February 7, 1968– Mark Tewksbury:
“Keeping up the image of Canada’s boy next door, while feeling a lot like the girl next door wasn’t very easy.”
2016: Leap Year, Republican and Democratic National Conventions, a Presidential Election, The End Of The World, and the Rio De Janeiro Summer Olympic Games!
Johnny Weissmuller, Ian Thorpe, Matt Biondi, Michael Phelpes, and of course Mark Spitz… I am zany for Olympic swimmers! In 2013, lovely, lithe Tom Daley beat the tabloids at their own game: he came out, entirely on his own terms. Not that unusual in the 21st century, but still a rarity in sports. On his own YouTube channel, Daley announced he had something to say: he had fallen in love, and it just so happened to be with a guy. I like the new matter-of-fact method of opening the closet door. When Mark Tewksbury won Olympic gold in 1992, there were no gay characters on television and talking about his sexuality was considered taboo. There were no positive gay role models in sports.
Olympic medalist Tewksbury was closeted throughout his competitive swimming career, but since coming out of the closet, he has become a strong advocate for LGBTQ rights. Going into 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, Tewksbury was ranked 4th in the world, and most experts picked him as one of the powerful American swimmers to win the gold medal. Tewksbury’s winning gold was Canada’s first at the Barcelona games and the first Canadian gold medal in swimming since the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, which Russia had boycotted. Tewksbury also won a bronze medal in the relay event in Barcelona. He made the cover of Time Magazine. He was inducted into the Canadian Olympic Hall Of Fame, the Canadian Sports Hall Of Fame, & the International Swimming Hall Of Fame, and he was named Canada’s Male Athlete Of The Year for 1992.
In December 1998, Tewksbury told the world that he was gay. He was the first Canadian athlete to voluntarily state his gayness and his announcement drew a lot of public attention. In 1998, he lost a very lucrative contract as a motivational speaker because he was “too openly gay.”
Like most athletes that happen to be gay, Tewksbury competed for years while in the closet, winning medals and making money doing endorsements. Tewksbury:
“The only gay swimmer I knew of was Greg Louganis and he was spoken of terribly behind the scenes because of his sexuality. So in that regard, it pushed me further back into the closet.”
In 2006, Tewksbury published a book, Inside Out: Straight Talk From A Gay Jock, where he writes of the infighting among organizers of the Olympic Games, as well as the International Gay Games, newly formed Out Games. He resigned from the International Olympic Committee over the lack of accountability, accusing the International Olympic Committee of rampant corruption. He was also part of a group of former Olympic athletes who pushed for the resignation of IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch. Only months after the scandal surrounding the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games broke, Tewksbury became known as an outspoken critic of the IOC and he demanded reforms to the system. Part of what Tewksbury stood for was integrity in sports, and he “had a complete crisis of faith in the leadership of amateur sport,” including the IOC, from which he resigned. With a number of others jocks, he founded Olympic Athletes Together Honorably (OATH), a group dedicated to reforming the IOC to eliminate cronyism and lack of real accountability.
“I gazed around the room slowly. The best swimmers from Russia, Cuba, the United States, Spain, Germany and France were in front of me. & I was different. I was the fag. And in that moment I owned my truth completely. I thought: ‘If these guys knew how hard it was for me to get here, they wouldn’t believe it. They have no bloody clue what I have been through. Or how strong I am.’ ”
Tewksbury is candid about embarrassing, humorous and unflattering things about his personal life, including his involvement in a serious 3-way relationship with a gay couple and his persistent pursuit of a professional male escort.
In December 2008 Tewksbury was invited by the government of France to speak at the United Nations in NYC on the day that a declaration was introduced that affirms International Gay Rights and seeking to decriminalize homosexuality around the globe. Tewksbury remains a spokesman for The International Day of Sport For Development And Peace which highlights the role sport can play in achieving sustainable progress and change. This year’s celebration is on Wednesday, April 6th.
In 2009 Tewksbury was inducted into Canada’s LGBT Human Rights Hall Of Fame in honor of his outstanding achievements and his efforts to end discrimination in the world of sports. He was named the Chef de Mission (a sort of team manager) of the 2012 Canadian Summer Olympic team.
Tewksbury lives in Ottawa with his longtime partner Benjamin Kiss, a former Swiss figure skater and now working as an actor.