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  • Russian athletes share a kiss at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

    Russian athletes share a kiss at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. | Photo: AFP

Published 6 August 2016

While there is still stigma attached to being queer or transgender in the realm of sports, progress has been made and is likely to continue.

While there is still stigma attached to being queer or transgender in the realm of sports, progress has been made and is likely to continue.

The 2016 Olympic games are already setting records — history will be made in Rio as the most number of LGBT athletes are set to compete in events this year.

As Think Progress reported, the 2008 Summer games in Beijing saw 12 LGBT athletes participate, while in London in 2012 that number was 22. This year, however, the number of queer athletes has almost doubled to 43.  

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“The sports world is far more evolved on LGBTQ issues than we give it credit for,” said Cyd Zeigler, a founder of Outsports.com, as reported by Think Progress. “While there may still be issues in some front offices, the athletes and fans have been ready, willing and able to accept and welcome gay teammates and colleagues for many years.”

Kate Richardson-Walsh and Helen Richardson-Walsh will also be the first same-sex married couple to ever compete in the games this year as well. Having known each other since they were young, they played on the same teams together for well over a decade, making their Olympic debut together in the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Kate Richardson-Walsh and Helen Richardson-Walsh, the first same-sex couple to compete in the games ever. | Photo: Instagram / @katewalsh11gb

“We’re a couple, we love each other, and we happen to be playing in the same team,” Kate told the BBC. “I think because our teammates and our friends and family have all been so supportive and understanding of that we also don’t see anything strange or different.”

But despite this progress, many athletes fear coming out for the fear of losing sponsors, which are crucial to their careers.

“There are closeted Olympians who compete in every single athletic competition,” said Hudson Taylor,  founder of Athlete Ally, a nonprofit organization looking to end anti-LGBT sentiment in sports, as reported by Quartz. “There is still something about sports culture that is less inclusive than it can and should be.”

Greg Louganis, an American Olympic diver who won gold medals in both 1984 and 1988, only came out as an HIV-positive gay man after he retired from diving, with the release of his book, "Breaking The Surface."

Gus Kenworthy, an American Olympic freestyle skier, came out in October 2015, after having already competed in the 2014 Winter Olympics. Afraid of the reactions from his sponsors, the result was markedly different. Nike came out in strong support of him, as well as other LGBT athletes.

“As an out Lesbian, African-American woman, I am proud to represent our country and the diversity that makes us so strong,” Brittney Griner told ThinkProgress about competing in the Olympics. “All kids, no matter what their background, religion or orientation can find a role model on Team USA and I hope that especially at this point in history, that our diverse group striving for one common purpose will inspire a sense of unity in everyone.”

Chris Mosier, the executive director of GO! Athletes and the first transgender man to make the U.S. National Team as a duathlete, advocated vehemently for trans rights with the International Olympic Committee, and eventually got the body to change its rules to allow transgender athletes to compete without having to have gender reassignment surgery.

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“Visibility is a powerful tool in the LGBTQ sports movement,” said Mosier, as reported by Think Progress. “The more people see examples of LGBTQ athletes competing and succeeding at a high level, the more others will be inspired to do the same.”

This year, reporters highlighting the stories of LGBT athletes will be working from the Pride House — a specified location at the games which first began at the Vancouver Olympics — in which LGBT individuals, family members, and friends, can gather, celebrate, and interact during the duration of the events.


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