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Celebrating Canada's 2SLGBTQI+ Communities

Important Moments In The History Of LGBT Olympians

They’ve always been there, we just might not have known about them…

Sports is often called the last frontier when it comes to acceptance for LGBT people. While there are a few notable out athletes, the reality is, there is still a stigma that forces many athletes to stay in the closet—at least until their competitive career is starting to wind down. Maybe they don’t want to deal with the inevitable judgement or they don’t want any distractions, aka having to do interviews about their sexuality rather than their sport.

This year in PyeongChang, Team Canada’s Olympic House is doubling as a Pride House welcoming LGBTQ athletes from any country to share a space where they can feel accepted. The importance of that is not lost on many LGBT athletes who, only 4 years ago in Sochi, Russia, had to consider whether it would even be safe for them to attend the Olympics. There are 15 out and proud athletes competing in this year’s Winter Games, which might not seem like a lot but it’s been a long road and they have the ones who came before them to thank.

1976 Winter Games in Innsbruck
Although he was not out when he competed and won the gold medal in the men’s single’s figure skating event, John Curry from Great Britain was outed before the closing ceremonies of the 1976 Games. A reporter form the International Herald Tribune heard rumours about Curry’s sexuality and when asked directed, Curry confirmed that he was gay despite the fact that homosexual acts were outlawed in his home country of the U.K. at the time. He became the first openly gay athlete to perform on the Olympic stage when he appeared in an exhibition performance for medalists later in the Games.

1988 Summer Games in Seoul
Robert Dover of the United States became the first openly gay athlete to compete in the modern Olympics. He’d competed in 1984 Games as well but didn’t come out publicly until his second of six Games. He won four team bronze medals in the sport of dressage. In an interview, Dover said ”I wish that all gay athletes would come out in all disciplines – football, baseball, the Olympics, whatever. After six Olympics, I know they’re in every sport. You just have to spend one day in the housing, the gyms, or at dinner to realize we’re all over.”

1998 Winter Games in Nagano
American speed skater Christine Witty won the silver medal in the women’s 1000m event and bronze in the 1500m event. She went on to win gold at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. She also placed fifth overall in the 500m cycling time trials at the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney making her only the ninth American to ever compete in both the Summer and Winter games. Witty was the first—and is still the only—LGBT athlete to ever compete in both the Summer and Winter games.

2000 Summer Games in Sydney
Amélie Mauresmo, a French tennis player came out publicly as a lesbian the year before the 2000 Games when she was only 19. She said in an interview, “No matter what I do, there will always be people against me. With that in mind, I decided to make my sexuality clear. I wanted to say it once and now I want to talk about tennis.” Mauresmo went on to win a silver medal in the women’s singles event in 2004.

2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City
Caroline Ouellette and Jayna Hefford of Canada’s women’s ice hockey team began their streak towards four Olympic gold medals making them some of the more decorated LGBT Olympians in history.

2012 Summer Games in London
The London Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games was the first organizing committee in Olympic history to include a commitment to diversity in its bid. The organizers publicly supported pro-LGBT issues in the years and months before the Games and made a conscious effort to connect with LGBT athletes and encourage them to compete.

2014 Winter Games in Sochi
Russia’s stance on LGBT rights was notoriously intolerant leading up to and during the 2014 Winter Games. They refused to have a Pride House because it would “contradict public morality” and they also had a “gay propaganda law” that made it illegal to distribute materials that could be considered “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships” to minors. Despite this, seven openly gay women competed in Sochi, including speed skaters Anastasia Bucsis of Canada and Ireen Wüst of the Netherlands, who is also the most decorated LGBT Olympian in history with 10 medals to date.

2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro
A record number 64 openly gay athletes competed at the games in Rio, nearly doubling the number from the 2012 Games in London. Field hockey players Kate and Helen Richardson-Walsh of Great Britain became the first same-sex married couple to compete in an Olympic Games—and they won the gold medal. Although they weren’t out at the time, IOC documents recorded 2 transgender athletes who competed in the games—the first in history.

2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang
There have been a few firsts in this year’s games with the potential of more to come. So far, Canadian figure skater Eric Radford has become the first openly gay man to win a gold medal in a Winter Games (John Curry technically wasn’t out when he won his gold in 1976). Another figure skater, USA’s Adam Rippon became the first open gay American to compete—and win a medal—at the Winter Games.

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