By speaking so candidly to Michael Parkinson about his homosexuality, Ian Thorpe arguably achieved more than all his medals and world records combined — both for himself and others.
I have met and interviewed Ian several times and his announcement came as no huge shock. Not even a little one.
In my chats with him I never raised the issue of his sexuality, believing it was none of my business and that my audience wouldn’t be particularly interested anyway. This highlights two issues that are key to the struggle to bury once and for all the stigma related to sexual orientation.
One, that Ian felt so uncomfortable with the possibility that he was gay and, two, that he feared the response of others — parents, friends, sponsors.
Some are criticising Ian for the lie he has told in response to questions about his sexuality. On one level that’s fair enough because he did deny categorically in his autobiography that he was gay. He now concedes that was a mistake but some understanding is required here.
Thorpe had been telling and living the lie for a long time with terrible consequences and, like others in a similar situation, saw no easy way out. We have had politicians who have lived the same lie all the way to the Lodge. Others to Government House and the High Court.
Be assured what Ian has done required a type of courage many famous names could not summon. I know people who came out and were disgracefully and shamefully rejected by their families and others from whom they had every right to expect better. Thankfully that is the minority. Also true is that if people do react like that you hardly need them in your life anyway.
Others in the same situation need not feel threatened by something over which they have no control and should feel no shame. They have nothing to fear about being honest in how they live their lives.
We have made enormous ground in this area but Ian’s story makes clear there is much that remains to be done. It might surprise him how few people were surprised and how even fewer cared.
Ian Thorpe is a terrific young man who has achieved a great deal already.
My hunch is that his best days, happily, are about to unfold.