During the Olympic Trials in San Jose this weekend, Willow Glen High School and Stanford University alum Josh Dixon must come in sixth to secure a spot on the U.S. National men’s gymnastics team. If chosen, he will become the first publicly out male gymnast to compete in the Olympics. Dixon announced his sexuality in an interview with Outsports.com that was published this May, and he’s already gaining fans. Wrote one commenter: “I have a new hero.”

He will also be joining the very small percentage of Olympic athletes who are openly gay; of the 10,708 athletes at the Beijing Games in 2008, only 10 were publicly gay.

That’s a big deal, but Josh is cool about it. He’s not trying to be a political figure or a gay-rights poster child. He’s just being himself—and using his status as a high-profile athlete to show others just how normal it is to be gay. “Now that I’m in this position, I feel like I have a responsibility to put myself out there for people who have the same problems,” he says. “I can be a role model and let them know it’s OK, especially in the world of sports.”

Dixon’s public “outing” comes at a time when LGBTQ-rights groups are taking advantage of the political microscope focused on the Olympics to highlight the injustices faced by the LGBTQ community worldwide. Activists have been pressuring the International Olympic Committee to ban the 84 countries that criminalize homosexuality. In addition, British human-rights lawyer Mark Stephens published an article in The Guardian late last month titled, “Let’s Make LGBT Rights the Centrepiece of London 2012,” urging gay Olympic athletes to come out of the closet as a gesture of pride. 

Dixon doesn’t know Mark Stephens and admits he hasn’t been keeping up with the news. “Because of the scale of the Olympics, it’s hard to avoid it being political,” he says, although somehow, despite publicly coming out in this politicized atmosphere, he’s managed to do just that. Like any athlete with their eye on the prize, his focus is on his sport.

The acceptance he received from his friends and family when he came out to them a year and a half ago hasn’t been any cause for stress. They were “nonchalant,” he says, and totally supportive. He said his teammates assured him that he was still one of their leaders. “I think for me, after coming out in college, I became so much more carefree, and I excelled so much more in my sport,” he says. He views the process of publicly coming out as similar to an injury or other obstacle that can help athletes grow.

Now he’s hoping others facing the same problems can have just as positive of an experience. He decided to come out to the public after a friend and ex-teammate told Dixon he “could have a tremendous impact in breaking down barriers and making people feel more comfortable with who they are in sports.”

U.S. Olympic Trials, Gymnastics
June 27July 1
HP Pavilion