With 12,602 athletes set to compete in the London 2012 Summer Olympics, it’s hard to believe that so few are openly gay or lesbian. Despite newfound presidential support for same-sex marriage and growing LGBT media visibility, the number of out athletes is really no more impressive than in the past two Summer Olympic games (11 in Athens 2004, 10 in Beijing 2008). Estimates this year range from nine to 20.
Some Olympic athletes decide to stay in the closet. However women’s basketball player Seimone Augustus is one openly gay Olympian whose reasons for going public with her identity outweigh those for keeping it concealed.
“Everybody’s been real receptive and real positive. To me it’s a big relief because people want to know who you are as an athlete and now as a person,” Augustus says during a phone interview. “It’s a big part of who I am.”
Augustus, a Baton Rouge, La., native, has shown tremendous talent in basketball since she was 3 years old and started playing on a junior team for 5-year-old boys. By 2006, she was the No. 1 WNBA draft pick for the Minnesota Lynx after playing for Louisiana State University. With her phenomenal record she was then named to the 2007-2008 USA Basketball Women’s Senior National Team. At the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics, she became a gold medalist.
Other openly LGBT athletes who will compete in London this summer include German fencer Imke Duplitzer, American soccer player Megan Rapinoe, Australian diver Matthew Mitcham, Dutch field hockey players Marilyn Agliotti and Maartie Paumen, German cyclist Judith Arndt, Dutch equestrian Edward Gal and Swedish soccer player Jessica Landström. The U.S. women’s soccer head coach, Pia Sundage, is also openly gay.
“It’s 2012. Things are changing. People are more open-minded now. For your sanity and comfort it’s time to let people know who you really are,” Augustus says. “It’s a hard thing to do but you want to get that weight off the shoulder.”
Pride House 2012, a festival hosted by a number of LGBT sports organizations including Pride Sports UK and the LGBT consortium, will provide a gay-friendly venue for all athletes, staff and spectators of the London 2012 Olympics to celebrate LGBT involvement in sports from Aug. 3-7 at the CA House overlooking the Limehouse Basin Marina in London.
Pride House was a success at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics and this year will feature live music from local LGBT organizations, exhibits, video presentations and various sports programs, including the “Football vs. Homophobia” football tournament. The event is an attempt to foster greater LGBT visibility in the Olympics and provide a comfortable space for Olympic athletes who are in or out of the closet and to educate anyone who is curious how the LGBT community has impacted sports.
“Being gay is just one part of being a human, and being able to be out in the sport that you really love and enjoy shows how complete a person you are,” Kurt Dahl, co-president of the Federation of Gay Games, says. “[Coming out] really allows a person to do what they love and put everything into it.”
The Federation of Gay Games is another of the organizations hosting Pride House 2012 to highlight LGBT Olympic involvement.
“The more people who are visible and participating, the easier it is for people who don’t have the rights and ability to do that,” Emy Ritt, the Games’ other co-president, says on coming out. “It shows that LGBT people are everywhere and is bringing the public to a better place.”
Seimone is happy to have found that place in her life where she feels ready to be out publicly as an athlete. Her engagement to girlfriend LaTaya Varner in May was one factor that facilitated this sense of comfort.
“She made me feel more comfortable with who I am. When someone gets engaged and they’re happy with their life it’s time,” Augustus says. “I’m really happy with where I am playing basketball and on the Olympic route. So many great things have happened in my life. I want everyone to know about it.”
The opening ceremony for the London 2012 Summer Olympics airs today (Friday) at 4 p.m. on NBC, and the games continue through Aug. 12.