Gay Pioneers on Ice
Patricia Nell Warren
Special to Outsports.com
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
The Autobiography of Rudy Galindo,
by Rudy Galindo and Eric Marcus (Pocket Books, 1998).
by Toller Cranston (McClelland & Stewart, 1997)
to Fancy Skating: Memoirs of the Life of Sonja Henie,
by Michael Kirby, introduction by Scott Hamilton (Pentland Press,
Tribute to Ronnie
Robertson, International Figure Skating, May-June 2000.
John Curry info
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.
complete Gays in Sports History archive
Feb. 18, 2004