LGBT athletes in the Olympic and Paralympic Games

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Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) athletes have competed in the Olympic and Paralympic Games, either openly, or having come out some time afterward. Relatively few LGBT athletes have competed openly during the Olympics. Out of the 104 openly gay and lesbian participants in the Summer Olympics as of 2012, 53% have won a medal. Cyd Zeigler, Jr., founder of the LGBT athletics website Outsports, reasoned that this could be the result of the relieved focus and lack of "burden" an athlete would have after coming out, that "high-level athletes" are more likely to feel secure in coming out as their careers have been established, or their performance was mere coincidence and had no correlation with their sexual orientation at all.[1]

Marc Naimark of the Federation of Gay Games called the lack of openly gay athletes a symptom, not the problem, of the Olympic Games.[2] He said the International Olympic Committee should pressure countries to repeal anti-gay laws the same way it once excluded South Africa for its apartheid system of racial segregation, and "more recently, succeeded in getting all competing nations to include female athletes on their teams in London".[2]

In 2014, after that year's Winter Olympics were held in Russia — a country that had recently banned the distribution of "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships" among minors, the IOC amended its host city contracts for the 2022 Winter Olympics to include an anti-discrimination provision based on Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter (which itself includes sexual orientation).[3]

Alongside the Olympics, international multi-sport events have also been organized specifically for LGBT athletes, including the Gay Games and World OutGames.

By year[edit]

1996 Summer Olympics[edit]

2008 Summer Olympics[edit]

In the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, only 15 athletes out of the 10,708 participants were openly gay, lesbian or bisexual, including:

Of them only two, including Matthew Mitcham (who also won a gold medal, making him the first openly gay Olympic champion), were male.[4] Mitcham gained media coverage in Australia as reporters thought he was the first Australian to compete in the Olympics as an openly gay person at the time. However, Mathew Helm, the Australian diver who won the silver medal at the 2004 Summer Olympics in the men's 10m platform, had publicly announced he was gay before the Olympics began.[5][6] Other notable gay Australian Olympians include Ji Wallace, who competed at the 2000 Summer Olympics and won a silver medal in the inaugural trampoline event; however, he came out after the Games.[7]

2010 Winter Olympics[edit]

Of the 2,566 athletes who participated in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, only six athletes, all women, were openly lesbian or bisexual:[8]

2012 Summer Olympics[edit]

In the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, 23 athletes out of the 10,768 participants were openly gay, lesbian or bisexual:

LOCOG was the first organizing committee in Olympic history to include a commitment to diversity in its bid.[9] The organizers publicly supported pro-LGBT concerns during the lead-up to the Games, such as during Pride London 2010, when special pins featuring the Games' emblem and a rainbow flag were sold as part of a wider range celebrating various aspects of diversity. LOCOG chief executive Paul Deighton stated that its vision was "as bold as it is simple – to use the power of the Games to inspire change. We want to reach out to all parts of the community and connect them with London 2012".[10]

A slightly larger number of LGBT athletes competed in London, with 23 out of more than 10,000 competitors, and only three gay men.[2] Outsports co-founder Jim Buzinski considered it to be an "absurdly low number", and considered that in comparison to the arts, politics or business worlds, "sports is still the final closet in society".[2]

2012 Summer Paralympics[edit]

At least two out athletes competed in the 2012 Summer Paralympics in London.[11][12][13][14]

2014 Winter Olympics[edit]

In the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, seven openly gay women competed:[16]

Russia's stance on LGBT rights were a major concern during the lead-up to these Games;in 2012, a Russian court blocked the establishment of a Pride House in Sochi for the games because it would "contradict" public morality, and in June 2013, Russia became the subject of international criticism after it passed a federal "gay propaganda law", which made it a criminal offence to distribute materials classified as "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships" among minors.[17][18][19]

In the face of mounting anti-gay pressure, the Russian LGBT Sport Federation hosted a gay-friendly sport event in Moscow in order to boost gay pride and provide a positive image of LGBT Russians. The event had 200 participants from seven nations. This occurred during the break between the Olympics and Paralympics.[20]

2016 Summer Olympics[edit]

In the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, a record 68 athletes out of the 10,444 participants were openly gay, lesbian or bisexual, nearly double the LGBT athletes who took part in the 2012 Summer Olympics.[21][22][23] There were no openly transgender athletes, but Rolling Stone magazine reported that two transgender athletes would compete in Rio, based on anonymous details in IOC papers.[24] 51 women and 18 men - who are now openly LGBT - competed in this Olympiade (some came out afterwards) :

One other LGBT athlete was known to compete at the time, but did not wish to be identified due to still being in the closet. The Games also featured the first same-sex married couple to compete, Helen and Kate Richardson-Walsh, British field hockey players.[25]

2016 Summer Paralympics[edit]

At least 12 out athletes participated in the 2016 Summer Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, with 10 coming home with medals.[26][27]

In addition, there were two coaches who are openly LGBT, with the U.S. women's wheelchair basketball head coach, Stephanie Wheeler and her assistant coach, Amy Spangler.

2018 Winter Olympics[edit]

16 out athletes — twelve women and four men — participated in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea:[30] It marked the first time in the history of the Winter Olympics that male athletes competed who were openly gay; Canadian figure skater Eric Radford became the first out gay male athlete ever to win a Winter Olympic gold medal,[31] while figure skater Adam Rippon became the first American out gay male athlete ever to win a Winter Olympic medal, both in Team Figure Skating. Radford later also won Bronze in Pairs Figure Skating. A fifth male athlete, Guillaume Cizeron, came out after the event.

2018 Winter Paralympics[edit]

Cindy Ouellet, only LGBT athlete at 2018 Paralympic games

At least one openly LGBT athlete competed in the 2018 Winter Paralympics in PyeongChang.

Pride House[edit]

Pride Houses are a dedicated temporary location designed to play host to LGBT athletes, volunteers and visitors attending the Olympics, Paralympics or other international sporting event in the host city. The first attempt to organize a Pride house was for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.[34] The first was organized for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.[35] During the 2010 Winter Olympics, the Vancouver and Whistler Pride Houses served as venues for LGBT sportspeople, coaches, visitors and their friends, families and supporters, and became the first Pride Houses at an Olympics.[35][36] Although both Pride Houses offered information and support services to LGBT athletes and attendees, the Whistler location in Pan Pacific Village Centre had a "celebratory theme", while the Vancouver venue emphasised education about Vancouver's LGBT community and, for non-Canadian athletes, information about immigration to and asylum in Canada, including "legal resources" from Egale Canada and the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (IGLA).[36][37]

An attempt to obtain a Pride House at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia was struck down by the Ministry of Justice, which refused to approve the registration of the NGO set up to organize the Pride House. The ban was upheld by Krasnodar Krai Judge Svetlana Mordovina on the basis of the Pride House inciting "propaganda of non-traditional sexual orientation which can undermine the security of the Russian society and the state, provoke social-religious hatred, which is the feature of the extremist character of the activity".[38]

As it became clear that no Pride House could take place in Sochi, a number of leading LGBT sports organisations got together to promote the idea of cities elsewhere hosting their own Pride Houses during the Sochi Olympics. Pride House Toronto, which is to be the largest Pride House ever and due to be held during the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto, was already very advanced with its plans for a series of events during the Sochi Olympics highlighting the anti-LGBT laws and LGBT rights in general. In addition to Pride House Toronto, a group led by Pride Sports UK will host other Pride Houses of which Manchester will be the largest. Vancouver (Whistler), Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, Chicago, Cleveland, Toronto, Montreal, Philadelphia, Glasgow, Manchester, London, Copenhagen, Paris, Brussels, Utrecht, Amsterdam, Wellington, São Paulo, and Brasilia have also expressed interest.[39][40]

LGBT-oriented multi-sport events[edit]

Alongside the Olympics proper, several major multi-sport athletics competitions have been organized with a specific focus on LGBT athletes, such as the Gay Games and World OutGames. The Gay Games were first held in 1982 as the Gay Olympics; as the brainchild of former Olympian Tom Waddell, its goals were to promote the spirit of inclusion and participation, as well as to promote the pursuit of personal growth. The 1994 edition in New York City (which marked the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots) surpassed the size of the 1992 Summer Olympics with 10,864 athletes, in comparison to Barcelona's 9,356.[41][42] Similarly, in Europe, the European Gay and Lesbian Sport Federation organizes the EuroGames.

The World Outgames, as organized by the Gay and Lesbian International Sport Association, were first held in 2006 following a dispute between the Federation of Gay Games and the organizing committee of the 2006 Gay Games, which were initially awarded to Montreal (the 2006 Gay Games would instead be held in Chicago). With over 8,000 participants, the inaugural World OutGames were the largest international sporting event to be held in Montreal since the 1976 Summer Olympics.[43]

The Gay Games were founded by former Olympian Tom Waddell and originally went from 28th Aug- 5th Sep 1982. Hosted in San Francisco. The Gay Games have continued with the next being planned for 12–19 November 2022 in

Hong Kong this will be the first time the games have been to Asia[44]

During the 1976 Winter Games in Innsbruck athletes such as John Curry from Great Britain were outed before the closing ceremony[45]

History of LGBT Athletes in the Olympic Games[edit]

According to the LGBTI Olympic historian Tony Scupham-Bilton, at least 170 LGBTI athletes have competed as Olympians, dating back to at least 1928. That's when a young German runner named Otto Peltzer took the track for Germany. “Otto the Strange,” as he was known, was one of the athletic glories of the Weimar Republic, setting both national and world middle-distance track records in the 1920s. Despite his success, he failed to medal in either the ’28 or ’32 Games. The take over of the Nazi Party caused a crackdown on Gay athletes, and while there had been anti-gay law's in Germany for 60 years they were never fully enforced until the Nazi's took over. Peltzer was arrested and convicted on charges that he fornicated with young runners. Stella Walsh was scrutinized for her gender while competing at the games after being accused that she was a man posing as a woman. Athlete's who have been accused of competing as the wrong gender have been subject to invasive physical examinations.

Members of the LGBT community have been competing at the games for years. Lesbians make up the largest portion of known LGBT athletes including some of the greatest of all time. Babe Didrikson Zaharias who was a professional golfer was named the AP Top Woman Athlete of the Century as she also brought back two gold medals and a silver in track and field at the 1932 Olympic Games.[46]

List of LGBT Olympians[edit]

The following is a list of LGBT sportspeople who have competed at the Olympics. This includes athletes who competed while not being publicly known as LGBT at that time. Medals won are in parentheses.

See also[edit]


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