Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon’s mom, Kelly, shares impactful advice that all parents of LGBTQIA+ competitive athletes need to read
As the mother of an Olympian, Kelly Rippon has witnessed her son, Adam Rippon, do something pretty incredible. But witnessing Adam become a decorated Olympic athlete isn’t necessarily her proudest moment as his parent. Her pride was amplified in ways few parents are able to experience as she watched Adam become the first openly gay athlete to medal at the Winter Olympics in 2018.
As the mom of six and author of Parent Up: Inspire Your Child To Be Their Best Self explains in an essay she wrote for Parents, she feared how her son would fare in the world of competitive sports long before he dominated it by winning bronze in South Korea. Although many parents of athletes can relate to the worry she felt as he started competitively training, it wasn’t just the physical demands that she tried to protect him from. “The parents of LGBTQIA+ kids have additional worries, especially as their kids move toward disclosure of their sexual orientation or gender identity to a wider circle of people,” she wrote.
Adam, who is an accomplished figure skater, publicly came out in 2015. And at the time, Rippon admittedly viewed his decision as a “substantial” risk. “I had concerns that his lifelong dream and professional goals would no longer be possible after he came out on such a public stage,” she wrote. “For more than fifteen years, I thought my main responsibility was to facilitate the best opportunities for him to reach his Olympic dream.”
However, through her son’s strength, he helped her understand that neither of them would be able to accomplish their main goal — him reaching the Olympics — unless he was finally able to feel comfortable in his own skin. From there, it took him only two years to not only accomplish his dream of making it to the Olympics but also medaling, she explains that this was only the start of his most important journey: taking ownership of his voice and using it to live an authentic life on his own terms. “As a parent, witnessing your child’s self-acceptance creates a prouder celebratory moment than any medal or award ever could,” she added.
Rippon is now taking what she’s learned from her son’s bravery to help raise support for other LGBTQIA+ children in competitive sports by sharing impactful tips for their parents. “The best gift you can give your LGBTQIA+ child is the space to tell their own story,” she wrote. “But it’s natural to have fears. The world is not always kind to or a safe place for queer folks.”
She also urges parents to understand that coming out is a process — and they need to not only respect each child’s individual timeline but also fiercely protect his or her privacy as they do so. And although each athlete’s journey will be different, “One thing is very clear,” she added. “Every child wants to feel unconditionally accepted by their parents.”
This is why she explains that parents should never tell their LGBTQIA+ kid that he or she should pretend or act differently. Even if this is “under the premise of wanting them to be more widely accepted, we are suggesting that they are not good enough,” she added.
Although Adam announced his retirement from competitive figure skating the same year he won bronze, both he and his mom haven’t stopped winning. For him, as a Dancing With the Stars champion, author, fashion influencer, and coach, and for his mom, also as a published author. But most importantly, both as advocates for LGBTQIA+ children.