Monday, August 11, 2008

Lesbian, Gay, Bi Olympians

Outsports and other gay internet sites, like AfterEllen, have noted that the Beijing Olympics include 11 publicly gay, lesbian and bi athletes (at last count). This number includes:

Judith Arndt – Cyclist, Germany
Imke Duplitzer – Fencing , Germany
Vickie Galindo – Softball, USA
Gro Hammerseng – Team Handball, Norway
Katja Nyberg – Team Handball, Norway
Natasha Kai – Soccer, USA
Lauren Lappin – Softball, USA
Matthew Mitcham – Diving, Australia
Victoria Svensson – Soccer, Sweden
Rennae Stubbs – Tennis, Australia
Linda Bresonik – Soccer, Germany

Some things I notice about this list: only one of these 11 athletes is a gay man, all the athletes are from North America, Western Europe and Australia, only four athletes are competing in individual sports, the other 7 are team sport athletes, Gro Hammerseng and Katja Nyberg, the Norwegian Handball players, are also a lesbian couple, Germany and the USA have the most out athletes at 3 each, soccer is the sport with the most publicly out lesbian athletes at 3, one athlete, Vickie Galindo, identifies as bisexual, the rest of the women are lesbians. Natasha Kai and Vickie Galindo are the only athletes of color, I think, but I am not sure of this. As far as I know, there are no transgender athletes competing in Beijing. Canadian cyclist, Kristen Worley, who had hoped to participate, is not part of the Canadian team.

Eleven publicly out athletes out of over 10,000 Olympians seems like a small number and is comparable to the number of out athletes in Athens four years ago. However, given the pressures of world class competition, I understand that many LGB athletes prefer not to call public attention to their sexual orientation during the Games. I assume for every one of these publicly out athletes, there are many more who are quietly competing, if not in the closet, than only out to teammates, friends and family. Let us also remember that for athletes representing countries with laws prohibiting homosexual behavior and for which the penalty can range from imprisonment to death, coming out is not even a choice.

I want to thank these 11 athletes and the many previous out LGB Olympians for choosing to be publicly out about their sexual orientation as they compete on the world stage. They are champions and pioneers. Their choice to be publicly out is a political statement as well as a personal one. They help to pave the way for future Olympians to be open. Competing in the closet takes a lot of energy away from focusing on athletic performance. Pretending to be straight or concealing one’s sexual orientation is a kind of performance that saps the joy from competition and the integrity from relationships with teammates, coaches and fans.

Let’s hope that in 2012 in Great Britain the numbers of publicly out LGBT athletes from all over the world and in all sports is much higher than eleven.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great post. I appreciated your observation how few openly gay Olympians there are. I wonder when the number will finally begin to grow.

By the way, the softball player is Lauren Lappin (not Lippin).