This week as Jenni and I have traveled (via campervan, viagra dosage by the way) through New Zealand, we’ve watched two major rugby and netball finals on TV with most of the country, demonstrating to us that Kiwis take their sports seriously. So when short track speed skater Blake Skjellerup came out as a gay man last year after competing in the quarterfinals of the Olympics in Vancouver, he captured the attention of the whole country. Now he has used the spotlight to travel throughout New Zealand and speak to both kids and teachers about stopping bullying in schools. Blake took some time in between his intense training schedule to talk to Jenni and I….
Out & Around: What was your personal experience like growing up gay?
Blake: Growing up was an interesting time. I first started to know that I was attracted to guys at the age of 16. From there was an up and down time accepting and understanding my sexuality. I only came out at the age of 24. I was afraid my sexuality would jeopardize my status in my sport. This was not true. There were some tough times and some amazing times and I regret none of the decisions I made.
Out & Around: You are the spokesman for the Pink Shirt Day Campaign which encouraged kids to wear pink shirts to school to take a stand against bullying. What inspired you to start your anti-bullying campaign?
Blake: I was inspired to front the Pink Shirt Day Campaign through my own experiences in high school. I was bullied in school because I did not play a popular sport and because of my perceived sexuality. I was strong enough to deal with it, but others are not. No one should ever feel like their differences are something to be ashamed of and persecuted for. This is still happening in our society today, and I wanted the youth out there to know that being “different” in any which way is an amazing thing. They should be proud of that and embrace it. If I empowered one kid to stand up for himself and to see a brighter tomorrow then I know I did a good thing.
VIDEO: What does Blake have to say about being gay, representing his country, and giving back to the community? Check out his It Get’s Better video here.
Out & Around: We love that you traveled around the country to take your message of hope to schools. What most surprised you as you traveled around New Zealand?
Blake: There were so many things that surprised me. I spoke to 18 schools across the country and over 5000 students. The greatest thing that hit me was how much of my story and message they took on board. I had whole school assemblies applaud when I said I was gay, and that was pretty amazing.
Out & Around: There are only a small handful of openly gay Olympians. What worried you the most before coming out publicly? What has been the impact of your coming out?
Blake: To be honest, I cannot remember what worried me before I came out publicly. By the time I did it I was so confident and proud of who I am that nothing could faze me. The impact – well, I am not too sure. I hope other athletes who are afraid of being open and honest, not only to their peers, but to themselves, can look at me and see that my coming out made no difference to me as a sportsman.
Out & Around: What do you most look forward to in the 2014 Olympics in Russia?
Blake: Representing my country once again, doing them proud, and putting 4 years of hard work into action over 2 weeks – in front of the world, in front of my family and friends, and in front of a community who I know is behind me 100%.