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    2020 Summer Olympics: Gold, Silver, Bronze, and More Lavender Than Ever

    By Andrea Shorter–

    After postponement due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo are finally happening right now in 2021. Whether you’re either kinda okay with the convening of 11,326 world class athletes for the ultimate global competition for the gold they’ve worked their whole lives for, or, you’re not so much for the idea of an actual global virus super spreader event amongst the swiftest, strongest, and mightiest of us mortals, or, are just simply not into anything that involves poll vaults, javelins, butterfly strokes, or skate boards—yes, that’s right, skateboarding is now an Olympic sport, go figure—the Summer Olympics are here and queerer, so get used to it, at least until it fades into sports history on August 8.

    Since the commencement parade of nations last Friday, new Olympic and world records have been made, many medals have been won, as well as dreams for the gold, bronze, or silver shattered in the agony of defeat. One record for note in this quadrennial pageantry? The record number of at least 166 out LGBTQ Olympians competing in Tokyo—reported to be more than all the previous Summer Olympics combined. Wow. Perhaps not previous as in all the way back to Olympic origins in Ancient Greece or even in 1936 Germany when Jesse Owens ran and won quite handily the race against Hitler’s “master race,” but more at least as far back as the accounts kept by LGBTQ sports tracker Outsports, which reported 23 publicly out athletes in 2012 in London, and 56 in 2016 in Brazil.

    According to this tracker, which only reports on athletes who have publicly come out in media or have made clear they are in a same sex relationship, “the United States has the most out athletes at these Olympics, with the more than 30 out athletes we know of about a fifth of all the attendees on the list. Team USA is currently followed in the number of publicly out LGBTQ athletes by Canada (17), Britain (16), Netherlands (16), Brazil (14), Australia (12), and New Zealand (10).” That’s reasonably impressive, and also includes reserve athletes in attendance in Tokyo.

    What’s more is that women outnumber out men by almost 8:1. Surprise or maybe not so much, it’s reported that women’s soccer has more than 40 out players. “This continues a trend seen at past Olympics and is reflective of out athletes in elite non-Olympic sports where women also proliferate,” Outsports observes. 

    From the looks of it, out women appear to proliferating well beyond battleground strongholds in soccer (40), softball (6), and volleyball (3), and are proliferating the hell out of Olympic sports in basketball (14), BMX freestyle (3), boxing (3), canoeing (2), cycling (1), diving (2), equestrian sports (2), fencing (1), field hockey (5), golf (2), handball (3), judo (7), rhythmic gymnastics (1), rowing (9), rugby (14), sailing (2), shooting (2), skateboarding (5), surfing (2), swimming (6), tennis (2), track and field (6), weightlifting (1), and, wrestling (1).

    With at least one out LGBTQ athlete competing in 27 of 30 sports, they are clearly very near everywhere in the Tokyo Olympics.  While there are many more out LGBTQ Olympians to cheer on beyond the well-known, brand name athletes like mega powerhouse couple Sue Bird (basketball) and Megan Rapinoe (soccer), another point of notice in this census of out LGBTQ Olympians: the overwhelming majority of accounted for out Olympians are from the USA, Canada, Britain, Sweden, France, Italy, Germany, Netherlands, Finland, Poland, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, Argentina, Venezuela, Mexico, Brazil, Peru, and Chile.

    To date, no out LGBTQ athletes are noted from the African, Russian, Chinese, and Saudi Arabian delegations. Being out in these areas of the world can be perilous. We know our brothers and sisters must be in there; we are everywhere. We await the Olympics when we can openly support them being out, open, and safe as their authentic selves.

    Another point of fact about this 2020 in 2021 summer Olympics: all eyes were on superstar diva Simone Biles, the most decorated and greatest gymnast of all time. You know when you are the best of the best when moves are named after you, and the closest competitor to your greatness is yourself. While Biles withdrew from the gymnastics team final, there is already immense pride in her as the senior member of Team USA at age 24. Pride and mad respect. Respect for her for choosing not to bow out as an aging gymnast, and instead being motivated to continue as the highest profile survivor of allegedly over 135 sexual assaults and abuses of minors committed by convicted and imprisoned former USA Gymnastics physician Larry Nassar. No matter how many medals Biles pulls in her courage and perseverance as a survivor is the win many survivors value most.

    Gold is golden, silver shines, and bronze is beautiful. Nothing shines brighter than our lavender competitors. From wherever they might come from and call home on this big blue marble, a fist bump salute to all LGBTQ Olympians. Be swift, go higher, be strong, and, above all, be safe.

    Andrea Shorter is a longtime Commissioner for the City and County of San Francisco, now serving on the Juvenile Probation Commission after 21 years as a Commissioner on the Status of Women. She is a longtime advocate for gender and LGBTQ equity, voter rights, and criminal and juvenile justice reform. She is a co-founder of the Bayard Rustin LGBTQ Coalition, and was a David Bohnett LGBT Leaders Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

    Published on July 29, 2021