The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio will be the most out and proud Olympic games in history with a record-breaking 43 out LGBT athletes competing this summer.
Gay sports reporter Charley Walters has followed the Olympic games since he was a child all the way through his professional career. After attending the past eight Olympic games, he notes Rio could be the most progressive because of its LGBT-friendly environment and the impressive number of out athletes participating.
This summer’s games run from Friday, Aug. 5-Sunday, Aug. 21 and will feature more than 11,000 athletes from 207 countries competing in more than 300 events in 28 disciplines in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The opening ceremony airs tonight (Friday, Aug. 5) at 7 p.m. on NBC.
Walters, who has covered the games for Entertainment Tonight, the Insider and Logo and this year will do so for Bravo, E! News and more, remembers covering the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2012 London Olympics in a much different way, where he struggled to squeeze LGBT-focused stories out of the competitions. Instead, he had to build coverage around straight, allied athletes and LGBT spectators, who, according to Walters, are many. Walters calls Rio’s numbers a “landmark improvement of statistics,” but says more work needs to be done.
“I think the world of sports is that last proverbial closet, if you will,” Walters says. “I think that we’ve represented our community well in almost every other realm. And this is the last place where it feels like we still need to break through a little bit. The fact that we’ve had a major professional player come out in almost all of the different disciplines in the past five years is really exciting. I think we’re headed on the right track even though it’s a slow-moving train.”
The United States appears to be trailing other countries that have made more progress having out athletes in the Olympic arena. There will be 11 openly gay male athletes competing this year, but none are from the United States. In comparison, countries such as Great Britain and the Netherlands have multiple out male athletes competing.
Walters speculates one of the main reasons for the lack of out male athletes in the U.S. is a fear of being perceived negatively by judges.
“One thing that people forget is that despite wherever the Olympics are, the judging still takes place from a variety of judges. They don’t necessarily all have the same stances on this equality issue that we do,” Walters says.
Fear of losing sponsorships, the main source of an athlete’s income, is another factor. He cites Greg Louganis, who was denied a Wheaties box in his Olympic heyday for appearing to be gay, only receiving the honor years later in 2016. Another factor Walters says is the media’s interest in telling coming out stories. A concern is that an individual’s athleticism could be overwhelmed by his or her sexual orientation.
However, Walters hopes that more U.S. Olympic athletes will take Rio — which will see a return of the Pride House pro-LGBT gathering spot (banned at the Sochi Winter Olympics) — as an opportunity for personal growth and some history-making moments.
“I hope that some of these athletes in those sports will choose to come out even if it’s not during their competition,” Walters says. “If they chose to come out right when they win their medal and have kind of a big moment there on the podium or right after in a press conference, I think that could be wonderful. I do predict that we’re going to see at least one of those moments in these games.”
Here are some of the main LGBT Olympians to watch out for:
Tom Daley (22, Great Britain, diving)
Daley gained international celebrity after coming out in 2013 in a YouTube video following his participation in the 2012 London Olympics. He has also been public about his relationship with screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, to whom he became engaged in 2014. Daley will compete in the men’s synchronized 10m platform on Monday, Aug. 8 and in the Men’s 10m platform on Friday, Aug. 19.
Seimone Augustus (32, USA, basketball)
Augustus is an openly lesbian guard/forward for the U.S. women’s basketball team. She competed in the 2008 and 2010 Olympics where she won gold both times. She married her wife, LaTaya Varner, in 2015. Watch Augustus play Senegal on Sunday, Aug. 7; Spain on Monday, Aug. 8; Serbia on Wednesday, Aug. 10; Canada on Friday, Aug. 12; and China on Sunday, Aug. 14.
Robbie Manson (26, New Zealand, rowing)
Manson began rowing at age 16. He won the bronze medal at the 2015 World Rowing Championships and placed seventh in Quad Scull at the 2012 London Olympics. He came out as gay in 2014. Manson will compete in the men’s double sculls on Saturday, Aug. 6.
Jeffrey Wammes (29, Netherlands, gymnastics)
Wammes publicly came out in 2011. He won a gold medal for the horizontal bar at the 2012 London Olympics. Wammes will compete in many men’s gymnastics competitions on Saturday, Aug. 6 including horizontal bar, parallel bars, vault, pommel horse and rings.
Helen Richardson-Walsh (34, Great Britain, field hockey) and Kate Richardson-Walsh (36, Great Britain, field hockey)
Helen and Kate are a married couple who play on Great Britain’s women’s field hockey team. At the 2012 London Olympic Games, they helped bring their team a bronze medal. Watch the couple’s first Rio game on the Great Britain field hockey team against Australia on Saturday, Aug. 6. Great Britain plays against the United States on Saturday, Aug. 13 at 5 p.m.
The other known LGBT athletes slated to compete are:
Nicola Adams (Great Britain, boxing)
Tom Bosworth (Great Britain, race walk)
Dutee Chand (India, track & field)
Carlien Dirkse van den Heuvel (Netherlands, field hockey)
Lisa Dahlkvist (Sweden, soccer)
Katie Duncan (New Zealand, soccer)
Nilla Fisher (Sweden, soccer)
Larissa França (Brazil, beach volleyball)
Edward Gal (Netherlands, equestrian)
Brittney Griner (USA, basketball)
Carl Hester (Great Britain, equestrian)
Michelle Heyman (Australia, soccer)
Stephanie Labbe (Canada, soccer)
Alexandra Lacrabère (France, handball)
Hedvig Lindahl (Sweden, soccer)
Ari-Pekka Liukkonen (Finland, swimming)
Hans Peter Minderhoud (Netherlands, equestrian)
Ian Matos (Brazil, diving)
Angel McCoughtry (USA, basketball)
Nadine Müller (Germany, discus)
Marie-Eve Nault (Canada, soccer)
Ashley Nee (USA, kayak whitewater slalom)
Maartje Paumen (Netherlands, field hockey)
Mayssa Pessoa (Brazil, handball)
Megan Rapinoe (USA, soccer)
Carolina Seger (Sweden, soccer)
Caster Semenya (South Africa, track & field)
Melissa Tancredi (Canada, soccer)
Susannah Townsend (Great Britian, field hockey)
Sunette Stella Viljoen (South Africa, javelin)
Marieke van der Wal (Netherlands, handball)
Spencer Wilton (Great Britain, equestrian)