IT may have taken him a couple of years to figure out where he fits in the community, but Ian Thorpe is now happier than ever before.
So much so, he says he’s ready to be an active member of the LGBTI community — especially helping young people.
“I feel like I have something to offer and I like helping out young people.
“I feel as though there’s a role for me to help out. I’ve always tried to do things in the community work that I’ve done with other other communities that have not been tolerated in the wider society as what they could be.”
Thorpedo (or Thorpey), as he’s affectionately called by the Australian public, first caught the nation’s attention in 1997 at the age of 14 when he became the youngest male to qualify for the Australian swimming team.
He would go on to smash swimming records until his initial retirement in 2006 — he mounted a short-lived comeback in 2011 — including winning the most Olympic gold medals of any Australian athlete ever. Thorpe has won five gold, three silver and
one bronze, bringing his Olympic medal tally to nine. He has also smashed many world records and won countless other medals in the Commonwealth Games and world championships.
On top of his stellar sporting career, the Sydney-born swimmer was named Young Australian of the Year in 2000, has signed multi-million dollar endorsement deals and has been a passionate philanthropist.
Speaking to the Star Observer, the 33-year-old cryptically explains he’s been back in Australia long enough now to have figured what space he would like to work in regarding LGBTI issues. However, he won’t reveal what that is until the middle of this year.
Thorpe says learning about the issues and finding his place in the community has been quite a learning curve since he came out, but he definitely feels like he has been welcomed with open arms.
“I overwhelmingly have received a tremendous amount of support from the community here and I’ve been very grateful for that,” Thorpe says.
“I didn’t know that would be the case [but] I had heard the community itself is supportive of everyone.
“It was really nice to not only be accepted by the LGBT community in Australia, but also from the wider community as well.”
He also says he does not regret coming out sooner.
“I don’t really get into whether I regret the timing, I don’t think I could’ve come out at any other time in my life, I didn’t feel ready.” Thorpe says.
“I think probably a lot of people share that feeling. Even though they would’ve liked to be out when they were younger, it just wasn’t a reality for them.”
The Star Observer asks whether things would have been different if he were starting his career now and if it would be easier to express his sexuality than when it was growing up in the public eye in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
In his response Thorpe references the documentary Out to Win, about the different experiences of gay and lesbian athletes that screened at the recent Mardi Gras Film Festival. He also spoke at a panel after its screening.
“In watching Out to Win, it was looking at that historically and I think it is becoming easier,” Thorpe says.
“When you look at some of the figures of homophobia in sport they’re really high.”
Swimmers face a lot of scrutiny and pressure from the Australian public and media, which he feels didn’t prepare him for coming out.
“If anything, in being under that kind of pressure, I had pressure on me to come out, I feel like it made it more difficult to come out,” Thorpe says.
“It was one of those things. Once I had the courage to tell the first couple of people, I had the courage to tell everyone.”
His advice for young people planning their coming out is to ensure they have support from loved ones and to do so when they’re ready.
“Maybe it isn’t mum and dad first, it can be your friends. Just tell them when you feel comfortable,” he says.
Nonetheless, Thorpe recalls the huge relief he felt once he did reveal he was gay in mid-2014.
“Things have been going incredibly well… I felt a tremendous weight lifted off my shoulders,” he says.
“Once you feel that weight come off, I also felt like I could tackle the world and I was feeling young again and feeling like I can go out and do anything again.
“When you do that — personally, professionally, all of those things — your life just improves. That’s how I’ve found these last 12 months, I feel happy that I’ve been able to return home to Sydney.”
Thorpe also describes his state of mind as being in a place where he’s “really excited” about his future — something he has not felt in a long time.
His next major project is working on the ABC TV series The Bully Project, which takes viewers to the frontline of Australia’s bullying crisis by arming victims with hidden cameras to capture their experiences first hand.
“There’s a responsibility we have on this issue and I think it’s great the ABC is doing an entire season of bullying shows, not just this program,” Thorpe says.
“Hopefully it gets really good conversations started, hopefully some things change so we can implement good policies in bullying.”
The show will feature some heartbreaking content, but Thorpe says it’s something that needs to be done to turn the tide on bullying.
“This is a difficult issue and it’s going to be hard to see young people who are struggling in that way,” he says.
“But just because it’s difficult to do, that doesn’t mean it’s not a really worthwhile thing to do.
“And it will be really tough for me but I remind myself of how much more these young people may be struggling and who don’t have the experience I may have.
“I really want to be able to do a good job, so we can resolve this issue for young people.
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> Visit ReachOut.com from anywhere and at any time for free self-help tools, information, and a peer support forum.
> headspace is another resource available: headspace.org.au
> Qlife is also available for confidential counselling or advice on coming out: qlife.org.au
**This article was first published in the April edition of the Star Observer, which is available now. Click here to find out where you can grab a copy in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and select regional/coastal areas.
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