COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- For eight-time Paralympian and two-time Paralympic champion Allison Jones, being an athlete was one of the most central parts of her identity growing up.
“I got into sports just by being competitive. At a young age, even with my disability, I was outside learning how to ride bikes, learning to roller skate, climbing trees,” Jones said. “I started skiing when I was 5 years old and started racing when I was 8.”
So it was for other members of the LGBTQ community in the Olympic and Paralympic movements, like four-time Olympic women’s ice hockey medalist Julie Chu, gymnast Josh Dixon and triathlete and duathlete Chris Mosier.
At the beginning of June — a month dedicated to LGBTQ pride in the United States in commemoration of the 1969 Stonewall riots — Chu, Dixon, Jones and Mosier shared their stories on a panel at the Finding Leaders Among Minorities Everywhere (FLAME) program in Colorado Springs. Moderated by former NFL player Wade Davis, the panel explored athletes’ experiences in gender and sexual identity and the role it played in their athletic careers.
For Chu, Dixon and Jones, supportive and open-minded teammates helped them think through questions of their identities.
“The acceptance and openness that the girls had for the players on the team that were gay was great, and even the coaching staff [was accepting],” Chu, who spent 15 years on the U.S. women’s national ice hockey team, said. “I think having that environment was really critical for me to be able to understand that it was okay.”
Chu went public with her relationship with Canadian ice hockey player and four-time Olympic champion Caroline Ouellette in November of 2017, when the couple announced the birth of their daughter Liv. While they were playing, the pair intended to keep the focus on their teams’ efforts, even if it meant keeping their relationship out of the spotlight.
“We really believe in our team culture, and the driving force is making sure you’re successful as a team. We didn’t want the rivalry between Canada and the U.S. to be skewed and all the amazing things going on in our sport to be overshadowed,” Chu said. “We didn’t want it to become, ‘Oh, let’s talk about Caroline and Julie’s relationship’ instead of, ‘What have you guys been doing about training and playing and focusing?’”
Dixon, who is the 2010 floor exercise national champion and competed at Stanford University, says he began thinking critically about his sexuality around his sophomore year in college, when he was dating a man on the swim team. The swimmer was open with his teammates, and Dixon hoped his team would be just as accepting.
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“I remember it so vividly. It was October, and some of my teammates were like, ‘Dixon, when’s [he] coming out with us?’” Dixon said. “And I was like ‘…what? You guys know?’ It was just about having that conversation with myself and accepting that’s who I was.”
When Jones, a medalist in both alpine skiing and cycling, started bringing her now-wife to team functions, she referred to her as a friend, only to find out later that her team knew the nature of their relationship — and accepted it wholeheartedly.
“My teammates said, ‘Allison, that’s your girlfriend, right? It’s okay, we knew,’” Jones said. “But it was that way with my whole team, and it actually was stress-relieving that I could just be myself. I came to realize that I was always myself. I was always who I was. I was always doing what I wanted to do, and the teams that I was involved in were just really accepting of who I was already.”
(L-R) Wade Davis, Allison Jones, Josh Dixon and Chris Mosier, along with Julie Chu via video conference, speak on a panel at FLAME in Colorado Springs, Colo.
The process of “coming out” — or “inviting in,” as Davis refers to it — looked different for Mosier, who is transgender. Growing up, he didn’t have the terminology he needed to describe his gender identity and what he was feeling.
The tipping point came on his 29th birthday, when he realized he wasn’t living externally how he felt inside.
“For me to exist in this world, I needed to make a change,” Mosier said. “Making that change was overcoming the fear of what other people would think, because trans people are less people in America. More people in America think they have seen a ghost than know a trans person in real life. More people believe they’ve had a paranormal experience than know someone like me.”
So in 2010, Mosier transitioned and founded transathlete.com, branding himself as the spokesperson for transgender policies in sport. By 2015, he qualified for the ITU Age Group World Championships, becoming the first known athlete to secure a spot on a world championship team with a different gender than the one he was assigned at birth.
Even after earning his place, Mosier was unsure whether he was eligible to race under the International Olympic Committee’s rules at the time. He successfully lobbied the IOC to change its policy around the participation of transgender athletes in international competition and raced at the age group duathlon worlds.
Later that year, he left a career in higher education to become a full-time athlete and consultant.
“I think the biggest thing for me that would’ve made a difference was to see people like me,” Mosier said. “I think had I seen another trans man competing with men at a high level, it would’ve been a lot easier for me, so that was really my motivation for coming out and being so public about it. For me, it’s really important to do that so that I can be the person that I needed to see when I was younger.”
All four athletes stressed that while their gender and sexual identity is a major piece of their lives, they appreciated when the focus remained on their athletic performance.
Dixon mentioned that even with the backlash that freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy and figure skater Adam Rippon receive for being vocal about their identities, they “outwork everyone else — that’s why they’re on Team USA.”
“Adam didn’t miss a single jump. His programs were flawless, so you can’t fault him for that,” Dixon said. “Gus, same thing, he’s a brilliant athlete. So you bring it back to the athletics at that point, because there were so many amazing stories around those two.”
“I love that about the Olympics and the Paralympics,” Jones added. “On the field of play, it does not matter. You really are who you are as an athlete, whether you’re religious, whether you’ve got a different skin color, whether you’re poor, whether you’re rich. The number one goal for everybody out there is to participate and win.”
This Pride Month, Chu, Dixon, Jones and Mosier are living openly and proudly. For Chu, that means raising her daughter in a “proud, loving and supportive environment.” Jones works to be okay with not letting others who may not be accepting of her identity affect her.
And for Mosier, being the role model he needed inspires him to embrace his identity with pride.
“I approach every day thinking, ‘What will be my legacy?’” Mosier said. “Me waking up every day and living an awesome life is my advocacy.”