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  • Victoria A. Brownworth

LGBTQ Athletes Win Record Medal Haul at Tokyo Olympics

August 11, 2021 Philadelphia Gay News

It was an historic Olympics. And despite the ongoing threat of the coronavirus, the Tokyo games — postponed from 2020 — were an overwhelming success, particularly for women and LGBTQ athletes.

Women won 66 of 113 medals won by Team USA, a record for women at any Olympic games. And nearly 200 LGBTQ athletes — more than three times the number that competed in 2016 and including the first out trans and out non-binary athletes — competed in 35 different sports.

The majority of out participants came from the U.S. and overall, lesbians outnumbered gay men nearly 10 to 1, prompting questions of where the out gay male athletes were. compiled a detailed list of the LGBTQ athletes and reported that throughout the games more athletes contacted them to inform the publication that they, too, were out.

LGBTQ athletes also won big at the games. With 32 team and individual medals — 11 gold, 12 silver and nine bronze — 55 LGBTQ athletes won. Among the U.S. winners were Megan Rapinoe, Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner, Breanna Stewart, Chelsea Gray and Raven Saunders.

U.K. diver Tom Daley, who has been competing since he was 14, won gold and was later seen in the stands knitting a cozy for his medal as he watched the games.

The out LGBTQ gold medalists were Brazilian swimmer Ana Marcela Cunha for the 10-kilometer event; French martial artist Amandine Buchard for mixed team judo; Venezuelan track and field athlete Yulimar Rojas for the triple jump; Irish boxer Kellie Harrington; New Zealand rower Emma Twigg; U.S. women’s basketball team members Sue Bird, Chelsea Gray, Brittney Griner, Breanna Stewart and Diana Taurasi; American 3-on-3 basketball player Stefanie Dolson; Canadian women’s soccer team members Quinn, Kadeisha Buchanan, Erin McLeod, Kailen Sheridan and Stephanie Labbe; French handball players Amandine Leynaud and Alexandra Lacrabère; New Zealand rugby players Gayle Broughton, Ruby Tui, Kelly Brazier and Portia Woodman; and British diver Daley.

Triple-jumper Yulimar Rojas not only won the gold medal, she broke the world record set in 1995. The Venezuelan lesbian won silver in the sport in Rio in 2016. Rojas’ performance was the only world record set by an out Olympian in Tokyo.

Soccer star Rapinoe was watching from the stands as Bird broke her own record and won a fifth gold medal during the final basketball match against Japan. When the game finished, Bird ran toward Rapinoe for a kiss. The couple met in 2016 at the Rio games, have been partnered since 2017 and got engaged in 2020.

NBC Olympics put a video of the kiss on Instagram with the message “Our hearts” with a heart emoji.

Team USA’s Kristie Mewis and Australian Sam Kerr were seen hugging on the field after Kerr — on the opposing team — lost the game to Mewis’s USWNT. The hug was documented on social media and the two came out as a couple on Instagram soon after.

UConn Huskies alums Bird and Taurisi made history by becoming the first basketball players of any gender to win five Olympic gold medals.

The embrace of LGBTQ athletes wasn’t universal. On Aug. 8, the final day of the games, in a segment titled “Remember Her Name,” NBC paid tribute to women Olympic gold medalists at Tokyo, plus Simone Biles, but left basketball greats Sue Bird and Diane Taurisi out and didn’t mention the historic wins of Raven Saunders and Megan Rapinoe.

Silver medalist shot putter Saunders, who calls herself “flaming gay,” broke Olympic rules by raising her hands and crossing them in an “X” as she stood on the podium. She could have had her medal revoked for the statement, but the IOC has not pursued it.

Saunders, a Black lesbian and racial justice activist, said the symbol represented “the intersection of where all people who are oppressed meet,” according to The Associated Press. “My message is to keep fighting, keep pushing, keep finding value in yourself, find value in everything you do.”

In an interview on NBC after the medal ceremony, Saunders said, “I’m not just fighting for myself, I’m fighting for a lot more people. I want to give a shoutout to all of the LGBTQ community. Everybody that is dealing with mental health issues. Everybody who is Black. I’m giving a shout out to everybody.”

PGN reported on mental health issues raised at the Olympics by Simone Biles and others.

Daley spoke at length after his win about how meaningful the moment was for him. “I feel incredibly proud to say that I am a gay man and also an Olympic champion,” he said. “And I feel very empowered by that because when I was younger, I thought I was never going to be anything, or achieve anything, because of who I was, and to be an Olympic champion now just shows that you can achieve anything.”

Daley said when he first came out in 2013 he had “always felt like the one that was alone and different and didn’t fit in. There was something about me that was always never going to be as good as what society wanted me to be.”

Daley added, “I hope that any young LGBT person out there can see that no matter how alone you feel right now, you are not alone. That you can achieve anything and that there is a whole lot of your chosen family out here, ready to support you.”

The Philippine Daily Inquirer reported that featherweight boxer Nesthy Petecio told reporters after she won silver that “I am proud to be part of the LGBTQ community.”

There was some controversy over the participation of New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard, the first out trans person to qualify for the Olympics. Hubbard, 43, came out as trans in her 30s and has competed at the women’s international level since 2017.

Hubbard did not win, but in an interview, the women who won the weightlifting competition were asked about Hubbard’s participation and all three declined to respond.

Openly trans athletes have been permitted to compete in the Olympics since 2004, but this was the first Olympics in which trans and non-binary athletes have competed openly.

Hubbard met the IOC guidelines for testosterone levels — something several cisgender women did not, as PGN reported last month.

Other trans and non-binary athletes included Canadian women’s soccer star Quinn, who came out as trans last September, and American skateboarder Alana Smith, who identifies as non-binary.

Quinn and their team won gold in Tokyo, beating the U.S. team, but Rapinoe embraced them after the game in a show of LGBTQ solidarity.

Quinn is the first trans and non-binary athlete to win a medal at any Olympics in history.

Quinn said they wanted to “trailblaze as a trans athlete. I want to use my platform. One of the reasons I came out was to use my platform and I’m hoping with my voice I can help uplift other trans voices in our community.”

Rapinoe, who has been outspoken in support of trans athletes and against anti-trans bills in the U.S. said of Quinn, “To see someone just living their full life the way that they want to, I always feel like is really inspiring and beautiful.”

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