Where it used to be the case that sports was slow to recognise and embrace these athletes, sweeping social and cultural changes have now found their way to the Olympic Games. As Outsports co-founder Cyd Zeigler explains to The Guardian, LGTBQ+ athletes in the Olympic village are now contacting the publication to have their name added to the list, marking a dramatic shift from previous years when the opposite was more likely to occur.
“That really reflects the pride that these athletes take in being LGBTQ. It’s not something that they want to hide anymore, they want to be recognised as part of the community,” he said. “It’s clear that these really are the Rainbow Games.”
As The Guardian reports, “Women outnumber men on the list of out gay athletes by about an 8-1 margin, with women’s football alone accounting for more than 40 out players. Other gay male competitors include the New Zealand diver Anton Down-Jenkins, the equestrians Edward Gal and Hans Peter Minderhoud from the Netherlands and the US cox Julian Venonsky.” Transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard will be competing for New Zealand this week and was also just recently praised by the International Olympic Committee.
In a press conference following his diving win, Daley spoke about the challenges he’d faced over the course of his life as a gay man in the public glare. “In terms of out athletes, there are more openly out athletes at these Olympic Games than any Olympic Games previously. I came out in 2013 and when I was younger I always felt like the one that was alone and different and didn’t fit. There was something about me that was never going to be as good as what society wanted me to be,” he said.
“I hope that any young LGBT person out there can see that no matter how alone you feel right now, you are not alone. You can achieve anything.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by US shot-put star and Tokyo 2020 silver medallist Raven Saunders. On the podium, Saunders crossed her arms in an “X” gesture, made in solidarity with “oppressed people." Saunders, who is Black and an outspoken supporter of LGBTQ+ rights, said she wanted to represent “people all around the world who are fighting and don’t have the platform to speak up for themselves.”
But despite the increased representation, there is still much to be done. News outlets have been quick to note the fact that host nation Japan is out of step with the rest of the world, after not adopting the same sweeping social change that made same-sex marriage a reality in many countries. For those watching around the world though, the feats of athletes and their openness is inspiring. As former Team GB hockey captain, Kate Richardson-Walsh said in an interview with The Guardian, “When I heard - and I’m going to get emotional here - when I heard Tom Daley talk in the press conference about being a proud gay man, and an Olympic gold medalist, I just thought: yes, absolutely yes. What a strong, powerful statement to make.”