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  • Wednesday, December 2, 1998

    Orser out in the open

    Gay skater wants to set the record straight

    By STEVE MILTON -- Hamilton Spectator
      "Although I'm a gay person, I'm definitely a man on the ice. That's as simple as it is: I'm a man on the ice and I'm a man off the ice.
     "Because I'm 'outed' doesn't mean I'm going to be a different person." -- Brian Orser
     Elvis Stojko neatly dismisses the furor surrounding figure skater Brian Orser's palimony case.
     "Some people are gay," Stojko shrugs. "So what?"
     Brian Orser is homosexual. Most people in the skating world have known that for years.
     But in the wake of successful court arguments to unseal both a statement of claim by Orser's former lover Craig Leask and a counter-statement of defence by Orser, there is this lingering accusation that Orser has been deceitful.
     In the two weeks since the case burst into the spotlight, there have been several things that have depressed and angered Orser, including a focus on the statement of claim and the lack of attention paid to the statement of defence.
     What really has torn at Orser is that there are people who are now regarding him as some kind of hypocrite. A pretender unwillingly unmasked.
     "No one asked me," he said. "Had I been asked if I was gay, I would probably have danced around it ... and eventually said yes."
     But the sports world of 1984 and of 1988 (Orser's two Olympic years) was significantly less tolerant than it is today.
     It was against this backdrop of barely contained prejudice that Orser decided that while he has to be who he is, he didn't have to publicize it.
     "When you meet someone on the street you don't say, 'I'm straight!' do you?" he said this week.
     Orser said he might have "over-reacted" in fearing the damage to his career if sealed documents were opened to the prying media.
     But while there was an admitted concern for his career, Orser had another, larger fear when he asked that court documents be sealed last January. He, among others, was central in bringing Canadian skating back from the competitive wilderness. Figure skating had been good to him. For a quarter-century it was his life. And in January, the Nagano Games were less than a month away.
     "I didn't want my lifestyle to become an issue and distract from the skating and the skaters," he said. "Suddenly, because it was the Olympics, everyone is looking for stuff. I didn't want to take away from the Games."
     That's something which Stojko, and others, appreciate.
     "I think it's brutal, I think it's unfair, how it's thrown into the papers," said Stojko, who trained with Orser for several years at Mariposa Skating Club.
     "Something like lifestyle should be behind the scenes. I know Brian, he's a good friend of mine. People always say that that's what (celebrities) get paid for, but that's wrong. A part of your life is private ... and especially after what he's done for Canada.
     "Brian never skated soft. He was masculine in his skating. He never flaunted it on the ice. He skated male, and I respect that a lot."
     Orser knows there are difficult times yet to come -- as there are for Leask. Separations of any kind are rarely clean, and never easy.
     But Orser is thankful for the rush of support he has received from Stojko and other skaters. And he doesn't plan to change anything, because there is nothing to change.
     Hamilton Spectator sports writer Milton co-authored Orser's autobiography.

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