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Out athletes going for gold

New milestones in queer representation at Tokyo Olympics

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Michael Gunning narrowly missed out on qualifying for this year’s Olympic Games. (Photo courtesy Gunning)

The 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games begin on June 23, with competitions continuing through Aug. 8. The Games were postponed in March 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For many aspiring Olympians, the quadrennial event is the culmination of a lifetime of sacrifices to compete against the best athletes in the world while representing their country on an international stage.

The road to get there is filled with obstacles and this Olympic cycle produced one more barrier in the form of training disruptions that happened in almost every sport.

After all the dust settled during the qualifying process, 627 athletes were named to Team USA. More than 30 of those athletes are out members of the LGBTQ community. 

Regarding the other countries competing, according to a recent story by Outsports, “At least 142 publicly out gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and nonbinary athletes are headed to Tokyo for the Summer Olympic Games.”

Flashback to the 2016 Rio Olympic Games when a correspondent from The Daily Beast used hook-up apps such as Bumble, Tindr, Grindr, and Jack’d to message gay athletes. His published story went on to describe the athletes, creating potentially dangerous situations for the athletes from countries with high anti-LGBTQ violence rates.

What should we expect from the environment in Japan? 

There have been a handful of Japanese athletes who have come out recently but for the most part, they are competing in other countries – notably trans soccer star Kumi Yokoyama who plays for the Washington Spirit and out lesbian Shiho Shimoyamada who plays soccer for SV Meppen in Germany.

LGBTQ activists in Japan were hoping that the worldwide attention on the Tokyo Olympics would help push their ruling Liberal Democratic Party to pass EqualityActJapan banning discrimination against LGBTQ people. Their legislature went into recess without passing the measure.

That setback did not stop Pride House Tokyo Legacy from opening in October 2020 in Shinjuku, Tokyo. It will serve as a permanent LGBTQ support center where individuals can feel safe and at home.

Pride House Tokyo Legacy has been authorized as part of the Tokyo 2020 Official Program by the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games along with full support from the International Olympic Committee. Those endorsements make it the first Pride House worldwide to achieve this status.

Visibility for the LGBTQ community is important for a variety of reasons and in the sports world, we tend to point to LGBTQ athletes as role models for younger generations. 

Over the next few weeks we will bear witness to the first transgender athlete to compete in Laurel Hubbard as a weightlifter for Team New Zealand. 

We will watch lesbian triple jumper Yulimar Rojas compete and carry the flag for her country of Venezuela in the Parade of Nations. 

And we will sit enthralled as gay British Olympic diver Tom Daley is cheered on by his three-year-old son Robbie as he attempts to medal again in his fourth Olympics.

The last time the Blade checked in with out Tongan swimmer Amini Fonua, he was in heavy training to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and struggling with the funding needed to complete that journey.

Fonua was one of the Olympic athletes that spoke out against The Daily Beast story from 2016, which helped to get the story retracted, with an apology. It was the first instance where the International Olympic Committee, which also chimed in, had ever acknowledged an LGBTQ presence. 

Amini Fonua qualified for his third Olympics this year. (Photo courtesy Fonua)

When the pandemic hit, Fonua’s training pool closed and his income from teaching swimming lessons dried up. In an effort to be closer to his training group, New York Athletic Club, he moved from New Jersey to New York City mid-pandemic.

To stay in shape, he ramped up his time spent on weight training, running, biking, and yoga.

“The pandemic changed a lot of things for all of us,” says Fonua. “This past year has been about survival, and I have done my best with what I have been given.”

Eventually pools opened back up with limits on swimmers per lane and time spent in the water. Fonua was only allowed four 45-minute swim practices per week, which is well below the amount of time that elite swimmers spend in the pool.

He also found employment with Fitter and Faster Swim Camps with all of his travel to swim camps completed by train to minimize his exposure to the virus. 

As of May 2021, Fonua was not the top Tongan swimmer that would be selected for the Olympic team. He was also facing swim meet entry barriers due to COVID restrictions to even compete for a spot on the team.

In smaller nations and those with developing swim programs, the international federation for swimming, FINA, and the International Olympic Committee allow for universalityentries into the Olympics. 

The universality system allows a nation with no Olympic swimming qualifier to enter up to one man and one woman in the Olympics. The two swimmers are chosen based on FINA points, which are calculated using a cubic curve.

Fonua received a last minute entry to the Atlanta Classic swim meet on May 14 where he would have one last shot to make the team. He threw down a time in the 100 meter breaststroke that moved him past the top Tongan swimmer based on FINA points and qualified him for his third Olympics.

For this Olympic experience, Fonua will be thinking about what his father always says to him regarding sports — be competitive, do your best, and have fun.

“I will be staying in the Olympic Village but there won’t be any Grindr this time because I am in love. I will be racing on the 24th and still hope to walk in the Parade of Nations the night before,” Fonua says. “My mom is the team manager for the Tongan swim team, and I am looking forward to cups of tea with her and visiting Pride House Tokyo. I know it will be different this time because of COVID, but there is nothing like experiencing a city hosting the Olympics.”

When you receive an email from out swimmer Michael Gunning, the signature line says Professional Athlete. He laughs when asked about it and says it is a continuation of what he used to write on his school essays — Michael Gunning, The Swimmer.

Gunning, who currently trains in Manchester, England, became fully committed to swimming at age 13 when he won a national competition in England. A few years later he was representing Great Britain on their junior national team.

“We have all heard that Black people don’t swim, and I wanted to prove it could be done,” says Gunning. “I began chasing those Olympic dreams at every event I swam in.”

Despite swimming well in the 200 meter butterfly in the qualifying trials for the 2014 Commonwealth Games, he was left off the Great Britain team.

Jamaica reached out and said they would love for Gunning to swim for them (his father was born in Jamaica). He represented the country for the first time at the 2017 World Championships in Budapest and again at the 2019 World Championships in Gwangju.

“I was really on the fence before saying yes. I felt like I wasn’t being taken seriously in the UK and this was an opportunity to do my bit and inspire,” Gunning says. “That first experience in Budapest was amazing. The Jamaican team accepted me, and I finally felt good enough.”

When the Blade last checked in with Gunning, he was pointing toward the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. At that time, he was the top Jamaican point earner if it came down to a FINA universality selection for the Olympics.

Then the pandemic hit. Gunning was out of the water for more than 100 days and scrambling to stay in shape with dryland training.

“Those were dark and desperate times,” says Gunning. “Once I was able to get back in the water, I trained by myself for 20 weeks.”

With COVID barriers for training and competitions, Gunning knew all along that another Jamaican swimmer could top his FINA points. 

And then it happened. 

FINA adjusted their earned points for the 200 meter butterfly downward and another swimmer earned more points in the 200 meter IM.

Gunning had one last shot in June at a meet in Glasgow but did not swim near his best times. He received the news earlier this month that he was not selected for the team.

“Swimming shapes you as a person. Whether you reach your end goals or not, you are so much stronger for it. I don’t regret any of the hard work I put in,” Gunning says. “Swimming prompted me to come out – swimming gave me that. We still need diversity and inclusion, especially at the grass roots level. I want to be that representation.”

With the news being so fresh, Gunning is unclear on his long term path in the pool. He will continue to teach swimming and field offers that come his way. Next year, he will be a Pride House ambassador at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

“The Olympics make role models, and I am excited to support and cheer for the LGBTQ athletes who are competing,” says Gunning. “For now, I am going to live every day, one day at a time, being myself and being authentic.”

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Washington Football Team embraces Pride Night Out

‘Football is for everyone’

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The first-ever Pride Night OUT at the Washington Football Team is set for Thursday.

Team DC launched its ‘Night OUT’ series in 2005 as an LGBTQ community night with the Washington Nationals. 

Over the years, they added events with other local professional sports teams – DC United, Washington Mystics, Washington Capitals, Washington Wizards, Washington Kastles, Washington Spirit, Old Glory DC, Washington Prodigy and Citi Open.

On Thursday, Sept. 16, Team DC will host the first annual Pride Night OUT at the Washington Football Team marking their first partnership with the National Football League.

“We had tried reaching out in the past but eventually made the decision that we would not engage until the name was changed,” says Brent Minor, founder and executive director of Team DC. “We don’t want these community nights to just be a monetary transaction, we want to build bridges and encourage inclusion.”

This week’s game is the Washington Football Team’s Week 2 matchup against the New York Giants and will be televised on Thursday Night Football. 

Along with Pride Night OUT, it will also be a celebration of Latinx Heritage Month and Pro Football Hall of Famer Bobby Mitchell, who was a pioneer and trailblazer for equality and civil rights during his years with the team as a player and executive.

Frontline workers from the LGBTQ community including Whitman-Walker Health, Food & Friends and medical providers will be recognized and there will be a performance by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington’s gospel ensemble of ‘Lift Every Voice.’

The new relationship with the Washington Football Team began when they reached out to Capital Pride and Team DC with a request for a cultural competency training for WFT staffers.

“We spoke with about 75 members of their staff, and it wasn’t just a window dressing exercise — people were engaged,” Minor says. “During the training, Night OUT came up, which led to a discussion on corporate perspective regarding the LGBTQ community.”

Another cultural competency training is expected to occur in the future and the Washington Football Team has pledged to have a yet to be determined role at Capital Pride in 2022.

In August 2020, former NFL player Jason Wright was hired by the Washington Football Team to become their team president, where he leads their business operations, financing, and marketing strategies. 

“We went through a leadership change when Jason Wright was hired and the direction of our outreach will be much broader than it was in the past,” says Joey Colby-Begovich, vice president of guest experience, operations for the Washington Football Team. “We want to be intentional in celebrating our communities beyond the traditional football fans and that includes people of color and marginalized communities. Football is for everyone.”

The DMV region is comprised of a broad spectrum of people who represent the changing demographics of our country. Establishing connections to communities where people from different backgrounds and sexual orientations can find commonality is important for any organization interested in social responsibility.

“We are hoping that we can cultivate a broader fan base that feels safe and comfortable in our space. That includes stronger and deeper relationships with our communities and opportunities in our employee base — we want to be involved in the discussion,” Colby-Begovich says. “The support that we shared for Carl Nassib coming out is an example of our direction. There is change happening.”

The excitement is palpable from the D.C. LGBTQ community as more than 100 tickets have already been sold for the inaugural Pride Night OUT at the Washington Football Team.

“I think back to the beginning when we first established a relationship with the Washington Nationals. Years later after the mass shooting at Pulse in Orlando, they reached out and asked, ‘What can we do,’” says Minor. “Establishing these relationships is important and who knows where this leads when you are embraced in a positive way? When you can break down a barrier between the LGBTQ community and the NFL, that’s rarefied air.”

Tickets for Pride Night OUT at the Washington Football Team can be found at teamdc.org.

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If a nation? ‘Team LGBTQ’ ranked 11th in medal tally at Tokyo Olympics

182 publicly out gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and nonbinary athletes were in Tokyo for the Summer Olympic Games

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Los Angeles Blade Graphic

TOKYO – Delayed by the coronavirus pandemic by one year and then held under tight restrictions including no spectators or cheering fans in the stands, the Tokyo Olympics drew to a close Sunday with one group of athletes, LGBTQ+ Olympian competitors, having made historic gains.

Affectionately labeled “Team LGBTQ” by OutSports magazine, at least 182 publicly out gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and nonbinary athletes were in Tokyo for the Summer Olympic Games, more than triple the number who participated at the 2016 Rio Summer Olympic Games, the magazine reported.

“In fact, if the LGBTQ Olympians competed as their own country — affectionately labeled “Team LGBTQ” by Outsports — they would rank 11thin the total medal count (right behind France and before Canada), with 32 team and individual medals: 11 gold, 12 silver and nine bronze,” reflected NBC Out.

30 different countries were represented by at least one publicly out LGBTQ+ athlete covering 34 sports, including the first trans Olympians, Team New Zealand’s weightlifter, Team USA’s Reserve BMX racer Chelsea Wolfe, and Team Canada’s Quinn, the 25-year-old, soccer player who goes by a single name and uses the pronouns “they” and “their.”

The most notable Olympic medal win was that of Canadian Women’s Soccer midfielder Quinn, who became the first openly transgender, non-binary athlete to win an Olympic gold medal in another trailblazing moment at the Tokyo Games for the marginalised LGBTQ+ community.

Photo via Instagram

In another Olympic triumph, 27-year-old British diver Tom Daley secured his first Olympic Gold medal alongside teammate Matty Lee winning the gold with a score of 471.81 in the men’s synchronized diving narrowly besting the defending champions, China’s Cao Yuan and Chen Aisen by just 1.23 points. For Daley it was his fourth career Olympic medal including a Bronze Medal won in the the Men’s 10m platform completion at Tokyo as well.

Outsports and NBC Out published the following list of medalists;

The gold medalists were Brazilian swimmer Ana Marcela Cunha for the 10-kilometer event; French martial artist Amandine Buchard for mixed team judo; Venezuelan track and field athlete Yulimar Rojas for the triple jump; Irish boxer Kellie Harrington; New Zealand rower Emma Twigg; U.S. women’s basketball team members Sue Bird, Chelsea Gray, Brittney Griner, Breanna Stewart and Diana Taurasi; American 3-on-3 basketball player Stefanie Dolson; Canadian women’s soccer team members Quinn, Kadeisha Buchanan, Erin McLeod, Kailen Sheridan and Stephanie Labbe; French handball players Amandine Leynaud and Alexandra Lacrabère; New Zealand rugby players Gayle Broughton, Ruby Tui, Kelly Brazier and Portia Woodman; and, of course, British diver Tom Daley, who finally took home the gold for synchronized diving at his fourth Games.

NBC Out’s Dan Avery noted that after she earned silver for the Philippines, featherweight boxer Nesthy Petecio told reporters, “I am proud to be part of the LGBTQ community,” according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer

“Let’s go, fight!” she added. “This fight is also for the LGBTQ community.”

“The presence and performance of these out athletes has been a huge story at these Games,” Outsports founder Cyd Zeigler told NBC Out in an email. “30% of all the out LGBTQ Olympians in Tokyo won a medal, which means they didn’t just show up, they also performed at a very high level.”

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Out British diver Tom Daley takes Bronze medal in men’s 10m platform

“I owe this medal to so many people. I’m standing on the podium but there are so many people behind the medal.”

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British Olympic Diver Tom Daley wins Bronze via Team Great Britain Twitter

KASAI RINKAI PARK, Tokyo- After tough competition in the Men’s 10m platform diving from China’s Cao Yuan who picked up the Gold Medal and his teammate Yang Jian cinching the number two spot with a Silver Medal, 27-year-old British diver Tom Daley secured a Bronze Medal win with a score of 548.25

This is the second Olympic Bronze Medal for the Plymouth, England native, in individual diving completion since he won bronze at the London Games in 2012. Daley and his teammate Daniel Goodfellow won a Bronze Medal in the 10m synchronised at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.

With this Bronze win, it will be his fourth overall career Olympic Games medal win after taking the Gold two weeks ago in the Tokyo games along with his British teammate diving partner Matty Lee. Daley and Lee winning the gold with a score of 471.81 in the men’s synchronized diving narrowly besting the defending champions, China’s Cao Yuan and Chen Aisen by just 1.23 points.

During a post event press conference Daley said; “I am so happy that this Olympics has gone the way it has. I feel like a different athlete, I feel like I’ve been through so many different things over the years.”

“At the end of May, I didn’t even know if I was going to make it to these Games. I tore my meniscus and had knee surgery, I always dreamed I’d be fit enough to come back and dive at these Olympics,” he continued adding, “If someone had told me I was going to win a gold and a bronze, I probably would have laughed in their face. I owe this medal to so many people. I’m standing on the podium but there are so many people behind the medal.”

Reflecting on his medal win the diver noted, “Once you’re in the final, that’s what I love. I love competition when it counts, there was great competition with the two Chinese divers, they pulled away when I missed it a little bit on the fourth dive,” the apparently thrilled Daley smiled and added, “I’m extremely happy to come away with another Olympic medal.”

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