An exclusive interview with LGBTQ+ Olympian athlete and HIV activist Greg Louganis

Olympian, Sports director, Motivational Speaker, HIV/AIDS Activist, Actor. Greg Louganis consists of all the above and so much more. Greg has inspired the world first as a champion diver, and then as an activist for LGBT rights and HIV awareness.

For the record, Gregory Efthimios Louganis is an American Olympic diver, LGBTQ+ activist, and author who won gold medals at the 1984 and 1988 Summer Olympics, on both the springboard and platform. He is the only male and the second diver in Olympic history to sweep the diving events in consecutive Olympic Games. He has been called both “the greatest American diver and “probably the greatest diver in history”

Greg Louganis won two titles at the world championships in 1982, where he became the first diver in a major international meeting to get a perfect score of 10 from all seven judges. In the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, Louganis was the clear favourite not only among the bookmakers but also among the home crowd. At the 1988 Olympic Summer Games held in Seoul, South Korea, Louganis clipped his head on a reverse two-and-a-half somersault in pike position during the preliminaries for the men’s 3-meter springboard competition. He later wrote for The Huffington Post that he told his coach, “We worked too long and hard to get there, and I don’t want to give up without a fight.” He emerged from the water with his scalp seeping blood, but within an hour, he was diving again. Days later, he’d win gold performing that same Dive of Death.

YASS Magazine met the living legend Greg and here is our beautiful conversation.

How do you feel that you are the only male and the second diver in Olympic history to sweep the diving events in consecutive Olympic Games?

It happened so long ago, you know, and a lot of those records are a real tribute, after so many years. I have a lot of people who witnessed these moments with me and they remind me of these beautiful moments. My mum was there with me and she felt very proud, along with my coach, with whom I could not have done it.

People have called you the greatest diver in history.

(laughters) Unfortunately, we had to boycott because of my health problems. I am not a person who likes to speak for himself. I want my performance to speak for myself. I feel that though my career I was able to do that.

How do you feel being an openly gay famous and successful word-widely known diver?

This is quite an accomplishment and I am proud that some of my records still hold until today. But, I could not have done it without my coach! During my first Olympics I was just 16 and I didn’t think that anyone was watching. Those were very difficult times because I was still in high school and I had to go back after the Olympics. I had set the bar very high and I thought I was a failure when I went back to school believing that I could perform better but everybody else was celebrating me. It was very confusing for a teenager.

Once I got together with my coach Ryan O’Brian and started breaking the barriers and opening up everything became easier. He was like a father figure to me and always there for me and believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. There were a lot of people that were very concerned when I decided to come out publicly, especially my mum. This is also something that I mention in my book “Breaking the surface” that was on the shelves on 1995. She did not want me to mention in the book about my sexual identity, my abusive relationship and my HIV status, fearing that people were going to judge me. However, I felt that this was something very important to be mentioned in 1995, as I knew in my heart that I was not the only one there suffering in silence. However, there were many people that came to me and thanked me saying that with my book I saved their life. Many years later I decided to do a documentary about my life in HBO called “Back on board” and I felt that I had to share this experience with the world. I thought that I was showing my personal weaknesses, but in reality, I was demonstrating my strengths while doing that.

Did you feel relief or did you feel vulnerable?

I think it was a relief because it was honest and true. There was not any really hiding of anything, on the contrary, I was opening myself up and this proved to be a gift as it helped me live my life authentically.

You appeared in the Wheaties cereals. How did this collaboration happen?

It was funny because after HBO there was this campaign in and it totally blew up! There was this woman who watched the documentary and made this petition suggesting that I am on the Wheaties cereal box and it went massive! This was how everything started. And it was amazing! It started from a place of pure love and became iconic. It means more to me now because they are embracing and celebrating an entire person who is gay and HIV positive, not just an athlete.

Do you feel that you have sent a positive message to HIV positive people?

I hope I have sent a positive message to people living with HIV all around the world. So much has changed from when I was diagnosed in 1998 and the medication treatments are much more tolerable and there are huge steps in a very positive way. Of course, there is still stigma there in less metropolitan areas where people are not that educated. Also, the same happens in some rural areas too. There is still a lot of work to do.

Now living with HIV is much easier compared to the past. There are always difficult side effects and big commitments, but it is much better than in the past. I am doing well and I am pretty stable for quite a while.

I feel you talk about so personal things and you give hope and energy to so many people. Absolutely, you a role model for a lot of gay people and young athletes. I can say you are such a positive person and a source of inspiration.

Thank you. I try to inform and inspire so that people don’t live their life in a place of fear or hate or anything like that. It should be all about forgiveness. And the person that is the most difficult to forgive is yourself.

Have you ever had any problems in your relationships because of HIV?

Not really, because I was open about my HIV status from very early years. The awareness was there from the beginning. I am kind of a serial monogamist and I always stay with one person, so it was kind of understood. I never hid who I was. Not even in the dating profile I had and this is where I met my husband.

You have said that you suffered from depression in the past. How did you fight depression and how did you manage to stand on your feet?

I suffer from chronic depression and I have known that for a while. I am not on meds for the last years and what I have learned is coping skills. When I was in college, I tried to commit suicide. But I thought that God put me here in the Earth for something. So, this kind of put me in a different path and mindset. Even when I have these clouds over me I try to understand it and I use my coping skills. Since I have been an athlete for all my life, I am trying to be active and put myself to exercise, while taking some “investment” time for myself and go through a yoga practice or meditation to bring more awareness in my life. People who suffer from depression, sometimes we put on a smiling face and try to hide it, but sometimes I find myself wanting to share how I feel. And in most of the times, you will find that other people might suffer from the same symptoms. The important thing is to know that you will go through it and it will pass and tomorrow probably you will be better. What we haven’t seen is tomorrow. And this gives hope and promise and courage.

Do you have Greek roots? What is your relationship with Greece?

So, I am adopted. My parents were very young when they put me in foster care and eventually, I was adopted by Peter and Francis Louganis. My mother was Scotch Irish and my father Greek, so I was raised Greek with all the Greek traditions, dancing, the joy of cooking, the cultures and the hospitality. However, my biological father and he lives in Hawaii and I visited him recently with my husband. Even if I don’t have biological Greek roots (my biological mother is northern European) I have felt a lot of love and acceptance from their side too.

How do you manage to stay fit and so attractive? Do you go to the gym every day?

(laughters) I consider myself an athlete and I try to go to the gym every day. This is as important as taking my medication every day. It helps keep me mentally balanced as well.

You are a gay rights activist and HIV awareness advocate. How important is activism in your life?

I don’t feel like an activist. I know I have been given these labels, but I am just sharing who I am mostly. We all have had our challenges in our lives and it is about how you handle the challenges that you are faced with.

Greg Louganis speaks onstage during the “Back on Board: Greg Louganis” panel at the HBO 2015 Summer TCA Tour held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Thursday, July 30, 2015, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

Your pictures for ESPN magazine are so artistic and mind-blowing. Would you do another similar photoshoot if you were asked?

Yeah! I felt that I did it for the right reasons. Initially I thought that it was going to be just a close-up, but the photoshoot was outdoors, so I thought it would not just be a close-up (laughters). Once I started working with the very professional crew, I got more comfortable even though I was standing posing naked. And I am very proud of the result.

Athlete, actor, author. Where do all these talents come from? Hard work or luck?

Nothing that it’s worth anything comes easy. A lot of things happened just by chance and there is a certain amount of luck involved. When I look back in my entire life from the time that I was adopted, to the acrobatics classes that I was sent when I was young, along with all the other things that happened during all these years, I tend to believe that these shaped who I am and helped prepare me. Nothing happens by accident.

Who are your inspirations and your role models?

My inspiration comes from nature. Animals and their behaviour fascinate me, and this is one reason why I decided to do a dog training. I also grew up with dogs and I loved training and spending time with them. A lot of these behaviours can be identified with people and It is impressive that a lot of negative behaviours come out of fear.

How is life after marriage?

Life after marriage is incredible. It is great and it feels like having a teammate. We are partners and compliment each other very nicely. My partner is a lot of social and much more comfortable with groups and crowds, and I am not like that. Sometimes we to social events and I disappear, and my husband goes to the host and asks if there any pets, as you will most probably find me playing with the dogs while he is mingling with the dogs. This is who I am and what my comfort zone is.

You have also received the Attitude Sports award and you read a very heart-breaking letter. What would you say to your younger self?

This is what I read, a letter to my 16-year old self. The reason I picked 16, was because a lot of things happened that year. I participated in my first Olympics, I was still in high school and I as very hard at myself. The bottom line was acknowledging the people that were there for me, especially my mother and my coach. I started to be comfortable and accept who I was. And I learned that it does get better. The dark moments are going to pass. Even the good ones too. You cannot hang on them forever and this is life.

What do you most feel proud of?

I think the thing that I feel most proud of is my book, because at that time people, especially gay men were not talking about these things. And also, my documentary. I think these two had an impact to other people. I am also appreciative of my medals and my records. But the most important thing is what difference you make to somebody else’s life.

Are things better for the new generation of LGBTQ+ people? Is life easier for LGBTQ+ people?

Unfortunately, we run tough times with the administration we have right now. We have our challenges ahead of us, but hopefully they will not last too long. And hopefully, not too much damage will be done or this damage will be reversed. It is so important that people come together. It is about sharing your authentic self. And once you do that, the fear disappears and there can be a lot more empathy and compassion.

Would you ever think about adopting a child?

When I was in my 20s I thought about that. But, I was in an abusive relationship and this wasn’t an ideal situation. Now, that I am older and I am in a stable relationship, I think that the situation is different. Now, we are not thinking to adopt. Both me and my partner come from a gigantic family and there are enough kids in our lives.

What are your plans and your dreams for the future?

You never know what is around the corner. Back when I was diagnosed with HIV, I was thinking that I would be lucky if I got 3 more years and reach 30, but things changed and started evolving. So, I did not really plan for my future. When I was in my 40s, I thought that I gotta get a job and pay for my bills. I am taking one hurdle at a time and do what is in front of me and that’s it.

*All images are courtesy of Greg Louganis

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