Johnny Weir held a press conference Wednesday in Vancouver to address remarks made by two veteran sports commentators during the Olympics suggesting that his fabulousness (our word) is a bad example of, and for, male figure skaters and joking that he should undergo a gender test. If you speak French, watch a clip here. We’ll detail the comments, which have a Quebec gay rights group contemplating filing a complaint with the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, later.
Weir began by joking that he grew stubble for the press conference to show that he’s a man, but his tone quickly got serious. As you’ll hear him say in the two clips we’ve embedded, he’s not asking for an apology. He says he believes in free speech and wouldn’t want these men fired for expressing their opinion. (“I’ve heard worse in bathrooms and whatnot about me,” he quipped.) He just wants them to think before they speak — and to imagine the damage they could do to people like him and to generations of children whose parents may not give them the same freedom and support his did if they think their child will only be ridiculed for being who he or she is. “I would challenge anyone to question my upbringing and question my parents’ ideals and feelings about bringing up me and my brother, who’s completely different from me but taught very much the same way that I was,” Weir said. (The conviction in his voice during that statement had to have made his parents as proud as any medal he could’ve won.)
There’s a reason he’s calling attention to the situation: “Even my gender has been questioned. I want that to be public because I don’t want 50 years from now more young boys and girls to have to go through this sort of thing and to have their whole life basically questioned for no reason other than to make a joke and to make people watch their television program,” he said. He summed up his message — “I hope more kids can grow up the same way that I did and more kids can feel the freedom that I feel to be themselves and to express themselves” — and his belief that the concepts of masculinity and femininity are old-fashioned. “There’s a whole generation of people that aren’t defined by their sex or their race or by who they like to sleep with. I think as a person you know what your values are and what you believe in, and I think that’s the most important thing.”
According to The Canadian Press, Claude Mailhot of the French-language RDS network began by saying, “This may not be politically correct, but do you think he lost points due to his costume and his body language?” Alain Goldberg responded saying Weir’s femininity may reflect poorly on other male figure skaters.”They’ll think all the boys who skate will end up like him. It sets a bad example.” Goldberg is also quoted as saying, “We should make him [Weir] pass a gender test at this point,” and Mailhot then joking that Weir should compete in the women’s competition. The two broadcasters later issued an on-air apology.
How do you think Weir handled the controversy? I say beautifully. For once, the focus went beyond the superficial “You can’t say that on TV!” headlines to make the media stop and examine the meaning and effect of what was said. Weir understands it’s not just children who have to have self-confidence, but also their parents. If Weir speaks in high schools after the Olympics — and he should — I hope parents are encouraged to come to the assembly. I think his controlled, articulate passion might actually reach them.
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