Following last week's feature about homophobia and sport we recall our conversation with Ryan Miller the world-class snowboarder who's open about his homosexuality. OutUK's been speaking to him about the way in which he came out to fellow compeditors and friends and the challenges he faced as a result, just months before travelling to compete in the Winter Olympics.
Ryan Miller was out on the piss with his snowboarding buddies. The lads were up for action. Someone suggested they go visit a strip joint. As they headed off, Ryan stayed put, announcing, "I'm gay".

"I got tired of putting on a straight-acting role," he says. His team-mates responded with attitude. "I was shunned. Even the coach didn't want to know."

Ryan was forced to find himself another team. "Their response upset me. But at the same time I had already prepared myself for it. I've been brought up to prepare for the worst and celebrate anything better."

By coming clean, Ryan became the only out gay snowboarder on the professional racing circuit. He remained the only gay snowboarder or skier to come out until Gus Kenworthy's announcement some 10 years later.

Ryan's current team is very defensive of him and won't let anyone have a homophobic pop. "They've kinda picked up a torch for me," says Ryan. "If they hear someone say something derogatory they'll throw it back by saying something like, 'well you're the one who just got beaten by a faggot'.

And the faggot certainly started whipping arse on the slopes the year after he changed teams. Ryan was listed sixth in the national championships and internationally was rated at 28.

Along the way, he took a fair few knocks. Travelling at 50mph with only lycra as protection has its hazards. He messed-up a knee, but as soon as he was able he was back on the board. "The rush is addicted," he says. "It's like flying."

Ryan grew up in Pennsylvania. "A small, conservative, tight-knit community where you were expected to get married, have kids and live happily ever after," he says. "The concept of homosexuality was never discussed."

Through Thanksgiving to early April Pennsylvania is smothered in snow. Ryan was practically skiing before he could walk. By 10, he was out on his snowboard seven days a week.

Illustrated diagram of grabbing locations on a snowboard - Click on illustration for larger version
Provided by: Nlin86, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons


At school, Ryan did "anything but participate in organised sport". He felt he didn't fit in. "I tried football and baseball but always felt on the outside." He found the school approach to sport sadistic. Childhood coaches espoused the 'sport is no place for pansies' ethos, that is, if you're gay you're weak.

"It still creeps into my head at times when I don't perform well. I can think 'was that because I had a bad day or because I'm gay?".

So when there was no snow, Ryan immersed himself in music instead, playing flute, piccolo, piano and drums. "I've always been an over-achiever".

By 15, the snowboarding had got serious. Ryan became involved with a national ski organisation, helping to set up a snowboarding offshoot. "It all slowly snowballed from there," he says. "No pun intended."

After leaving high school, Ryan moved on to music college. Eventually, the music came second fiddle to the snowboard (pun intended). Playing piccolo just didn't deliver the same rush.


He decided to switch colleges, from music to business (eventually gaining a degree in economics). It was at business school that Ryan met his first out gay guy. "He turned round to me one day and said, 'how long have you been gay?' I was stunned."

The friend helped Ryan figure his sexuality out. "He said he wasn't about to make the decision for me," says Ryan, "and suggested I go to the campus gay group to explore my feelings in a safe environment."

Once Ryan got used to the idea himself, he came out to Mum and Dad. "They dealt with it to the best of their abilities," he says. "But as with most parents they had some issues with it." Issues, he says, that took 2/3 years to work through.

Today, "they're the most supportive parents I could wish for". Mum and Dad quickly became his biggest cheerleaders and fundraisers.

Ryan's other love is his Kawasaki.
Ryan was also cheered on by the gay community. His main backer was Outboard, the largest gay and lesbian snowboarding and ski organization in the world with over 30,000 members in both the USA and internationally. "Without them I'd be sitting in an office all winter and have given up my dream a long time ago."

As for begging big bucks from brand names, many corporate companies still aren't very comfortable placing their logos on gay sportsmen. "It's hard even to get a return phone call," says Ryan. "The mainstream media has improved dramatically over the years in the way in which they report on gay sportsmen and women, but corporate America needs to recognise that gay athletes are just as viable and valuable as straight athletes."

It would help, says Ryan, if more elite athletes on the up came out. "It's great we have the out gay athletes we have, but the fact is they've all come out after hitting their sporting peak. They've won their gold medals and cups."

Ryan doesn't need a degree in economics to realise that by coming out athletes are taking a chance. "They'd need to be comfortable enough financially in sponsorships to say 'to heck with it, I'm going to do it. And if I lose the last couple of years of my endorsements, so be it'. That happening may actually expose the corporations for the kind of standards they have."

So what are his feelings toward closeted athletes? "It's not my place to tell anyone what they should do," he says. "It's a personal thing, like coming out to family friends. The question is 'can you be happy denying who you are?'"


After taking a season off to compete for myself and have fun while not officially training, I found a new coach and trained on weekends at Copper Mountain. I found that balancing my riding time between having fun with my boyfriend and other friends and training helped to keep my head clear and things in perspective. With that, I finished with my most successful and consistent season, consistently finishing in the top 20 and 25 at all of my Nor-Am races.

Fighting Homophobia In Football


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