It’s Olympics time, and we all have a reason to be happy for it – think divers, gymnasts, speed runners, high jumpers and so on. A lot of skin, a lot of stretchy uniforms… It would already be more than enough to be happy. If we add the fact that 172 athletes competing at Tokyo 2020 are openly gay (compared to 56 in Rio 2016 and only 23 in London 2012) I would say that there is plenty to be happy for. The question is: is it enough?
A growing number of us is finally proud to be part of the rainbow community (we do have cakes, glitters, amazing cocktails and a lot of fun), but there is a big part of us that still doesn’t want or can’t be open. For example, during a press conference, Tom Daley declared his pride at being “proud to be a gay man and an Olympic champion”, while sitting between a Chinese and a Russian. In China being gay is not illegal, but LGBTQ+ couples don’t have the same rights and protections of straight couples. Russia saw a decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1993, but there is no legal protection for LGBTQ+ people, all the contrary: LGBTQ+ people can be openly discriminated, and the law protects the perpetrators. The Italian archer Lucilla Boari came out impromptu during a videoconference: Sanne de Laar, a Dutch archer who couldn’t make it to the Olympics, congratulated her live and a clearly moved Lucilla simply said “That’s Sanne, my girlfriend”. Same again for the Polish rower Katarzyna Zillmann, whom, after winning silver, dedicated the medal to her girlfriend. As she explained in a later interview, ‘I have never been in the closet, all the contrary. I spoke about being in a same-sex relationship more than once, but it had never been published.’ Poland, like Hungary, has an ultra-nationalist government in place, LGBTQ+ rights in these two countries have recently being scrapped and being gay is compared to being a paedophile.
If we look at the list of openly gay athletes, the majority comes from US, Australia, New Zealand Canada and UK. Brazil is the first Latin American country for number, but there are also Mexico, Venezuela, Argentina and Peru. Asia only counts athletes from the Philippines and a brave one from India (please a round of applause for Dutee Chand!). There is a handful of athletes from Europe, one from Cyprus and one from Israel, while the rest of the world is not represented at all.
Numbers are growing and so is our visibility, but there’s still a long road to travel ahead of us. There are still country were homosexuality is illegal, punishable with prison or even death. It’s not over just because Lauren Hubbard failed to win a medal in the women’s weightlifting. She is the first open transgender woman to compete at the Olympics and her participation was welcomed by praise but also some controversies, most of them revolving around the fact that she might have been facilitated since she was born in a male body. The reality is that the Olympics have been open to transgender participation since 2004 and Lauren was the first one who qualified in her category. Quinn, the Canada soccer midfielder came out as trans and non-binary in 2020. They are the first transgender non-binary Olympic athletes, and they declared their hope to be a role model for young folks and young trans who are questioning their identity and gender.
Slowly but surely, we are making it, one step at the time. We are becoming a bit more than a rainbow logo of a restaurant chain in June. We are becoming a bit more than the ‘exotic’ bit in a tv advert or a film. It’s a battle we are fighting for the future generation, to leave them something like our older brothers and sisters did for us, for the oppressed part of our generation, may it be because of internalised homophobia or government laws, but most of all, we are doing it for ourselves. Because we deserve to be seen for what we are, whatever that may mean for every single one of you.
I wish you all to be like Tom Daley, knitting his ass off on the bleachers of an Olympic final. Let’s be out, let’s be proud and let’s be earnest!