Timothy LeDuc becomes the first openly non-binary person to compete in the Winter Olympics.
“Sports need to be inclusive.” “Sports need to be fair.” “There are already physical differences amongst cis athletes.” “Where do we draw the line?”
The arguments around trans and nonbinary athletes in sports, especially at the elite level, have raged unchecked over the last few years, and we still don’t seem to have a solution that pleases everyone. As people in the LGBTQ+ community have fought painstakingly for their rights over the past few years, sports remains a space where many LGBTQ+ people don’t feel comfortable being completely themselves.
The fight for LGBTQ+ participation in sports is still in its early stages. Just four years ago, at the 2018 games in PyeongChang, figure skater Adam Rippon and freestyle skater Gus Kenworthy became the first openly gay American men to compete in the Winter Olympics. In the 2021 Tokyo Olympics a few more strides were made as several athletes identifying as transgender and nonbinary competed. These included New Zealand’s Laurel Hubbard, a weightlifter who became first openly transgender woman to compete in the Olympics; Quinn, a nonbinary soccer player who competed for Canada’s women’s soccer team; and Alana Smith, a nonbinary skateboarder from the United States.
Given these transgender and nonbinary athletes are still breaking new ground, it is unsurprising that Timothy LeDuc has had to overcome years of established norms in order to carve themself out a place in the Olympics. They and their partner, Ashley Cain-Gribble spoke to several news sources about the ways the pair have been breaking barriers, even before qualifying for the Olympics. Timothy explained that they didn’t quite fit in due to being openly gay and later coming out as nonbinary. Cain-Gribble stood out for different reasons—she is significantly taller than most women’s pairs skaters and was body shamed, almost to the point of quitting the sport altogether. Ashley Cain-Gribble spoke to CNN about the difficulties they’ve faced. “For a long time, people had things to say about us. Even when we teamed up, they had a lot of things to say about my body, or about Timothy’s sexuality. People will still make those comments.”
But despite all the outside criticism and hate they’ve received, the pair has decided to push forward in authenticity, which Cain-Gribble also spoke about in her interview with CNN. “I think for us, it’s about leading with authenticity, being our true selves out there and creating a very inclusive environment.”
That inclusive environment she refers to includes breaking countless age-old traditions in the skating community. Instead of the typical dress, Cain-Gribble often competes in a unitard. And instead of wearing something less eye-catching than their female partner, LeDuc often wears similar colors and patterns to their partner.
The pair is also changing up the narrative on the ice. LeDuc told CNN that they are trying to break away from the traditional love stories told in pairs programs. “The girl is very fragile, or she is kind of the flower, the man comes in to save the woman, or it’s a romantic Romeo and Juliet story that’s often told. There’s nothing inherently wrong with those stories, but often they’re centralized and seen as the only narratives that you can portray, the only story that’s worthy of being a champion or being successful,” LeDuc said.
“Ashley and I are just different in that way; we’ve never done a romantic story and we’ve never been a romantic pair. We’ve always been about equality and showing two amazing athletes coming together to create something beautiful,” they continued.
As LeDuc and their partner look to the future, they hope to inspire and empower other athletes to be open and themselves, even if that means going against the grain. “Hopefully … people watching us can feel like they can lead with authenticity, that they don’t feel like they have to change things about themselves in order to reach their success in sport and to chase their dreams,” LeDuc said. “Ashley and I have both had to forge our own paths in order to find our success. And we did that being authentically ourselves and leading with what makes us different and unique.”
In response to the increased press and excitement LeDuc and Cain-Gribble are experiencing, LeDuc still deflected the spotlight and voiced their hopes for the LGBTQ+ community as a whole. “It’s really exciting, but I hope that the narrative does not center around me and my journey and my accomplishments but that the narrative switches to queer people having the opportunity to be open and be authentic to themselves and everything that makes them unique and still achieve in sport,” LeDuc said after being named to Olympic team. “So often queer people have to adjust themselves and sacrifice authenticity to achieve success.”