This year’s London Summer Olympics marks a new milestone for gay athletes. 23 competitors have openly declared their homosexuality, joined by women’s soccer coaches Pia Sundhage, U.S., and Hope Powell, Britain. That’s up from 10 in 2008 in Beijing, and 11 in 2004 in Athens. Statistically, the number is still very small. If only 2 percent of the population were gay, that would mean there are yet another 229 gay Olympians out of the total 12,602. If you subscribe to Alfred Kinsey’s 10 percent, the gay total would jump to 1,206.
Greg Louganis, four-time Olympic gold medal-winner and gay man, explains to Outsports why he thinks so many athletes are unwilling to come out of the closet.
“All I can do is relate to my own journey,” Louganis said. “I was out to my friends and my family. It was just my policy not to discuss my sexuality to members of the media. I wanted my participation in the sport to be about the sport. I didn’t want it to be about being the ‘gay diver’.
“Today, we have more positive images in media when it comes to sexuality and representation — we’re just regular people — so I think it’s a more positive atmosphere. When I was on my book tour in ‘95, I had a lot of people come up to me and say they were gay and they weren’t out and they were in a team sport. It’s tough if you’re in a team sport, because you’re relying on your team. I think it’s a little easier when you’re talking about an individual sport because it’s just you out there and you’re pretty self-reliant.”
“Yes, I’m that gay, 2008-Olympic-gold medal-winning diver dude,” tweets Matthew Mitcham.
Mitcham isn’t shy about expressing his gay identity. He is considered a role-model not only for superb athleticism, but also for the openly gay. He came out in May 2008, and three months later went on to win a gold medal in the 10-meter platform diving event in Beijing. Mitcham is the first Australian male to win a gold medal in diving since 1924, when Dick Eve won the plain high diving event at the Summer Olympics in Paris. Apparently being out has not affected Mitcham’s performance.
While this is far from the “gay Olympics”, more athletes than ever before feel comfortable publicly expressing their sexual orientation.
“It will be nice to get to a place where it’s a non-issue,” Greg Louganis told Outsports.
The 23 Openly Gay or Lesbian Olympic Athletes:
Alexandra Lacrabère (France/handball)
Carl Hester (Britain/equestrian)
Carlien Dirkse van den Heuvel (Netherlands/field hockey)
Carole Péon (France/triathlon)
Edward Gal (Netherlands/equestrian)
Hedvig Lindahl (Sweden/soccer)
Imke Duplitzer (Germany/fencing)
Ina-Yoko Teutenberg (Germany/cycling)
Jessica Harrison (France/triathlon)
Jessica Landström (Sweden/soccer)
Judith Arndt (Germany/cycling)
Karen Hultzer (South Africa/archery)
Kim Lammers (Netherlands/field hockey)
Lisa Dahlkvist (Sweden/soccer)
Lisa Raymond (U.S./doubles tennis)
Maartje Paumen (Netherlands/field hockey)
Marilyn Agliotti (Netherlands/field hockey)
Matthew Mitcham (Australia/diving)
Mayssa Pessoa (Brazil/handball)
Megan Rapinoe (U.S./soccer)
Natalie Cook (Australia/beach volleyball)
Rikke Skov (Denmark/handball)
Seimone Augustus (U.S./basketball)