By Tanya Kini
This year, there’s a record number of out LGBTI athletes at the Olympics. According to the magazine Outsports, 49 people are known to be from the community at the ongoing gala in Rio.
At the 2012 London Olympics, there were 23 openly gay and lesbian athletes, including rockstar American soccer player Megan Rapinoe (who was part of the team that won the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup), who came out publicly a month before the games in London. But coming back to Rio, there has been a significant increase in the number of openly gay and lesbian athletes competing at the Olympics, with most of them being from the Great Britain delegation.
Some are already Olympic medallists, FYI. Helen Richardson-Walsh and Kate Richardson-Walsh are married, as you might have guessed, and are the first same-sex couple to compete at the Games. Both play hockey for Great Britain, and won medals at the 2012 Summer Olympics. Isadora Cerullo, a Brazilian rugby sevens player made the headlines after her girlfriend, Marjorie Enya, a venue manager at the Rio Games, proposed to her after the women’s rugby sevens finals in a totally romantic and mushy way. There’s also Tom Daley, the British diver who won a bronze at Rio this year (and still has one more event to go), who had proposed to his partner, Dustin Lance Black in 2015, and Amini Fonua, the swimmer from Tonga, who was his country’s flag bearer at the 2012 London Games.
There are also three coaches who are openly gay and lesbian — there’s Jill Ellis, the World Cup-winning coach of the United States women’s football team, Alyson Annan, who coaches the Dutch women’s hockey team, and Pia Sundhage, who coaches the Swedish women’s football team.
While the number of out athletes is great, the city of Rio hasn’t been entirely welcoming. There have been reports of gay footballers from USA, Canada, and Australia being the victims of homophobic slurs from the Brazilian crowd. Coupled with reports of violence and murder of gay and transgender people in Brazil, the picture isn’t pretty. The 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics saw many people scared of how openly gay athletes participating in the Games would be treated, simply because of the LGBT policies (or lack thereof) in the host country. Russia had banned any “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” around children in the months leading up to the Sochi Games. “As an out athlete, I found myself feeling grateful that I am not a Winter Olympic athlete because I would have been very nervous to travel to Sochi. Debating whether or not to attend an Olympic Games because of a fear of personal safety because of your sexuality is not a part of the Olympic dreams I had envisioned as a young girl but that is the position the IOC put many athletes in these past winter games,” said kayaker Ashley Nee in an interview with Athlete Ally. And it isn’t just host countries that have shown problematic treatment of queer athletes. Today, The Daily Beast took down an article about athletes at the Olympics looking for sex on dating apps. The article hinted at the identities of some of the athletes, particularly queer ones, thereby potentially jeopardising their safety.
Puzzlingly, Outsports lists Dutee Chand as one of the 49 out LGBTI athletes. We can’t tell if they have her on this list because of her sexual orientation, or because they consider her intersex. As far as we know, Dutee has never publicly spoken of either. (Her condition —hyperandrogenism — is believed to be shared by Caster Semenya, who is also on this list. USA Today points out that Semenya has never spoken of herself as being intersex. Semenya may also be on Outsports‘ list because she is lesbian, and married to her female partner.) NBC has this strange interview with Chand, which tells us nothing at all about why she is being considered “out”.
In a move to get ahead of the drama and hoopla that preceded the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, Japan has actually been pushing for marriage equality in anticipation of the 2020 Japan Olympics. Let’s hope that by the time the Olympics caravan moves there, more athletes will have the freedom to make their sexuality public, should they choose to!