Waving the RAINBOW flag for Team LGBTQ+
MATT NEWBURY CELEBRATES SOME OF THE LGBTQ+ ATHLETES WHO WON MEDALS AT THIS SUMMER’S OLYMPICS AND PARALYMPICS IN TOKYO
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.
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.”
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?
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!”
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.”
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.