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So many more athletes are willing to be open, and it’s part of the culture now to be more open about who you are and what your interests are. When you go out and compete, you want to represent [the organization] to the best of your ability, and you want to represent your true, authentic self. Of course people are interested in your sexual orientation. When athletes come out and say that they’re gay, it makes it a little more normal and less of a big deal — especially in the athletic community. Figure Skating (USFS) handler who's standing nearby."You don't have to answer that," the handler reassures him. He's 28 years old, planning to retire at the end of the season and cautious; he was criticized last year for comparing Russia's laws — which have motivated the rape, torture, and murder of gay men and women — to bad interior design. Then — "I'm going to walk away from that one."We're backstage at the 2014 U. Figure Skating Championships, which serve as an unofficial qualifier for the Olympic team, and Abbott's a favorite.Most male skaters and officials are committed to keeping their sport in the closet, whether that means choosing "masculine" music, hinting about a girlfriend, or outright denying any connection to homosexuality.A figure skater can never quite outskate the judges' opinion of him, and judges and institutions, it turns out, are notoriously conservative — as some would say, "family-friendly." At the National Championships, which took place this January in Boston, a phrase I heard often was "don't ask, don't tell."It's not that skating hasn't had out gay athletes.There's Rudy Galindo, a ready-made hard-knock story who grew up in a trailer, abused alcohol and drugs, and lost two coaches and a brother to AIDS. Figure Skating Hall of Fame last year after having been rejected three times, his sexuality was not mentioned during the ceremony.

Boitano's enough of an established legend to be on the safe side, but it seems that in general, gay skaters are just a tad too implicating of the male skaters around them to be seriously endorsed. One pump-up video montage at nationals showed clip after clip of top male skaters performing one enormous jump after another, but depicted Rudy Galindo crossing himself and Johnny Weir bursting into tears.

Later, when I pass him in the hallway, he apologizes twice.

To outsiders, men's figure skating is widely perceived as the Gayest Sport Ever, the butt of endless jokes — consider last weekend's SNL cold open about the “U. Men’s Heterosexual Figure Skating Team." The direct action group Queer Nation has recently protested figure skaters Brian Boitano and Johnny Weir for not speaking up against Russia’s anti-gay laws. I have a hard time believing that figure skating is a particularly homophobic sport.

It's a huge thing to have your sport's governing body be a part of that and to show all their athletes that they accept them for who they are and for their individual personalities. Rippon skated in three World Championships, but he's never skated in the Olympics — he was eighth at the January 2014 U.

I mean look at me; I’m just a normal son from small-town Pennsylvania.

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