomas Lutz of Italy, Axel Paulsen of Norway -- went on to create more athletically demanding jumps. The salchow, lutz and axel are still basic elements of any figure-skating program today.

Haines spent the next decade traveling the Continent to perform, teach and inspire. By then it was possible to ice-skate in summer -- the first indoor artificial-ice rinks were popping up across Europe. Around 1878, Haines, now 38, visited St. Petersburg. This Russian capital was fertile ground for him – it was home to the greatest of ballets, the Kirov, founded in 1738. The city also loved English-style figure skating, which the Czar’s family had learned through their family ties with Queen Victoria. Every December, when the court adjourned from Moscow to St. Petersburg, they celebrated the Balagani, a glittering Winter Festival in which everybody skated en masse on the frozen canals. By imperial invitation Haines performed at the Winter Festival, and his “ballet on ice” was a hit.

From St. Petersburg, early in 1879, Haines started by sleigh for Stockholm. On the road, he came down with pneumonia, and died in Finland. The Finns lovingly buried him under a tombstone reading "The American Skating King."

Was he gay? We can only speculate, though some details of his story do set off a person’s gaydar today. Whatever his sexual orientation, Jackson Haines was to have a powerful and problematical influence on the future of figure skating.

Olympic Destiny

Homophobes may feel that figure skating isn’t “real” sport – yet it had a rendezvous with Olympic destiny.

When the Olympic movement was launched in the 1890s, some of its most powerful supporters were European aristocrats who saw figure skating as sport and evidently had no moralistic objections to it. In 1896 St. Petersburg hosted the first world figure-skating championship, celebrating “Vienna style.” By 1900, figure skating was already part of the Summer Games, then shifted to the separate Winter in 1924, along with bobsledding, Nordic skiing, speed skating and ice hockey. From the beginning, elements of Haines’ "International style" were the basis for Olympic competition. If Americans wanted to get figure-skating gold, they had to swallow their prejudice and do those "unmanly" ballet jumps.

By then, women were allowed to compete. At the 1920 Olympics, Theresa Weld of Austria nailed the first women’s single salchow -- wearing the long skirt, of course. As punishment for doing a jump, she was roundly scolded by officials and told she was "unladylike” -- a veiled way of calling her a lesbian.

Despite these pressures, women began dominating the sport. In 1928 a blonde 13-year-old Norwegian girl named Sonja Henie won the first of her three Olympic gold medals. Henie electrified audiences and judges alike when she swooped onto the ice in tights and a little skirt that only came to mid-thigh. The short skirt freed her to do jumps and spins that hadn’t been possible for women before -- she was a remarkable spinner. Like Jackson Haines, she had ballet training. Conservative sportspeople went into shock all over again.

Henie became so glamorous, so world-famous -- both in her competitive years and later, as a movie star and touring performer with her own Hollywood Ice Revue -- that she single-handedly established figure-skating as big-time entertainment. She also virtually eclipsed a couple of generations of elite male skaters. Some of these men, following their amateur careers, went professional and skated in her show … but always in her shadow. This fact prompted misogynist sports fans to start dismissing figure skating as “a girlie sport." According to their logic, any man who excelled in a girl’s sport had to be a homosexual.

To counteract the “sissy ballet image,” figure-skating began enforcing strict gender stereotypes. White skates for women, and black skates for men. Skirts and glitter for women, and trousers (never tights) for men. Spirals and layback spins are required elements for women, but not for men. Arabesques and spins were more customarily done by women, while big jumps were more monopolized by the men. Gender stereotypes, in turn, were supposed to assure everyone that all was well on the sexual-orientation front. Female skaters, especially, were put under more crushing pressure than women in some other sports – to win, they had to look “beautiful” “feminine” “graceful” (read heterosexual).

Not till after World War II did male skaters recapture the limelight, when the great Dick Button landed the first double axel at the 1948 Olympics. Button and his contemporaries skated in waistcoats and black tie, or uniform-like outfits that made them look curiously like bellhops. While Button pioneered a new era of athleticism in male figure skating, women were still discouraged from any “unseemly” display of this nature.

The Russians Are Coming

Postwar international competition was deeply impacted by the Cold War. The U.S. government felt it was just as important for our figure-skaters to beat the “commies" as it was for our track stars to beat the "commies.” Ironically, when Soviet competitors first appeared at the Winter Olympics in the early 50s, they brought a new blast of Jackson Haines ballet magic with them.

After the Bolshevik Revolution, both ballet and figure skating had survived the carnage to become hallowed institutions in the USSR. While communist society was officially unfriendly to homosexuality (they considered it “Western decadence”), the tradition of a closeted tolerance for gay or bi male ballet dancers – Nijinsky, Nureyev and others – had also survived.

Now, in the 1950s, Soviet skaters and coaches arrived at the Olympics with a strong ballet background – some had actually trained at the Kirov. It gave them an edge on endurance in the long program, plus greater ability to nail jumps and other technical elements. They astounded fans with the “Russian split jump,” which was ballet’s grand jeté on skates – a big dramatic leap high and forward with legs split wide. They were unabashed about flamboyant costume. Men wore the kind of thing that was routine for ballet stars back home, complete with ruffled shirts, tights and glitter that American male skaters wouldn’t be caught dead in. The Soviets were more ballet-theatrical in their movements, especially with the arms. And they shunned the kind of pop tunes dating back to Sonja Henie’s era, relying heavily on ballet scores and other classics for their skating programs.

Many Americans had heard rumors about those gay Russian ballet dancers. To homophobic fans, it was very simple: if a male figure skater wore ruffles and did arabesques, or if he did lyrical things in the air with his arms, he had to be gay. Why couldn't the Russians skate "like real men"?

Through the 1950s, the U.S. did manage to hold its own against the Soviet invasion, thanks to Olympic wins by Dick Button, Ronnie Robertson and David Jenkins. But the Soviets were tenacious competitors, and by 1964, ballet scored its first Soviet victory on the ice. The Russian pair, Lyudmila Belousova and Oleg Protopopov, won the first Soviet skating gold ever, with a pairs program that screamed Kirov. By 1990, the USSR collapsed and support crumbled for the Soviet skating program, prompting a number of top skaters and coaches to flee to North America to train. The ‘90s was when they really hit their stride. From then till recently, ballet-influenced male skaters from the former USSR have dominated the top of the Olympic and World singles podium, with Viktor Petrenko
, Aleksey
Urmanov, Ilya Kulik, Aleksey Yagudin and Yevgeniy Plushenko sweeping American men before them.

It was enough to make a Philly hockey fan cry in his beer.

Inevitably the pendulum swung back again. In 1988 Canada’s Kurt Browning nailed the first quadruple jump in actual competition. Browning went on to carve a large history of powerhouse jumping, helping to re-establish male figure skating in the public mind as technically “athletic.” For costume Browning and some other skaters went to regular guy gear -- men’s slacks, topped off by turtlenecks or white shirts and ties. If they danced on ice, it was jazz or swing or rock. Elvis Stojko's program in black leather, and his aggressive style that incorporated karate moves, set a hetero benchmark. So did Philippe Candeloro's Mel-Gibson-hero programs, complete with exhibitions of his bare chest. U.S. star Scott Hamilton expressed some negative opinions about gay skaters.

Meanwhile, there was irony. Now and then the ruffled Russian juggernaut -- whether it included any closet gay men or not -- rolled over the top of for-real gay skaters like John Curry and Brian Orser.

Gay Pioneers

One phenomenal American gay pioneer on the ice was Ronnie Robertson. Among the earliest names on Kim’s list, he first made his mark in the mid-1950s and had a long career.

The Fifties were an era calculated to make gay people stay so deep in hiding that one had to speak of dungeons, not closets. The McCarthy hearings in the U.S. Senate left the country quivering with suspicion that the entertainment industry was full of pinko faggot spies. Some American writers and artists followed the well-worn route that Jackson Haines took, fleeing to Europe to escape persecution. There was no civil-rights movement yet, for blacks or women or gays or anybody else.

In the middle of this paranoia, a 13-year-old gay teen named Ronnie Robertson was quietly training for the Olympics. Starting in 1951, Ronnie was coached by Michael Kirby, a well-known performer who was partnering with Sonja Henie. Kirby knew his handsome young protégé was gay. As Kirby tells it in his recent autobiography, he had mixed feelings. Though impressed by the kid’s talent, Kirby was fighting with memories of being molested by a priest when he himself was a boy, so he had strong religious objections to homosexuality. Coach Kirby says he knew there were other “homosexual boys” (as he called them) in skating. He tried to keep Ronnie away from them. One night he caught Robertson at a gay party in a hotel room. He punched one of the partygoers and knocked out the man’s front teeth, then dragged his pupil off.

Though Ronnie’s orientation was quietly known to the skating establishment, he went on – at age 18 -- to capture the silver in men’s singles at the 1956 Olympics. Plus he took four more silvers in the U.S. and world championships through the mid-1950s. He was considered a brilliant jumper. Following in the Dick Button tradition, he landed the first triple salchow, and it’s said that he did some of the first-ever quadruple jumps in training. Last but not least, Robertson took spinning to a place where experts say no one has taken this element before or since. This was brave of him – thanks to Sonja Henie, judges and fans now associated spinning with “femininity.”

One skater writes: “Great spinning is the most difficult part of figure skating. It's also the most beautiful and unique part of skating that has no equal in art or sport.” History’s first spins had been done by Jackson Haines. Old photos show Haines in Cossack costume, and it’s possible that he borrowed his first sit-spins from the squats in Cossack dances. With time, other skaters created a varied repertory of spins. Dick Button was first to do a “flying camel” by jumping into a spin. Ronnie was coached in spinning by Gus Lussi, who also helped Button create the flying camel.

Technically, Robertson’s specialty was known as the “blur spin.” He evidently trained himself to keep a tight focus and ignore any sensation of dizziness, so his blades didn’t “travel” off that pinpoint center on the ice where he was spinning. And he did literally blur before the crowd’s eyes, almost disappearing. Nobody could figure out how he did it. It made him a sideshow curiosity. The “Ed Sullivan Show” invited him to demonstrate that he could spin faster than a ceiling fan. NASA studied his spin, so they could teach astronauts how to ignore weightlessness.

When Robertson finally left amateur competition and went to work in the ice shows, he was still a big entertainment draw. In an unfortunate kind of way, his spinning celebrity made many Americans forgot the complete artist that he was. Till 1979 Ronnie performed in “Ice Capades, “Holiday on Ice” and the Knotts Berry Farm Ice Show before becoming one of several respected skating teachers and coaches whose gayness was quietly known to some.

After Ronnie’s departure from competition, a curious thing happened. Spinning stopped being an element that got high technical marks from judges. Some commentators say this happened because nobody could spin like Robertson. I suspect, however, that the skating establishment was now wary of spinning because they associated it with a skater that they knew was gay. With little scoring advantage to be gotten from this element, many male skaters shunned all but the more stereotypically “macho” spins like the camel. In the 1970s and '80s, women reaffirmed their spinning mastery when Swiss skater Denise Biellmann invented the catch-foot spin. Her body was so limber that she could pull one foot up behind her head while spinning on her other foot. The Biellmann became a signature spin for women.

By 2000 the 62-year-old Ronnie Robertson was still teaching at the Irvine, Calif., Ice Arena and making annual trips to Hong Kong to coach Chinese skaters. He died in February that year.

After his death, Robertson was finally outed by his former coach’s book. Kirby was so bent on discussing the gay thing that he didn’t mention Robertson’s array of silver medals. Fortunately, the rest of the skating establishment were more forthcoming about Robertson’s achievements. International Figure Skating inked a tribute. The U.S. Hall of Fame and World Hall of Fame put his name in bronze. Scott Hamilton, to his credit, began speaking out with more understanding of his fellow gay skaters.

Meanwhile, through the '70s, '80s and '90s, as the gay-rights movement grew in the U.S. and abroad, there was a spate of elite gay skaters into the sport. Notable among them: John Curry of Great Britain.

Born in 1939, Curry was like the boy in the movie Billy Elliott -- his father vehemently vetoed ballet lessons. But skating lessons were cool. Little did Dad suspect that skating would loop his son back to ballet! Curry developed into a powerfully elegant, lyrical skater, dubbed “Nureyev of the ice” for his balletic style. Though he could land big jumps, some judges dismissed him as “too feminine” overall. Nevertheless in 1976, Curry put his neck on the line and came out at a London press event. The sky didn’t fall, and he finally sold his style to the judges. First he won the British championships, then raced on to sweep the golds at the European championships, the Olympic Games and the World Championships. He was even named England's sporting personality of the year, and the British government knighted him. 1976 was the Year of John Curry.

After leaving competition, Curry went on to have a deep and lasting influence on the sport through cutting-edge coaching, choreography and event production. In 1994, aged 44, he died of an AIDS-related heart attack.

Along the way, some powerful love relationships developed in this expanding network of gay skaters. For years Robert Wagenhoffer, winner of the short program over Scott Hamilton at the 1982 U.S. Nationals, was partners with Billy Lawe, 1984 U.S. junior men's champion. After Lawe died of AIDS, Wagenhoffer was in a relationship with Canadian skater Sylvain Beauregard before the former too finally died of AIDS. In his autobiography Zero Tollerance, the mercurial Toller Cranston of Canada, who was 1976 Olympic bronze medalist, tells of a brief thing with 1972 Olympic gold medalist Ondrej Nepala. There were powerful friendships too. Brian Orser was lifelong best friends with ice-dancer Rob McCall, Olympic medalist and choreographer. McCall died of AIDS in 1991.

Changes Happening Today

Today, thanks to television, figure skating is more popular than ever. Writing in Goblin Magazine, John Randall says: “Figure skating is the number two spectator sport in the U.S., behind only NFL Football. A very old, somewhat prim sport has erupted into being the People's rock, opera, ballet, and vaudeville, all in one.” Mentioning Rudy Galindo, Randall described figure skating as “an obvious Flaming-pink-neon-arrows-going-dit-dit-dit-here-he-is-get-over-it-Mary closet.”

The U.S. public still sees it as a sport where women rule, thanks to the glamorizing of Michelle Kwan and other women champions. Media still gush about “beauty and grace” of female skaters in a way they’d never dare to do about men. The Encyclopdia of Figure Skating cover shows Tara Lipinsky doing – guess what – a layback spin. And the skating establishment is still cautious about the gay thing. Not a single elite-level woman skater has come out yet. When Washington Post reporter Christine Brennan published her book Inside Edge and talked openly of the AIDS deaths in figure skating, she made enemies of many in the sport.

Yet there is some cautious relaxation. Rudy Galindo’s winning “Swan Lake” has helped ensure that Russian ballet stays part of the U.S. landscape. Cross-fertilization is happening -- American men might choose over-the-top costumes and classical or “art” music, while Russian men might skate to jazz in white shirts and ties, and still beat the pants off Americans. Scott Hamilton has been seen on the ice in (gasp) tights. There’s some discussion that spinning should be scored higher. Some new American male talents are breaking ground that is strongly “artistic” (still a code word for “feminine” and “gay”). Now and then a macho skater has the courage to do an arabesque or spiral or Biellmann spin. Well-known coach Jeffrey Nolt (who is also openly gay) pooh-poohs the notion that a skater’s masculinity is automatically compromised by such moves.

"You like girls?” Nolt says. “Pointing your toe is not suddenly going to reverse that.”

Dick Button, now an influential commentator, has helped soften the atmosphere. The first time that Rudy Galindo skated a program with an openly gay theme, Button had no problem telling millions of TV viewers that Rudy was wearing the rainbow flag of gay liberation. The gutsy Galindo still holds his own, recovering from hip surgery and planning more tours with “Champions on Ice,” where he’s always a big crowd favorite. Yes, there’s hope.

Meanwhile, it’s important to note how many men on the Rainbow Ice list are Hall of Famers – how many won Olympic medals, U.S. championships and world championships – how many brought innovations to the sport. Figure skating may not be the “fag sport” that some believe it is – but it is a sport where competitors, coaches, fans, sponsors, media, officials and producers have all benefited from gay male pioneering.

Hopefully, someday soon, that other heavily iced closet door will thaw open, and we can learn what our women have given to this wonderful sport as well.

Further reading: 

Icebreaker: The Autobiography of Rudy Galindo, by Rudy Galindo and Eric Marcus (Pocket Books, 1998).

Zero Tollerance, by Toller Cranston (McClelland & Stewart, 1997)

Figure Skating to Fancy Skating: Memoirs of the Life of Sonja Henie, by Michael Kirby, introduction by Scott Hamilton (Pentland Press, 2000).

Tribute to Ronnie Robertson, International Figure Skating, May-June 2000.

Lorrie Kim’s Rainbow Ice at

Interview with Rudy Galindo in at

Jackson Haines info at

Ronnie Robertson info at and

John Curry info at and

Lorrie Kim interview with Jeffrey Nolt on “virility vs. femininity” at  

Patricia Nell Warren, author of The Front Runner and other bestsellers with a sports background, admits that she can’t even stand up on ice skates. But she never misses a figure-skating event on TV. She lives in Los Angeles and has written previously about the Cold War and its effect on GLBT sports (“Gender Testing at the Olympics.” Find her editorials and articles at Email her at

Copyright (c) 2004by Patricia Nell Warren.  All rights reserved.

Patricia's complete Gays in Sports History archive

Feb. 18, 2004

Sports and gay athletes and sports fans: information on jocks, sports news and more. We encompass the sporting passions of gay and lesbian sports fans everywhere. Get news and post your opinion.