Gus Kenworthy got visibly emotional in a speech Monday as he recalled how being in the closet kept him from wholeheartedly enjoying much of his early success as an athlete.
At the Point Foundation’s 2019 New York gala, the Olympic freeskier said he was “truly humbled” to be receiving the organization’s Leadership Award in recognition of his advocacy work for LGBTQ youth. After being welcomed to the stage by “Queer Eye” star Jonathan Van Ness, Kenworthy looked back on the challenges he faced before embracing his authentic self.
“The adolescent years of a queer person’s life are not easy,” Kenworthy said. “They involve a great deal of stress and anxiety. We often face ridicule and we fear torment. My time spent in the closet is a blur of depression and anxiety.”
Noting that some of his biggest achievements as an athlete ― like winning his first Olympic medal at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia ― took place before he acknowledged his sexuality publicly, he added, “I remember not even being able to feel the gravity of that moment because I was so distracted trying to keep up a facade.”
After he came out in a 2015 ESPN interview, Kenworthy said, he noticed an immediate boost in his athletic performance.
“I was finally free from the shackles of my own mind,” he explained. “I hadn’t done anything, except for the fact that I was finally competing as myself.”
Also recognized during the evening was “Arrested Development” and “Search Party” star Alia Shawkat, who picked up the Point Foundation’s Horizon Award for taking on “a leadership role as an advocate for the LGBTQ community.”
Shawkat, who came out as bisexual in a 2017 Out magazine interview, called her journey to embracing her queer identity “a confusing metamorphose.”
“Now I meet younger people who carry themselves with the poise and the self-respect that I admire and I wish that I had at [their] age ― a place where self-acceptance is possible and believing in true love and healthy sexual partnerships are what is deserved,” she added.
The Point Foundation is billed as the nation’s largest scholarship-granting organization for LGBTQ students of merit. The organization, which has offices in New York and Los Angeles, aims to encourage those students to “achieve their full academic and leadership potential ― despite the obstacles often put before them” and “to make a significant impact on society.”