In the coming days, Timothy LeDuc and their figure skating partner Ashley Cain-Gribble could make Olympic LGBTQ history.
Jo Yurcaba of NBC News reported that on Thursday, Jan. 6, “LeDuc, who uses gender-neutral pronouns, and their partner, Ashley Cain-Gribble, will compete in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships with the hope of securing a spot on Team USA for the 2022 Winter Olympics.”
If successful, LeDuc would make history becoming the first-ever out nonbinary person to compete in the Winter Olympics. The 2022 Winter Olympics will take place this February in Beijing.
According to Yurcaba, “LeDuc, 31, is no stranger to historic firsts — they were the first openly gay athlete to win gold in a U.S. pairs event in 2019 — but making Team USA would be especially meaningful because LeDuc, who is from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, hasn’t always felt welcome in their sport.”
Speaking on the NBCLX podcast My New Favorite Olympian, LeDuc explained that even though they “thrive” operating outside of the gender binary, competing in a highly gendered sport like figure skating can be an incredible challenge.
“There are going to be the people that don’t understand it or would be very quick to push me back into the box,” LeDuc said. “They see that I have a beard, or they look at maybe my physical characteristics and say, ‘You’re a boy; act like a boy. What are you doing?’”
Looking back on their career in the sport, LeDuc also recalled former skating partners who refused to accept them for their gender identity.
“[One former partner] thought me being gay was going to be a liability,” they said. “It was not an option for her in an otherwise great partnership that girl and I could have had.”
LeDuc also recalled an incident earlier in their career where a former coach told them to play up their masculinity, saying that was the only way they could win the international competition.
“LeDuc’s journey to finding a supportive figure skating partner and winning gold at the national championships in 2019 hasn’t been an easy one,” Yurcaba added. “When they came out to their parents as gay at 18, they said their family was attending a traditional evangelical church, so their reaction was, ‘We love you, but we need to change you.’”
“At one point, one of my family members brought friends home from a church group, and they basically tried to perform an exorcism on me,” LeDuc recounted. “They tried to cast my demons out and were praying on all sides of me, trying to remedy my, we called it, same-sex attraction.”
Although their parents are now supportive of LeDuc’s sexuality and gender identity, the prospective Olympian hopes that their journey will help to inspire younger generations and invoke change in the rigidly gendered world of professional figure skating.
“We are now trying to pass on that information to the young and up-and-coming skaters so that they can be even better athletes; so that they can have even better experiences in the sport and maybe they can avoid some of the obstacles that we all faced,” LeDuc said.
LeDuc and Cain-Gribble are currently scheduled to compete in the pair’s short program competition on Thursday, Jan. 6, followed by the long program free skate on Saturday, Jan. 8. Should they qualify for the Olympic team, LeDuc will join a small but growing number of openly trans and nonbinary athletes who have already become part of Olympic history. During last summer’s 2021 Summer Games (rescheduled from 2020), those pioneering athletes included New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard, American BMX freestyler Chelsea Wolfe and nonbinary American skateboarder Alana Smith.
“Canadian soccer player Quinn became the first openly transgender and nonbinary athlete to win an Olympic medal following their team’s defeat of Sweden in the women’s final in August 2021,” Yurcaba added.