By David “Dirk” Smith, M.Sc., SDL (He/Him)

Following the Tokyo Summer Olympics last year that saw the largest ever LGBTQ+ representation in Olympic history, including the first time ever having transgender athletes participate. Team LGBTQ+ is set for an encore with the 2022 Winter Olympics as the Olympic roster continues to fill up with LGBTQ+ athletes.


The 2018 Winter Olympics had a record 15 openly LGBTQ+ athletes, which is over double the number of out athletes from the 2014 Winter Olympics. The 2018 games included the first openly gay men, skier Gus Kenworthy and ice skater Adam Rippon. So far, the 2022 Winter Games have a record 35 out LGBTQ+ athletes who are confirmed to be competing in Beijing, which run from February 4th to February 20th. For Athlete Activist, Amazin LeThi, this represents a great opportunity to advance LGBTQ+ visibility.


“Since the last Winter Olympics in 2018 the number of out athletes has doubled to at least 35. Visibility of LGBTQ athletes at the Olympic Games is growing but the representation of Asian LGBTQ Olympic athletes is still very much invisible. The Beijing Olympics gives the athletic community an opportunity to be an ally in action not just for Asian LGBTQ athletes but also to champion LGBTQ equality across Asia.”


The winter Olympics is typically a smaller event when compared to its summer counterpart. To contrast, the Tokyo Summer Games hosted more than 182 openly LGBTQ+ athletes, 57 of which won 33 medals. The Winter Olympics being much smaller in overall sports offered as well as a smaller number of countries and athletes participating, it is important to compare winter games to winter games and summer games to summer games.


The elephant in the room being the host, Beijing, China, which has a seen a lot of controversy over its role in hosting the games as ongoing human rights abuses in regard to the Uighur people, democratic crackdowns in Hong Kong, the ongoing coronavirus epidemic and other issues. LGBTQ+ people are also subject to oppression and discrimination by the Chinese Communist Party which still views both gay and trans as being a mental disorder. In addition, China has warned against foreign athletes making any kind of “speech or behavior” considered political and that athletes “may face punishment”.


“Any expression that is in line with the Olympic spirit I’m sure will be protected,” Yang Shu, deputy director general of international relations for the Beijing Organizing Committee, said in a news conference Tuesday. “Any behavior or speech that is against the Olympic spirit, especially against the Chinese laws and regulations, are also subject to certain punishment.”


This vague statement draws concern for LGBTQ+ athletes based on what’s considered as behavior or speech. Acts such as public displays of affection with a same gender partner, wearing a rainbow flag or other displays of LGBTQ+ pride may potentially put athletes at risk of said punishment.


While we are cheering on Team LGBTQ+ in Beijing in a few weeks, we hope that all goes well during the games and that medals will abound again as they did this summer in Tokyo.


Photo via Wikimedia Commons