By Mary Emily O’Hara, Rapid Response Manager By GLAAD.org | July 16, 2021
From the resources guide for journalists and media professionals
A record number of out LGBTQ athletes—at least 142 at the time of publication—are competing in the Tokyo Games from the U.S. and around the world.
LGBTQ athletes have likely competed in the Olympics and Paralympics since the very first Games in history. It’s only now that more are comfortable being out as their authentic selves, with many embraced and supported by fans and sponsors.
The growing visibility and acceptance of out athletes offers a unique opportunity for global audiences to see LGBTQ people as individuals on the world stage. LGBTQ athletes have the same basic human need to belong and—with an elite athlete’s drive to achieve—to represent their respective countries with pride, support, and dignity.
The Olympic and Paralympic Games are a celebration of our shared humanity and represent the pinnacle of sports achievement. Including LGBTQ athletes in your coverage means exploring all their challenges and triumphs, not just their sexual orientations and gender identities. Being LGBTQ is only once part of who they are and what they bring to their sports and to the Games.
Transgender athletes will face unique scrutiny in Tokyo. These are the first Games for which transgender athletes have qualified for competition, a historic moment that happens to align with a tremendous backlash waged against transgender participation in sports in dozens of U.S. states and in countries across the world including the UK and New Zealand.
It is critical that media recognize and report that transgender people have always existed throughout history and across cultures; that policies have been in place to include them in sports, including at the Olympics since 2004; and that despite misinformation about transgender athletes having an “unfair advantage,” this is the first time any have qualified for the Games in the nearly 20 years since inclusion.
For perspective, since 2004, there have been over 54,000
Olympians and Paralympians and not a single athlete has
been out as transgender, until New Zealand weightlifter
Laurel Hubbard qualified this year. There is no evidence that
transgender athletes have unfair advantages, or that they
are dominating—or ever will dominate—sports.
In the 2020 Summer Games, a record number of out LGBTQ athletes are competing compared to previous years. According to Outsports, there are at least 142 this year; in 2016 Outsports editors counted 56 out LGBTQ athletes, up from just 23 in 2012. As sports—and the world—becomes safer and more inclusive for LGBTQ people, athletes, more feel comfortable living openly as their authentic selves. Here is a sampling of some LGBTQ athletes to watch at this year’s Olympic and Paralympic Games, as of July 19, 2021.
PARTIAL LIST AND BIOS OF OUT OLYMPIANS and PARALYMPIANS COMPETING IN TOKYO
(as of July 14, 2021, ongoing updates to a more comprehensive list is provided by Outsports)
Sue Bird (she/her, Team USA, Basketball) is an American professional basketball player for the Seattle Storm and a member of Team USA Women’s Basketball. Bird was drafted by the Storm first overall in the 2002 WNBA draft and is considered to be one of the greatest players in WNBA history. She is an out lesbian and engaged to soccer player Megan Rapinoe. Bird is an Athlete Ally Ambassador.
Tom Bosworth (he/him, Team Great Britain, Race Walking) is a British race walking champion with multiple world and national medals who holds six British records. Bosworth is an ardent LGBTQ+ advocate who came out in 2015, and made headlines for proposing to his now-husband Harry in Rio during the 2016 Olympic Games there. Isadora Cerullo (she/her, Brazil National Team, Rugby) is a Brazilian-American rugby sevens player on Brazil’s national team. She won a bronze medal at the 2015 Pan American Games. At the 2016 Olympics, where she also competed, her now-wife walked onto the field at Deodoro Stadium and proposed to her12. Cerullo is an Athlete Ally Ambassador.
Kendall Chase (she/her, Team USA, Rowing) is a five-time World U23 champion and a World Junior silver medalist. Chase’s US Rowing bio describes her as an LGBTQ+ advocate who “hopes to help rowers and other LGBTQ+ youth find a safe space within the sport of rowing.”
Tom Daley (he/his, Team Great Britain, Diving) is a British diver who has won world, European and Commonwealth titles, and bronze medals at the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympics. Daley, who identifies as queer, came out in 2013 on YouTube. He married his husband, screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, in 2017 and they are raising their 3-year-old, Robert.
Gia Doonan (she/her, Team USA, Rowing) finished third in the the eight at the 2019 World Rowing Championships, and second in two 2019 World Rowing Cup events. Doonan is a World U23 gold medalist.
Edênia Garcia (she/her, Brazil National Team, Swimming) is a Brazilian Paralympic swimmer and an out lesbian18. She specializes in the backstroke and has won three Paralympic medals (silver at Athens 2004, bronze at Beijing 2008, silver at London 2012). Learn more.
Brittney Griner (she/her, Team USA, Basketball) is an American professional basketball player for the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA, and a Team USA Women’s Basketball team member. Griner came out publicly as a lesbian in a 2013 Sports Illustrated interview. Together with her Team USA teammate Sue Bird, Griner is one of 11 U.S. Olympic women’s basketball team players who have earned an Olympic gold medal, FIBA World Cup gold medal, WNBA title, and NCAA title.
Laurel Hubbard (she/her, New Zealand Olympic Team, Weightlifting) is a New Zealand weightlifter, and on June 21, was announced as the first openly transgender athlete to qualify to compete in the Olympics. Hubbard is part of a team of five weightlifters representing New Zealand in Tokyo23, is ranked fourth in her weight category (87 kilos) at the Games, and will be the oldest weightlifter competing at 43.
Robyn Love (she/her, Team Great Britain, Wheelchair Basketball) is a Scottish Paralympic basketball player who made her international debut in Japan at the 2015 Osaka cup, winning silver. Her team also placed fourth in the 2016 Paralympics in Rio. Love is an Athlete Ally ambassador.
Meghan O’Leary (she/her, Team USA, Rowing) is a 2016 Olympian, 2017 World Championship silver medalist, and five-time National Team member with the United States Rowing Team. This will be her
second Olympic Games. When not competing, O’Leary is a professional motivational speaker and marketing executive.
Quinn (they/them, Team Canada, Soccer [Football]) is a midfielder for OL Reign in the US National Women’s Soccer League (NSWL), and for the Canada women’s national soccer team. Quinn won a bronze medal at the 2016 Summer Olympics with Team Canada27. In September 2020, Quinn
came out as transgender, and on June 23, 2021, Quinn was announced as a member of Canada’s National Team for this year’s Olympics. Quinn is an Athlete Ally Ambassador.
Douglas Souza (he/him, Brazil, Volleyball) is an outside hitter on the Brazilian men’s volleyball team, which is currently ranked number one in the world. Souza’s team took gold at the 2016 Games in Rio along with several other world championships. He oftens speaks about the importance of being an out LGBTQ+ athlete and advocate in the Brazilian
Megan Rapinoe (she/her, Team USA, Soccer [Football]) is a two-time World Cup Champion and co-captain of the U.S. Women’s National Team. Rapinoe led the USWNT to the 2019 Women’s World Cup Championship, scoring some of the
biggest goals of the tournament and earning the tournament’s two top honors – the Golden Boot for top scorer, and the Golden Ball for the best player in the tournament. Rapinoe is an out lesbian, engaged to basketball player Sue Bird and an advocate for equality. Rapinoe is an Athlete Ally Ambassador.
Jessica Thoennes (she/her, Team USA, Rowing) is a University of Washington NCAA champion and placed second in the eight at World U23 in 2017.
Ellen Tomek (she/her, Team USA, Rowing) is a decorated champion rower who competed in the 2008 and 2016 Olympic Games in double sculls. Tomek has won several medals in the World Rowing Championships and World Rowing Cups in addition to numerous national victories.
Chelsea Wolfe (she/her, Team USA, BMX Freestyle (Alternate)) is a Team USA Freestyle BMX athlete. She is the first openly transgender woman to join the U.S. Olympic team, and is an alternate for the BMX Elite Women’s National Team, which is included for the first time in this year’s Olympics. Wolfe is an Athlete Ally Ambassador.
Jack Woolley (he/him, Team Ireland, Taekwondo) is the first Irish athlete to compete in Taekwondo at an Olympic level. While this will be his first Games, Woolley has won medals at international championships in Australia, Turkey, the USA, and at the European Championships. Woolley has said that after coming out as bisexual in the media, some
opponents have refused to shake his hand at matches.
HISTORY OF LGBTQ ATHLETES AT THE OLYMPICS
LGBTQ athletes have played a vital role in Olympic and Paralympic history, though many were not out at the time they competed.
At the 1976 games, British figure skater John Curry was outed by the press as gay shortly after winning the gold medal. Curry responded by saying the rumors were true, making Curry technically the first out gay Olympic athlete. Curry died of AIDS complications in 1994, but spoke openly about the disease in the years prior to his passing.
In the years prior to out Olympic athletes, many LGBTQ athletes competed in the Olympics while still closeted. Some athletes, such as Greg Louganis and Johnny Weir, waited until their Olympic competitions were over to come out publicly. Others were not given an option. After competing in the 1928 and 1932 Olympic Games, German track runner Otto Peltzer—known as the first gay Olympic athlete—was arrested in 1934 on the charge of homosexuality, which prevented him from training and qualifying for the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Peltzer was later sent to a Nazi concentration camp.
The Guide to Covering LGBTQ Athletes at the 2020 Olympics also includes athletes from Japan who have recently come out.
Reporters can explore how the Olympics and Paralympics have created an opportunity for LGBTQ athletes to come out, be more visible, and call for further protections for the LGBTQ community.
GLAAD rewrites the script for LGBTQ acceptance. As a dynamic media force, GLAAD tackles tough issues to shape the narrative and provoke dialogue that leads to cultural change. GLAAD protects all that has been accomplished and creates a world where everyone can live the life they love. For more information, please visit www.glaad.org or connect with GLAAD on Facebook and Twitter.
About Athlete Ally
Athlete Ally believes sport will change the world when it welcomes and empowers all people. As a leading national nonprofit working at the intersection of sport and LGBTQI+ equality, Athlete Ally works to end the structural and systemic oppression that isolates, excludes and endangers LGBTQI+ people in sport. We educate individuals and institutions to understand obstacles to inclusion for LGBTQI+ people and how they can build an inclusive culture within their athletic communities. We work to ensure sport governing bodies, teams and leagues adopt policies that reflect the diversity of their constituents. We incubate athlete activism to advance LGBTQI+ equality in and through sport. For more information, visit www.athleteally.org or follow us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.