'Sport should be a safe place': gay Alberta Olympian advocates for equality

When Olympic speed skater Anastasia Bucsis realized she was attracted to women, it sent her into a spiral of depression. She has since come out as a gay athlete and works to make sport more inclusive for others in the LGBTQ community. Bucsis is speaking in Edmonton this week.

'Unfortunately we do see a lot of homophobia still in the locker room'

Speed skater Anastasia Bucsis, seen competing at the world championships. (Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

When Olympic speed skater Anastasia Bucsis realized she was attracted to women, it sent her into a spiral of depression.

"I was very much alone and anxious and it affected my mental health," Bucsis said during an interview with CBC Edmonton's Radio Active.

"A Catholic conservative, I really had no gay friends, and when I realized I was gay and grappling with that, and how that label was going to change my identity, I really struggled," said Bucsis.

Bucsis and Brian Burke — president of hockey operations for the Calgary Flames and advocate for LGBTQ equality will be speaking about equality in sport in Edmonton Wednesday as part of the Edmonton Public Library's Forward Thinking Speaker Series.

"Sport should be a safe place for absolutely everyone, and unfortunately we do see a lot of homophobia still in the locker room," said Bucsis. "It is a little bit of an old boys club.

"Obviously we have seen some great gains. I don't want to be negative and discount what we have done, but it is nowhere near where it needs to be, and continuing that discussion is really the only way we're going to champion that equality."

But Bucsis wasn't always so candid.

After years of anxiety and loneliness, the Calgary native came out to her friends and family in 2011, but kept her sexual orientation private from the athletic community for years afterward.

Bucsis was fearful of making a public declaration. She didn't want her orientation to become her whole identity.

But all that changed in the months leading up to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

Bucsis made a public statement, telling the world she was proud to be gay, to underscore her opposition to Russia's anti-gay laws.

"(I had ) just a real lack of self love and I kind of made myself a promise that if I could lend my name or my face to any kid that was struggling with that, I would. So before Sochi, it seemed, it was the right thing for me to do.

"People were a little bit confused as to why I would speak about something so private, but when the entire world comes together and gathers on the world stage, it becomes more than sport, it becomes political."
Bucsis struggled with her sexual orientation for years. She's now an LGBTQ advocate. (Anastasia Bucsis/Twitter )
 Since speaking out, Bucsis has become a dedicated advocate for making the sporting community a safe place for LGBTQ athletes. When she's not training for the Winter Olympics, she works as an ambassador and member of the You Can Play Project, an activist group dedicated to the eradication of homophobia in sports.

She says the friction she faced when coming out is still prevalent, and that a culture of fear and stigmatisation is keeping athletes in the closet, or pushing them out of sport altogether.

"I'm just going to be myself, and that's all I can be.

"My sexual orientation is one aspect of my identity and it doesn't define me and it never has, but until athletes feel comfortable to come out of the closet, we need to continue talking about it. 

"I really want to help kids struggling with this, because I remember how tough it was for me."