by Lorrie Kim
Philadelphia Gay News
April 19-25, 1996
[This interview was conducted weeks after Galindo won his national and world medals. It was the first interview with Galindo to be published in the gay press.]
You probably know the story by now. Rudy Galindo, 26, U.S. men's figure skating champion, world bronze medalist. The "tragic life story": lost his dad to strokes, two coaches and a brother to AIDS, former pairs partner Kristi Yamaguchi to fame and fortune as an Olympic champion.
Rudy Galindo, first Latino skating champion. First openly (underscore "openly") gay skating champion. First male champion in any sport to come out while still competing. Proof once again, à la k.d. lang and Melissa Etheridge, that coming out is the road to success.
His relationship to the gay community is more complicated. Galindo, newly famous gay icon, is still negotiating it. Upon hearing that a reporter is from PGN, he registers surprise -- his agent, Michael Rosenberg, rarely consents to interviews with the gay press. In fact, this is his first published interview in a gay newspaper.
The reason sits right next to Galindo, tape-recording the interview: gay nonfiction author Eric Marcus, who will co-write a biography, due in January, from Simon and Schuster. They hope to save most of the juicy stuff for the book.
So no, Galindo is not trying to tone down his homosexuality for endorsements.
"Male skaters don't get endorsements," he said with a scoff.
No, he's not snubbing the gay community.
"I'll talk to everybody -- gay, straight," he said.
He's slated for a future cover story in OUT magazine.
Backstage at the Spectrum last week, on the Philadelphia stop of the Campbell Soup's Tour of Figure Skating Champions, Galindo is shaking his head slowly, emphatically. No, he does not have a boyfriend.
"I wish," he said. "Where are they? I haven't even gotten letters or anything. If you meet any nice guys, send them over."
When Galindo won the national title in January in a highly publicized upset victory, his friends predicted that he would now have his pick of beautiful men. But it hasn't been so easy.
"I have a feeling that some are too wary to come up to me," he said. And of those who do, he has to wonder, "Do they like me because of who I am, or because of my title?"
Above all, Galindo has no intention of ever going back in the closet.
Between his pressured training schedule for the world championships in March and the confusion of his instant celebrity, Galindo initially deflected questions on his sexuality with a "no comment." This led to an article in the March 5, 1996 issue of The Advocate, with captions implying that Galindo wanted to be closeted again.
Galindo, who said he has neither the time nor the stomach to read his own press, had no clue about The Advocate's coverage. Shortly after the issue hit the stands, he went clubbing with friends in San Francisco, only to be frozen out by classic gay attitude. Formerly friendly bartenders ignored him. Two complete strangers felt entitled to tell him, "Thanks a lot, Rudy, you asshole."
This treatment was behind Galindo's disconcerted comment in the March 11, 1996 issue of Sports Illustrated: "Seems like I've got more support from the straight community than the gay community."
In person, Galindo is about as in the life as anyone could hope. News that a Fort Lauderdale group has invited him to be a pride parade grand marshal elicits an adorable "Oohhh!" of disappointment (he'll miss it, still being on tour). New York Front Runners, ditto. When asked about his relatively slow skating speed, he morphs into a veritable snap diva.
"They said Kristi [Yamaguchi] was slow, and Kristi won the Olympics, and that's all I have to say about that," he retorted.
And he's right. Olympic gold often goes to the most incandescent and fluid skater, not necessarily the most technically brilliant. Yamaguchi was, and is, slow. In other words, Galindo is definitely in contention for the 1998 Nagano Olympics ("the first openly gay," etc.). His artistic vision amounts to a manifesto. For good measure, his jumps next season will be more difficult.
Galindo's floaty, unrepressed choreography reopens the debate about whether, and why, gay men make better dancers than straight men. Certainly his lack of homophobia enables him to embrace moves eschewed by self-consciously masculine skaters, such as layback spins, which are typically limited to women and girls.
Psychologically, Galindo's drastic improvement in skating skills this year coincides with his official coming-out, in sports writer Christine Brennan's recent book Inside Edge.
"My friends knew I was gay, but I was still afraid," Galindo said. "[Brennan] asked if she could print that. It was my first time."
The difference was tangible: "My teammates treated me with more respect once I was out. Straight guys feel comfortable putting their arm around me. And I like that. I'm happy with who I am."
Marcus chimed in that he is impressed with the friendliness of the fellow touring skaters.
"Straight guys tease you -- 'Hey Rudy, there's a cute guy!'"
Marcus and Galindo have obviously clicked; they are joshing each other like old friends.
Galindo has already served as a support and role model for fellow gay skaters.
"People -- if I think they're in the closet -- they come around a little bit more with me, but not with the public," he noted. "It's like, open that closet door! People, you've won your Olympic, world titles!"
He said that perhaps they stay closeted for fear of parents' or relatives' reaction, "but you're not going to enjoy your life" in the closet.
These words are especially significant from Galindo, who in the past has accused skating judges of giving him low marks because of homophobia. He has taken advice on changing his looks, his hair, his costumes, his footwork, his choreography; none of it helped.
This year, publicly out, doing "everything my way," unrepentantly true to his own ethereal tastes, he has received two coveted perfect 6.0 scores. Those 6.0s enable him to retract the accusation: "I think it comes down to if you could skate well. Let my skating speak for itself."
For many gay spectators, the sight of Rudy Galindo taking on all the mainstream world engenders a poignant, achy sort of pride. Can the mainstream understand the depths of his joy? Or what it means that every day, for six months, he fed and bathed and carried his brother?
On the Tour of Champions, night after night in 76 cities, Galindo skates an AIDS memorial to "Ave Maria." Many have skated to this music before, but not like this. Galindo's caressing, soothing strokes, his concentration and compassion, his perfectly held poses -- one, a crucifixion -- convey the restful mercy that is possible even within an unrelenting grief. He wears a plain black bodysuit with an enormous red ribbon around his neck and crossed on his chest, like the ancient mariner's albatross, or the scarlet letter.
"Ave Maria -- I'm not a poster boy for AIDS and stuff, it's not like 'find the cure,'" he explained, although people invariably think it is. He and his choreographer, John Brancato, put the program together for an exhibition that Galindo's late brother George was too ill to attend.
"He picked it," Galindo said. "He said, 'Oh, this is so beautiful, you have to skate to it.'"
When he skates this program, "I'm always thinking of my brother," he said.
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