Olympic gold for LGBT athletes

( – promoted by buhdydharma )

Though the Olympics aren’t quite over, I thought it’d be good to bring people’s attention to the openly queer athletes who’ve succeeded in Beijing, despite the stigma often attached whenever sports and sexuality cross paths.  

Stories like theirs often slip between the cracks, despite 24/7 coverage of the games.  But as long as stereotypes exist about the ability of gay, lesbian, bi, and trans athletes to perform at the same level as their peers, we need their stories to remind us that they can and do succeed.  

Here’s a quick roundup of athletes who are not only at the top of their game, but also open members of the LGBT community.

The big news of course was the surprise gold medal win by Matthew Mitcham, an openly gay diver from Australia, whose first dive in the final round left him at a distant 9th place.  A dark horse in a field absolutely dominated by the Chinese (they won every single other gold medal in diving), Mitcham performed the highest rated dive in Olympic history, catapulting him to gold medal status.

Or how about this Olympic first: an out same-sex couple are going home with gold in women’s handball.  Norway’s Gro Hammerseng and Katja Nyberg, both teammates and a committed couple, brought their team through to victory over the Russians in the final match.  I can’t think of another open couple that has achieved this (but if I’m wrong, please let me know).

Nor was the United States without a gold-winning out athlete.  Three cheers for Natasha Kai, a multiracial soccer player from Hawai’i, whose first career hat trick was instrumental in getting the women’s soccer team into the finals.  (She’s also the hottest athlete at the games – check out her stunning tattoos.)

Outsports counts 7 total medals for 11 out athletes:

Statistically speaking, out athletes have been, as a group, disproportionately successful at these Olympic Games. The 11 openly GLBT athletes Outsports has followed over the past two weeks raked in 4 golds, 2 silvers and 1 bronze medal. In other words, 64% of out athletes won a medal; a third of all out athletes won a gold medal.



There’s a lot to be proud of in this year’s Olympics, but we still have a lot of room for improvement.  For one thing, the comfort level associated with having queer athletes appears to be sport-dependent: people are used to gay swimmers and divers by now, but on the rare occasion a gay athlete medals in boxing, we typically don’t find out about it until much later.  While announcing one’s sexuality is certainly a personal choice, and the pressures facing these athletes are enormous, the long-standing stigma facing gay athletes can’t be broken as long as so many athletes remain closeted.

Another area we still haven’t broken into is the T part of the LGBT coalition: since Olympic rules were changed four years ago to allow transgender athletes to compete, none have yet qualified to do so.  The big hope this year was Canadian cyclist Kristen Worley, but she was prevented from doing so by what appears to be a hostile cycling organization.  You can read their reasons for doing so here.   Worley was not amused by this version of events.

Still, we have some good reasons to celebrate what has been accomplished in Beijing.  Congratulations to all these athletes for their tremendous performances.

cross-posted at dkos


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    • pico on August 24, 2008 at 12:43 pm

    but progress is definitely being made.

  1. (yeah, a LONG time ago), I hung out with the women who were involved in team sports – volleyball, softball, basketball – and the majority of them (and a few of the coaches) were lesbian. The interesting thing is, this was at a fundamentalist christian college. So of course, they were not “out” in public. So I’ve always been intrigued by what seems to be a correlation between team sports and lesbians. And I wonder if that was/is true at the Olympic level.    

    • Robyn on August 24, 2008 at 6:08 pm

    The diver did catch my attention with his reactions to his scores. 🙂

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