“Born this way”: Ice Dancers Fear/Gibson’s (GBR) message in support of diversity reaches beyond the ice

Lilah Fear & Lewis Gibson (GBR) compete during the ISU European Figure Skating Championships in Espoo, Finland. @ISU

Known for their creativity to explore new choreographic boundaries, the British Ice Dance couple Lilah Fear and Lewis Gibson (GBR) also stands out by their outspoken support and allyship to the LGBTQI+ community.

Lilah and Lewis have achieved many accomplishments since starting to skate together in 2016. After competing at various international events over the years, they made their way up to the top rankings by qualifying to the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games, before becoming this season’s British national champions and competing in their first ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final in Torino (ITA) last December. They went on to win the silver medal at the 2023 ISU European Figure Skating Championships in Espoo (FIN) and placed fourth at the ISU World Championships that took place in March in Saitama (JPN).
Being out and visible
Much of their skating success over the last seven years as a team can be credited to their hard work and training on the ice. That being said, building a true and solid partnership like theirs requires going beyond the rink. Trust and complicity outside the rink is also what ties them together. In particular, it was essential for Lewis to transparently share his feelings with Lilah about his ‘coming out’ journey.
Lilah Fear & Lewis Gibson (GBR) pictured during the ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Saitama, Japan. @ISU

“I’ve been so fortunate on my journey of self discovery, as I was able to share with Lilah almost right away, and I’m so thankful for her being always so open from our very first conversation” Lewis said in a recent interview with the ISU. “I think there are so many LGBTQI+ people that are unsure of what they feel, but also of how the people around them would react when coming out, and Lilah has given me a lot of strength to start on the process of being visible”.

Lewis talked for the first time publicly about being gay and married just before the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games, mentioning that it was “the right time” in his life to do so. He also emphasized the importance of Lilah’s role, who empowered him to be who he truly is “in skating and in life”.

The power of allyship

Lilah not only looked at their skating relationship as an opportunity for professional growth, but also as a way to show up as an ally supporting Lewis.

“It’s an honor to be an ally of this community and I think that, since I know Lewis, he has become more and more himself and I believe that the catalyst for that was him coming out” said Lilah, who considers herself an advocate for the LGBTQI+ community. “For me it was just about listening to him, being there and supporting him in any way I could, and I feel really lucky to be able to witness him fleurish”.

Being your true authentic self

For many LGBTQI+ athletes, staying true to oneself and being authentic has been a part of their liberation process, ultimately changing the course of their sporting careers.

“For me, I think the biggest life lesson was, as Lilah said, that you do become more of yourself in the process of sharing who you truly are” said Lewis. “It’s really just about wanting who you are and sharing as much as you are comfortable with and then building on that, because you are going to be accepted somewhere along the line”.

Equally important is the support of family, friends, coaches and training mates who play a decisive role in creating the right conditions to make everyone feel included.

“We are in such an amazing environment at the Ice Academy of Montreal, where we get so much support from so many people, and that includes the Coaches, other skaters, and the off-ice team. It’s so great that there are also people who have gone before me, like Guillaume (Cizeron) as an out athlete” continued Lewis, who looked up to the French World and Olympic Champion, “and seeing the support that he was getting was very reassuring. It was such a special moment for me because I felt safe to be who I truly am”.

It’s all about starting the conversation

With a record number of openly LGBTQI+ athletes last season, many Figure Skaters made the news by sharing their journey and empowering future generations.

“I think it’s the conversation that’s really necessary. As we are having these conversations it’s showing to whoever is reading what’s out there and what’s possible for them, and that they are embraced by this community” said Lilah, who is used to starting many conversations and debates on her podcast ‘The Lilah Jo Show’.

Being proud on and off the ice
Not surprisingly, Figure Skaters tend to share a piece of their personal experiences in their performances. Lilah and Lewis skated to Lady Gaga’s song “Born This Way” in their Free Dance, a statement to Lewis’ public openness.

“We want to continue exploring the limits of the sport in terms of music choices and the style and the entertainment factor that we really love to bring” said Lilah. “Being creative and bringing a part of who we are on the ice, that’s something that really drives us”.

Queer culture

In January 2022, Lilah and Lewis sat down with UK’s Drag Race’s stars Tia Kofi and Veronica Green to chat about their shared love for costume design, make-up and performance.

“It was so incredible to watch them transform into drag queens in person, I mean I’m a big fan of the show” said Lewis. “Actually to see how much time they take and also how much of their personality shines when they are in drag I think it’s something we can all learn from”.

“It was so fun, I loved it” added Lilah. “Learning how to do make-up and eyelashes with them definitely brought us some tips for our competitions.”

Lilah Fear & Lewis Gibson (GBR) competing during the ISU European Figure Skating Championships in Espoo, Finland. @ISU
We hope you enjoyed this second article of a series in collaboration with former international Figure Skater and Olympian Javier Raya, part of the IOC Young Leaders’ program and founder of Compete Proud; a sports platform highlighting athletes’ inspirational stories in relation to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Stay tuned for the upcoming ones!

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