By Dirk Smith, M.Sc, SDL (He/Him)
The summer Olympics this year were remarkable and historical for several reasons, most notably for the powerhouse of Team LGBTQIA+ as more than 182 openly LGBTQIA+ athletes took park, more than 3x of any previous Olympic games.
Non-Binary/Transgender Athletes Represent
For the first time in Olympic history, transgender and non-binary athletes openly participated. Despite being allowed since 2003, it wasn’t until now, 18 years later that any transgender/non-binary athlete was able to qualify. It wasn’t just a single athlete either, three athletes took part, Team Canada’s Quinn (soccer), Team USA’s Alana Smith representing as non-binary athletes and Team New Zealand’s Laurel Hubbard representing trans athletes. In addition, as a member of Team Canada’s Women’s National Soccer team, Quinn became the first non-binary/trans athlete to win an Olympic medal and a gold one at that. For LGBTQIA+ athletes around the world, the representation of these athletes at the Olympics served as an even greater moment of inspiration to see athletes of diverse gender identities representing at the world’s highest echelon of sports.
Team LGBTQIA+ Rakes in the Medals
If Team LGBTQIA+ were its own country, it would have finished seventh in the overall medal count with at least 33 different medals won among 57 athletes. This puts Team LGBTQIA+ ahead of every country that criminalizes homosexuality and shows how being able to live and compete as your authentic self can really have a major impact on your performance and capability. The final medal count is 11 gold, 13 silver and 9 bronze.
Despite this Record Turnout, Homophobia, Transphobia and Intersexism Were Still Present
Even with this increased turnout and representation, we are still reminded why being so out and open for the LGBTQIA+ community matters. Several homophobic/transphobic incidents took place in Tokyo during the Olympics. Notably, Italian tennis player, Fabio Fognini had a homophobic outburst involving repeated use of gay slurs. He later issued an apology and returned to the court drenched in rainbow gear that have led some to question the authenticity of his apology.
A Belgian sports journalist, Eddy Demarez, was suspended by his network, VRT after he made a series of homophobic, transphobic and misogynistic remarks about the Belgian women’s basketball team during a post-Olympic livestream.
Several athletes who are considered intersex have face struggles in their effort to simple be able to compete due to higher levels of naturally produced testosterone in their blood stream. Ever since the infamous “Caster Semenya Rule” was enforced in a blatant attempt to target Caster Semenya and ban her from competing in track due to her sheer athleticism, on the basis of her serum testosterone being considered “too high” for what the average (Caucasian) female is expected to produce. Athletes, primarily from Africa, such as Francine Niyonsaba, Beatrice Masilingi and Christina Mboma among others faced barriers and issues simply for their right to compete. Facing challenges that did not appear to have been equally enforced upon other (Caucasian) athletes.
Dozens of Athletes Came Out During the Olympics
Going into the Olympic games, the number of openly LGBTQIA+ athletes were around 150, but as the Olympics got underway, many athletes started coming out. Some of them more subtly through social media and others during post-tournament interviews with media. Thanking their partners and taking a stand to show that LGBTQIA+ athletes have a place on the field, in the pool, on the court, at the track and on the podium. The final number of openly LGBTQIA+ athletes by the time the closing ceremonies concluded came out to 182.