Why This Year's Olympics Are Especially Important

by Eliza Castile

An athlete's sexuality or gender identity is their own business, and unless they're publicly out, there's no way to tell exactly how many LGBTQ athletes are in the Olympics. However, that makes recent news about the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio even more important: The LGBTQ-focused sports news site Outsports reports that a record number of athletes attending the games this year are openly out, including a married couple on Great Britain's field hockey team, Helen and Kate Richardson-Walsh. (There's no word on whether their love story will be turned into a romantic comedy, but I certainly hope Hollywood is taking note.)

Outsports worked with historian Tony Scupham-Bilton to identify at least 38 publicly LGBTQ athletes in the 2016 Summer Olympics, as well as three coaches and a number of athletes who qualified for the Paralympics. "At least" is the operative phrase here — since the list was published on July 11, it's continued to grow as less well-known athletes are profiled in the weeks leading up to the games. In yet another record high, the list features 10 openly LGBTQ male athletes, including British diver Tom Daley, who famously announced he was dating a man in 2013. Although there are no openly out men on any of the United States' teams, there are a number of LGBTQ American women, such as basketball player Brittney Griner and soccer player Megan Rapinoe. Are you feeling patriotic yet?

According to the list, Great Britain has the highest number of athletes who are out, followed by the Netherlands. The number of LGBTQ athletes this year represents a huge jump from the last Summer Olympics, which took place in London in 2012; according to Outsports' report, 23 competing athletes were openly LGBTQ at the time. Although the amount of athletes who are out fluctuates, this follows a growing trend of athletes who speak openly about their sexuality or gender identity. Compared to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, in which there were just 10 openly LGBTQ competitors, and the controversial 2014 Sochi Olympics, which drew criticism from gay rights activists for Russia's anti-LGBTQ laws, the London and Rio games are practically an LGBTQ pride parade.

Unfortunately, many countries participating in the Olympics maintain discriminatory laws or attitudes against the LGBTQ community. The United States may have legalized same-sex marriage last June, but the intervening time has seen anti-transgender legislation and the horrific massacre of 49 people at an LGBTQ nightclub in Florida. However, these events, along with many others, highlight the importance of this year's Olympic games — not only does it take a huge amount of courage for athletes to come out in the public eye, but the record number of LGBTQ athletes hopefully indicates a larger shift toward acceptance despite the setbacks. It's about time the LGBTQ community had some good news.

Check out the full list of LGBTQ athletes over at Outsports.

Images: Giphy (2)