The number of openly gay and lesbian athletes at the 2012 London Summer Olympics is ahead of the totals for Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008, with all but three being lesbians. There are 21 openly gay and lesbian London Olympians, two coaches and two gay Paralympians. This compares with 11 in Athens and 10 in Beijing, showing some progress in athletes being public about their sexual orientation, but still a low number.
The Outsports list of 21 openly gay and lesbians Olympic athletes are:
- Marilyn Agliotti (Netherlands, field hockey)
- Judith Arndt (Germany, cycling)
- Seimone Augustus (U.S., basketball)
- Natalie Cook (Australia, beach volleyball)
- Lisa Dahlkvist (Sweden, soccer)
- Carlien Dirkse van den Heuvel (Netherlands, field hockey)
- Imke Duplitzer (Germany, fencing)
- Edward Gal (Netherlands, equestrian)
- Jessica Harrison (France, triathlon)*
- Carl Hester (Britain, equestrian)
- Alexandra Lacrabère (France, handball)
- Jessica Landström (Sweden, soccer)
- Hedvig Lindahl (Sweden, soccer)
- Matthew Mitcham (Australia, diving)
- Maartje Paumen (Netherlands, field hockey)
- Carole Péon (France, triathlon)*
- Mayssa Pessoa (Brazil, handball)
- Megan Rapinoe (U.S. soccer)
- Lisa Raymond (U.S., doubles tennis)
- Rikke Skov (Denmark, handball)
- Ina-Yoko Teutenberg (Germany, cycling)
*Péon and Harrison are a couple.
In addition, Pia Sundhage, U.S. women’s soccer head coach, is openly gay, as is Hope Powell, Great Britain's women’s soccer coach. The gay Paralympians are Lee Pearson, a male British equestrian athlete, and Claire Harvey, a member of Britain’s women’s volleyball team.
There was one more lesbian who qualified for London — U.S. wrestler Stephany Lee — but she was kicked off the team last month after testing positive for smoking marijuana. And with softball no longer an Olympic sport, that cut down on the number of potential out athletes. Outsports knows of another male athlete who thought about coming out if he made his Olympic team, but he came up short at the trials.
Simple math dictates that there are many more gay and lesbian athletes in London than who are publicly out. With 12,602 athletes set to compete, just 1 percent of them being gay or lesbian would be 126. Despite our best efforts, it’s possible we have missed someone — especially non-Americans — who have publicly declared their homosexuality (if so, email us the details. We have already updated the story thanks to tips from readers).
Greg Louganis, who won four Olympic gold medals in diving and came out after retiring, told Outsports why he thinks athletes are still reluctant to come out publicly.
"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."
As we’ve long noted, myriad reasons keep athletes from going public — fear of negative reactions from teammates, coaches or fans; compartmentalizing their sexuality so as to not interfere with training; or simply not being ready to tell the world. As former American equestrian athlete Robert Dover (who is gay) said to the AP prior to the 2004 Games:
"You spend a day with these athletes, and it becomes obvious that gay people are everywhere. The reason many of them aren’t out is because they’re focused on their job during this time when sports is the No. 1 thing in their lives."
American gymnast Josh Dixon, who missed making the team at the Olympic trials, came out to Outsports in May, but his sexual orientation was known within the sport and with no negative repercussions. "This would never affect how I’m judged or my position on the U.S. Olympic team," he said prior to the trials.
Dixon, though, said that while at Stanford his regimen was "eat, sleep, train and do homework. … Gymnastics was my number one priority, and if something got in the way of that, I had to push it aside." Still, he wound up being open within his gymnastics circle, but his story did not become public until he contacted Outsports and said he wanted to make a difference and felt he had a responsibility to the LGBT and sports community.
Making a difference was also why Rapinoe came out publicly as an openly lesbian soccer player a month ago:
"People probably guessed that I was gay because I’m pretty transparent in the way that I live my life. I think it’s pretty cool, the opportunity that I have, especially in sports, because there’s really not that many out athletes. I think it’s important to be out. It’s important to stand up and be counted and be proud of who you are. I’m happy if I can help anyone else in their struggle. I’d like to make a positive impact on people."
The role model of an out Olympian is Mitcham, who came out in May 2008 and then won gold on the 10-meter platform in Beijing three months later. He has embraced being a spokesman for gay rights and is not shy about standing up and speaking out. "Yes, I’m that gay, 2008-Olympic-gold-medal-winning diver dude," he says on his terrific Twitter page. His coming out has not negatively impacted his performance and he hopes to medal again in London, though he is battling an abdominal injury.
Dixon, Rapinoe and Mitcham and the handful of others remain the exceptions. And we’re far from being at the point where being an openly gay Olympian won’t be a story.
Says Louganis of a wished-for future Olympics: "It will be nice to get to a place where it’s a non-issue."