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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 27 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 30
Openly Gay Olympic athletes still a small minority
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Openly Gay Olympic athletes still a small minority

Number rises from 11 four years ago to 20 this year

by James Whitely - SGN Staff Writer

The 2012 Summer Olympics in London are officially open, with more than 10,000 athletes from 204 countries participating. Twenty of those elite competitors are openly Lesbian or Gay. This may seem like very few - and it is - but it's nearly a 100% increase from the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, where there were only 11.

Of those 20 out Gay and Lesbian athletes, 17 are women and three are men.

The women are: Natalie Cook, Australia (beach volleyball); Judith Arndt, Germany (cycling); Marilyn Agliotti, Netherlands (field hockey); Maartje Paumen, Netherlands (field hockey); Rikke Skov, Denmark (handball); Imke Duplitzer, Germany (fencing); Hedvig Lindahl, Sweden (soccer); Lisa Dahlkvist, Sweden (soccer); Jessica Landström, Sweden (soccer); Megan Rapinoe, U.S. (soccer); Alexandra Lacrabére, France (handball); Mayssa Pessoa, Brazil (handball); Seimone Augustus, U.S. (basketball); Carole Péon, France (triathlon); Jessica Harrison, France (triathlon); Lisa Raymond, U.S. (tennis); and Carlien Dirkse van den Heuvel, Netherlands (field hockey).

The men are: Matthew Mitcham, Australia (diving); Edward Gal, Netherlands (dressage); and Carl Hester, Great Britain (dressage).

The small number of out Olympians as well as the apparent disparity between women and men begs the question, Why?

'It goes still to fear, because sports are kind of a last bastion of homophobia,' said Rob Smitherman, sports director of the 2014 Gay Games, an international LGBT sporting event. 'You see it in Europe in the elite soccer/football leagues. They still don't have an openly Gay player [in men's soccer]. Why is that? In women's soccer they do.'

Smitherman told SGN that while Europe has become much more accepting of Gays and Lesbians in general, sports - especially soccer - seems to be untouchable.

He also pointed out that the three openly Gay men in this year's Olympics all participate in individual events, not on teams.

'That's where it becomes, for the person who needs to be out or could be out, more difficult for him,' Smitherman told SGN of team sports.

Most of this year's out Olympians are somewhat outspoken about their sexuality, which Smitherman says is much-needed.

'I feel like sports in general are still homophobic, in the sense that not a lot of people are out,' said Megan Rapinoe in an interview with OUT magazine earlier this month, in which she came out. 'In female sports, if you're Gay, most likely your team knows it pretty quickly. It's very open and widely supported. For males, it's not that way at all. It's sad.'

The Gay Games began in the 1980s, when, according to Smitherman, there was very little opportunity for Lesbians and Gays to participate openly in sports.

'With the Gay Games & we're moving forward and having Gay and Lesbian athletes become more open at home and more accepted in the general [athletic] community, but that is not happening at the league level yet,' Smitherman told SGN.

He added that much like soccer in Europe, in the 'big three' here in America (football, baseball, and basketball) there is still the culture of the closet.

'I think we're stating to change that,' Smitherman told SGN. 'Some [athletes] have done 'It Gets Better' campaigns, and many teams have Gay days. & But the elite athletes, the men, are still afraid to come out.'

'When Major League Baseball does it, that's it,' added Smitherman.

The 2012 Summer Olympics will feature 302 events in 26 different sports between now and August 12. The ninth Gay Games will take place from August 9 to 16, 2014, in Cleveland.

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