Until he was chosen for the U.S. Olympic delegation by President Barack Obama last month.
Calling himself “a private guy,” Boitano told The Associated Press on Thursday that he never planned to come out. But moments before his presence on the delegation was revealed, Boitano realized what a powerful statement the president was making.
Obama chose openly gay athletes Billie Jean King and Caitlin Cahow for the delegation, as well. Boitano said his decision to say “being gay is just one part of who I am” in a statement on Dec. 19 “literally came to fruition” moments before the White House announced the makeup of the delegation.
“I don’t feel that I can represent the country without revealing this incredible side of myself,” Boitano said. “This is an important moment, and to represent my country in Russia, it’s a platform that is so important for me.”
The 1988 Olympic gold medalist hopes other countries will make similar endorsements of an open way of life by who represents them at Sochi. He’s proud of Obama’s stance.
“Our nation is at the forefront of trying to create a more tolerant public,” he said. “The president is kind of saying to Russia that as a strong country, we believe in this and if you don’t follow along, we will leave you behind in this thought process.”
Russia has come under heavy criticism for passing national laws banning “gay propaganda,” and there were even suggestions for the United States to boycott the Sochi Games as a protest. But Obama rejected that idea, saying with “gay and lesbian athletes bringing home the gold or silver or bronze,” a stronger statement would be made.
Boitano was in Courchevel, France, when Obama announced the delegation, which also includes former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, deputy Secretary of State William Burns and presidential adviser Rob Nabors.
“I feel great about the delegation and being part of the movement,” Boitano said. “It’s important personally to feel I am representing the country and the president’s message.”
Moments after he released his statement in December, Boitano began receiving words of support from the figure skating community, including Olympic champions Dick Button and Carol Heiss Jenkins.
“That feedback for me is really important, especially coming from my peers,” he said. “They know how private a person I am and that this was a big move for me.”