10 LGBTQ Olympians From History To Keep In Mind As You Watch The Rio Games
The 2016 Olympic Games in Rio feature a record number of LGBTQ competitors, but there have been LGBTQ Olympic athletes throughout history — the only difference is whether it was safe for them to openly discuss their sexuality or gender identity. Although athletes can lose endorsement deals over homophobic remarks today, the sports world has traditionally struggled with acceptance of the LGBTQ community. Even in the 1980s, openly gay athletes faced the prospect of losing millions of dollars in endorsements: For example, when tennis pro Billie Jean King was involuntarily outed in 1981, she was almost immediately dropped by all her sponsors except NBC Sports.
Things have come a long way since then, but the number of openly LGBTQ athletes at the Olympics has waxed and waned over the years. Many athletes have come out publicly after the games, but it wasn't until 2004 that an openly gay athlete competed. According to Outsports, only 10 openly LGBTQ athletes competed in the Bejing Olympics, and this number plummeted to just seven in the 2010 Sochi games. Since Sochi, however, the number has been rising, and a record number of 44 openly LGBTQ athletes are set to compete in the Rio games this month.
It's a historic moment for the LGBTQ community, but it's important to remember how far we've come. Here are ten LGBTQ athletes from history to keep in mind as you watch the Olympics this year.
1. Otto Peltzer
In the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam, German middle distance runner Otto Peltzer became the first (closeted) gay man to compete in the games. He held national records in several events at the team and was captain of the team during the '28 and '32 games, but he didn't medal in either. Tragically, he was arrested for his homosexuality in 1934 under the Nazi regime, after which he was sentenced to 18 months in prison. He was released early but rearrested later, and he spent the remainder of World War II in the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp.
2. Greg Louganis
American diver Greg Louganis is one of the most well-known gay athletes today, considered by many to be one of the greatest divers in history. He won gold medals in both the '84 and '88 games. In 1993, he came out publicly as gay and HIV-positive. This year, he's an official mentor for American athletes in Rio.
3. Tom Waddell
Founder of the Gay Games in 1982, an international sporting event for the LGBTQ community, Dr. Tom Waddell competed in the men's decathalon at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. He later became involved in LGBTQ advocacy, coming out in People magazine in 1976. He was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in 1985, but participated in the '86 Gay Games; in 1987, he died of complications from the disease.
4. Martina Navratilova
In 1981, tennis champion Martina Navratiolova was the first internationally famous professional athlete to come out voluntarily. "I didn't have much public support and I know I lost endorsements," she wrote of the time in a 2013 article for Sports Illustrated. She made her Olympic debut in 2004, years after declining to play on the 1988 team.
5. Gigi Fernandez
6. Bruce Hayes
7. Ji Wallace
Australian Ji Wallace won a silver medal in the 2000 Sydney Olympics in trampolining. The athlete came out as gay in 2005, and in 2012, he came out again — this time as HIV positive after being inspired by a fellow Olympian's example. "I am doing it to raise awareness of this issue. It is still here," he told the Sydney Star Observer.
8. Matthew Mitcham
In 2008, Australian Matthew Mitcham made headlines for two reasons: First, for coming out prior to the Olympics in Bejing, and later, for becoming the first openly gay man to win an Olympic gold medal. He also received the highest-scoring single dive in Olympic history.
9. Chris Mosier
10. Nicola Adams
Nicola Adams isn't just the first female Olympic boxing champion; the British athlete is also openly bisexual. She said according to Marie Claire UK, "I have never tried to hide my sexuality. ... It is an important aspect of who I am, but it doesn't define me."