Waving the RAINBOW flag for Team LGBTQ+


At this year’s belated Tokyo Summer Olympics and Paralympics, there was something of a rainbow wave, with a record number of LGBTQ+ athletes competing and winning medals. According to Outsports, who had been crunching the data, there were at least 183 publicly out LGBTQ+ athletes at the Olympics this summer and they tracked them as if they were a country – Team LGBTQ+ if you will. 

“Imagine if all the publicly out lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and non-binary athletes were on one team, representing one country with common causes of inclusion,” they explained. “That’s how we covered this collective group of inspiring out athletes.”

The results were quite amazing. In the final standing, Team LGBTQ+ ranked 7th overall, just ahead of the Netherlands, France, Germany and Italy. Between them, they won 11 gold, 13 silver and 9 bronze medals. Whoever said that queer people were rubbish at sport?

Team LGBTQ+ also performed amazingly well at the Paralympics too, coming in overall 15th place in the medal tally. There were 36 out athletes competing, which was a number that grew as the Games went on. The 25 medals won by LGBTQ+ athletes were by far the most ever won at a Paralympics, with Team LGBTQ+ finishing ahead of Spain, Hungary and Poland.  

With this in mind, we thought we would look at some of the most inspirational LGBTQ+medal winners from this year’s remarkable summer of sport in Japan. 

Lee Pearson – Great Britain

Sir David Lee Pearson, CBE, is a 14-times Paralympic games gold medallist, having represented Team GB in Sydney, Athens, Beijing, London, Rio and Tokyo. As well as winning a staggering 11 golds at Paralympic events, he has also won a whole host of other world and European medals and even a knighthood. He later became the first openly gay Paralympic champion. Out of his many successful moments, he told BBC Sport that being a flagbearer for the Great Britain team at the opening ceremony of the Rio Games in 2016 as one of his proudest. “It wasn’t about me, it was the message we sent out to other countries… I hope it sent a message out to other nations where diverse sexuality is oppressed and still not accepted and where sometimes you can even be put to death.” 

Nesthy Petecio- Philippines
Boxing When Nesthy won a silver at this year’s games, she became the first ever Filipino female boxer to win an Olympic medal. The 29-year-old athlete, who openly identifies as a lesbian, dedicated her medal to the LGBTQ+ community, telling people to fight for their rights. “This win is for the LGBTQ+ community. Let’s go, fight!” she said in a post-match interview translated by ESPN. According to the outlet, she later went on to say, “Whatever gender we may identify ourselves as, as long as we have a dream, we have to keep fighting and set aside those who try to doubt us or pull us down.” Her home country seems incredibly proud of her, having featured her on a postage stamp following her medal victory.
Raven Saunders – United States
Shot PuttRaven really brought some colour to the games and we aren’t just talking about her green and purple hair or the collection of Marvel-inspired face masks she wore while competing. Nicknamed The Hulk, she also twerked after winning silver.The 25-year-old, who is black, gay and has spoken candidly about her struggles with mental health and depression, made an X gesture on the podium with her arms after winning her medal. She explained the gesture represented “the intersection of where all people who are oppressed meet.” In a statement to the media following the event, she said, “Shout out to all my black people. Shout out to all my LGBTQ community. Shout out to all my people dealing with mental health. At the end of the day, we understand it’s bigger than us and it’s bigger than the powers that be. We understand that there’s so many people that are looking up to us, that are looking to see if we say something or if we speak up for them.”
Tom Daley – Great Britain

Tom not only won an Olympic gold medal at this year’s games, he also became the world’s most famous knitter along the way. This was Daley’s fourth Olympic Games and his second after coming out publicly as gay. Thirteen years after his Olympic debut, he took the gold in the 10m synchro alongside Matty Lee and it was hard not to have a tear in your eye as the pair celebrated. He dedicated the medal to the LGBT+ community saying, “I hope that any young LGBT person out there can see that no matter how alone you feel right now, you are not alone. That you can achieve anything and that there is a whole lot of your chosen family out here, ready to support you.” He has since called for an Olympic ban on countries where being gay is punishable by death, as well as criticising the FIFA World Cup for holding the competition in Qatar. And what about that pullover?

Robyn Lambird – Australia
Wheelchair Racer

This year’s Paralympics featured the first three out non-binary athletes to complete in the games, with Australian Maz Strong winning a bronze medal in the seated shot put and Laura Goodkind representing the USA in rowing. Australian wheelchair racer Robyn became the first out non-binary person to win a medal, when they took bronze in the Women’s 100m T34, which is a category for wheelchair users with cerebral palsy. They took up the sport after previously competing in wheelchair rugby and wheelchair basketball. They saw the Paralympics as a way of showing what a disabled and non-binary athlete can achieve. Following their medal win they told Channel 7 news in Australia that “Disabled is sexy!”  

Katarzyna Zillman – Poland

Against a backdrop of increased homophobia in Poland Katarzyna bravely thanked her girlfriend after winning her silver medal in the quadruple skull rowing event. At a time when towns have been declaring themselves free of “LGBT ideology”, she later said, “I felt the need. Until now, however, my voice was not as loud as it is now. I know that in this way, I will help others. It was enough that I showed up in a T-shirt with the words “Sport against homophobia” and I got a few messages from young girls practising rowing. One of them opened up to me, described her difficult home situation to me and confessed that I helped her a lot with my attitude. One such message is enough to completely forget about thousands of hate comments and disgusted faces.”

Quinn – Canada
The Canadian women football team’s defender, Quinn (who goes by just one name) became the first trans-athlete to win a gold medal at the Olympics. Quinn uses gender-neutral pronouns and was assigned female at birth but after years of personal struggles and soul-searching, realised their gender didn’t match their sex. They came out on Instagram last year saying, “I want to be visible to queer folks who don’t see people like them on their feed. I know it saved my life years ago. I want to challenge cis folks (if you don’t know what cis means, that’s probably you!) to be better allies. It’s a process, and I know it won’t be perfect, but if I can encourage you to start then it’s something.”
Ana Mercela Cunha – Brazil
Marathon Swimmer

When the president of your country is as homophobic as Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, winning a gold medal as an out athlete must feel doubly amazing. Ana, who is engaged to Diana Abla (who represents Brazil at water polo), is an extraordinary swimmer. Indeed, she has been described as one of the best open water swimmers in history, having won five golds medals in the World Swimming Championships, and won the World’s Greatest Open Water Swimmer Award six times. When she took Olympic gold in the Women’s Marathon 10km she said,“This medal is dedicated to all those who fought for the defence of the rights of women and LGBT people.”  


Netherlands track star Ramsey Angela claimed silver in the men’s 4x400m relay at the Tokyo Olympics. Instead of publicly coming out in the press, he posted pictures of himself and his boyfriend on Instagram and other images of himself in front of a Pride flag. 

Venezuelan Yulimar Rojas won gold in triple jump. The openly lesbian athlete is a vocal advocate for LGBTQ+ rights in a country where the armed forces still criminalise same-sex relationships and marriage equality is currently being debated. 

The Irish boxer Kelli Harrington, who is openly lesbian, won gold in the lightweight boxing, using the Lion King as inspiration along the way. “Hakuna Matata, it means no worries,” she said before going on to victory. 

Credits: Lee Pearson (CC Chris Brown); Nesthy Petecio (Philippine stamp); Raven Saunders (CC Bob Ramsak)
Robyn Lambird (Explorer-Media); Quinn (CC Jamie Smed); Katarzyna Zilman (CC Julie Korvovic)