Mark Boitano says his brother's legacy is more than his sexuality - Albuquerque Journal

Mark Boitano says his brother’s legacy is more than his sexuality

Gold medalist Brian Boitano performs during the free skate portion of the men’s figure skating competition at the 1988 Calgary Olympics. (John Redman/The Associated Press)
Gold medalist Brian Boitano performs during the free skate portion of the men’s figure skating competition at the 1988 Calgary Olympics. (John Redman/The Associated Press)

Being the brother of an international celebrity, says Mark Boitano, is “awesome.”

That might not be the case if one’s international celebrity sibling were, say, Justin Bieber.

But Olympic gold medalist figure skater Brian Boitano, his brother says, handles his celebrity with such class and matter-of-fact ease that the celebrity simply doesn’t exist in a family setting.

“My parents worked hard to make certain all the kids had equal attention, and Brian is an ordinary guy – fun-loving, considerate. He doesn’t have a big ego,” Mark Boitano said in an interview with the Journal conducted via email.

Brian’s recent revelation that he is gay might change some people’s perception of him, especially considering the circumstances.

Named by President Barack Obama to the U.S. delegation to the Sochi Olympics along with Billie Jean King and Caitlin Cahow, both openly gay, Boitano made the decision to “come out” in light of Russia’s oppressive stance toward homosexuality.

But that revelation, his brother said, won’t change Brian Boitano’s own perception of who he is – or how he lives his life going forward.

“Brian’s identity and legacy will remain intact,” Mark Boitano said. “He won’t have a problem with that.”

Mark Boitano, Brian’s older brother, has lived in Albuquerque since 1983. He and his son, Nate, have a successful residential real estate business. Mark was a Republican New Mexico state senator from 1997-2012 before retiring undefeated.

Mark and Brian grew up together in Sunnyvale, Calif., the brothers of Jill and Lynn and the sons of Lew and Donna.

“Our parents were extremely private,” Mark Boitano said. “They traveled anonymously with Brian, using the last name Greene. (Before) my dad, who was a very successful businessman, passed away last year at age 90, he told the four children: ‘No service, no obituary, nothing.’

“That spirit rubbed off on all the children, including Brian and I, who lived the most public lives.”

Donna Boitano died on Jan. 29 in Sunnyvale at age 89. Brian was able to say goodbye to his mother and attend a memorial service before leaving for Sochi.

The Boitano family is pictured around Christmastime 1985 in their Sunnyvale, Calif., home. Front row, from left, Mark, father Lew and mother Donna. Back row, Brian, Jill and Lynn. (Courtesy of  Mark Boitano)
The Boitano family is pictured around Christmastime 1985 in their Sunnyvale, Calif., home. Front row, from left, Mark, father Lew and mother Donna. Back row, Brian, Jill and Lynn. (Courtesy of Mark Boitano)

Brian, the youngest of Lew and Donna’s four kids, grew up to be a public figure as one of the world’s finest figure skaters – twice a national champion, twice a world champion and an Olympic gold medalist in Calgary in 1988. He then turned pro but regained his amateur standing and competed in the 1994 games in Lillehammer, Norway, finishing sixth.

During and after his skating career, Brian Boitano, now 50, has stayed in the public eye.

He shared an Emmy Award with fellow Olympians Katarina Witt and Brian Orser for the 1990 film “Carmen on Ice.” He performed with Gloria Estefan and Michelle Kwan at halftime of Super Bowl XXVI (Redskins 37, Bills 24) in 1992. He has hosted TV shows on the Food Network and HGTV.

In none of the above was his sexual orientation an issue, or even mentioned.

“I’ve always reserved that side of my life for people I love and care about,” he told Miami Herald sports columnist Michelle Kaufman in a story published last week.

His brother, of course, was one of those people.

“I’ve known Brian was gay for decades,” Mark Boitano said.

Whether others knew was not of great concern to Brian – until the president, for obvious reasons, appointed him to the Olympic delegation.

Before deciding to come out publicly, Brian Boitano related to Kaufman, he talked to his family.

“We are a private family,” he said, “so I wanted to clear it with them.”

In his conversation with Brian, Mark told the Journal, he just wanted his brother to be sure.

“Brian felt backed up against a wall when he was suddenly a presidential appointee to what seemed like a gay delegation,” Mark said, “and I wanted him to feel he had options. I told him if he wanted to come out, to do it, but if he still wished for the public to respect his privacy and remain silent about his sexuality, he should be comfortable with that decision, as well.

“We examined both options. I didn’t have an opinion one way or another; I just wanted him to have a choice.”

As a state senator, Mark Boitano exercised his own freedom of choice by opposing same-sex marriage. He has not changed his position.

“You can give same-sex couples the legal rights and benefits afforded married heterosexual couples,” he said, “without using the label of marriage.”

He sees no contradiction between that stance and his support for his brother.

“Reasonable people can debate the issue (of gay marriage),” he said. “… But there really isn’t room for debate when it comes to ending prejudice towards gays, especially the intolerance and judgment I see in some people of faith.

“Jesus taught me to be more worried about the log in my own eye than the speck in my brother’s.”

Mark said he has discussed the issue of gay marriage with his brother, adding that, of Mark’s and his wife, Cory’s, six siblings, three are gay/lesbian.

“They thought it rather funny hearing about my reputation as a homophobe with the New Mexico LGBT community because they know my heart,” he said. “… We are in agreement that hostility and prejudice towards gays is wrong, and that extending the legal rights and benefits afforded married heterosexual couples to gay couples in long-term relationships is the right thing to do.”

Brian Boitano, his brother said, is in Sochi for a week. As part of an official delegation, he’s surrounded by security. Mark said he has no concern about his safety while he’s there.

When he returns, Mark said, Brian will be the same person he was before coming out – comfortable in public settings yet not seeking attention.

He then quoted his brother from the Miami Herald article. “He said: ‘I am many things: a son, a brother, an uncle, a friend, an athlete, a cook, an author, and being gay is just one part of who I am.’

“I thought that was classic Brian, walking a different path. His legacy is much larger than his sexuality.”


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