Last night there was a huge upset to the Chinese gold medal diving sweep when Matthew Mitcham, Sydney Australia's openly gay, 20 year old diver did as close to a perfect backwards two and a half somersault with two and a half twist dive as one is ever likely to see.
Mitcham is the only openly gay male Olympian in Beijing this year and though he struggled to get his partner into China with him and though he has repeatedly spoken about his sexual orientation in interviews there's been no mention of it in any major media coverage.
Why is that?
Why is it I know about the fiancees and spouses of several track and field athletes but only learned of Mitcham's struggle to get his boyfriend into China by doing extensive internet searches? Why is it that Bob Costas asked the US volleyball gold medalists about their husbands with great interest and yet an openly gay gold medalist in a host country with a heinous record of human rights atrocities perpetrated against gay people is not seen as news?
Someone has decided that it is very important for the media to continue perpetrating the lie that male gayness and athleticism are incompatible.
Earlier in these Olympic games I sat riveted in front of my television watching the men's synchronized diving with great surges of emotional pride. Americans David Boudia and Thomas Finchum, neither of whom have spoken of their orientation, are talented, muscularly honed and at the same time rather effeminate young men at the top of their chosen sport. I watched them climb to the top of the board where one of them would crack a joke and the other would cover his mouth and giggle girlishly just before they would compose themselves and perform the most improbable feats of gymnastic daredevil in the air before plunging perfectly vertical and unison into the pool below them.
Every four years the eyes of countless Americans, and indeed citizens of every nation, are on these young people and though the sexual orientation of a few of these young champions is most doubtless the nation cheers for their victory with great pride. Young gay people being showcased and held up as a source of national pride is so foreign a concept and though it may remain unspoken it is very real.
Growing up gay in a straight world is difficult to say the least. Every movie, nursery rhyme, TV commercial and cartoon tells you that you're different and therefor wrong. For me, the unspoken sense of shame, the feelings that I had somehow disappointed my family, the sense that something I did or something I was rightfully incited the teasing and mockery I received from other children, the need to keep my feelings a secret and, eventually, the visceral belief that I was a second class citizen were overwhelming. So to witness the nation cheer as young gay men perform, near superhuman, feats of strength and grace melts away what remains of years of shame and self-loathing.
For NBC and any other media source that reports on these Olympic games and keeps the news of Mr. Mitcham's sexual orientation quiet: SHAME ON YOU.
Like it or not, we live in a world where the volume of role models for young gay men is slim. Television and films are full of gay characters who are either deviants, tragic figures or clowns. Where a straight boy can turn on a TV at any time of the day and see sports heroes, TV dads, judges, policemen, pilots and even political figures a gay boy might see Jack from Will and Grace. A promiscuous clown, a fool. Acceptable because he is there to be laughed at.
Last night when Matthew Mitcham took his Olympic gold dive a message went out to every young gay boy around the world:
You can be anything you want to be. You can do anything you want to do. No matter what your family, the people at school or your church tells you - you are a person of worth and you are fine just the way you are.
When the young Olympian realized he'd won gold tears ran down his face. As I watched, tears ran down mine as well. I'm so proud of him. I'm so happy for him and I'm also happy for the next generation that now has a wonderful new role model in Matthew Mitcham. As do I.