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Speck of gold: Meet the openly gay Olympians

A tiny fraction, far less than 1%, of athletes at the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics will be openly LGBT – meet the few who are going for gold
Matthew Mitcham is one of just 18 out gay athletes competing in London 2012

With Olympics bosses accused of failing to stand up for the rights of gay athletes, just how many out LGBT sportsmen and women are there competing in this year’s games? The answer: Not a lot.

According to blog Outsports.com, there are only 18 athletes playing for our team out of a total of 12,602. That’s a shocking less than 0.008%.

It’s a slight increase on Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008, which had 10 and 11 LGBT people competing, but it nevertheless shows little has changed in the tournament despite public opinion having come leaps and bounds.

Unsurprisingly all the gay Olympians are from Western countries or nations with more progressive policies to LGBT rights.

The majority of the athletes hail from northern European countries and the US.

Australia has two participants, including diver Matthew Mitcham, with Brazil sending just one gay athlete to the games.

Carl Hester is the only gay sportsman representing the host nation Britain in the equestrian event.

Lee Pearson, another gay male UK equestrian athlete, and Claire Harvey, a lesbian member of Britain’s women’s volleyball team, will both be competing in the Paralympics.

So why are our LGBT athletes so conspicuously missing from the games?

Four time Olympic gold medallist, diver Greg Louganis, only came out after he had retired.

He told Outsports that he stayed in the closet because he didn’t want his sexuality to distract from the sport.

Louganis said: ‘I was out to my friends and my family. It was just my policy not to discuss my sexuality to members of the media. I wanted my participation in the sport to be about the sport. I didn’t want it to be about being the gay diver.

‘Today, we have more positive images in media when it comes to sexuality and representation — we’re just regular people — so I think it’s a more positive atmosphere.

‘When I was on my book tour in 1995, I had a lot of people come up to me and say they were gay and they weren’t out and they were in a team sport. It’s tough if you’re in a team sport, because you’re relying on your team. I think it’s a little easier when you’re talking about an individual sport because it’s just you out there and you’re pretty self-reliant.’

According to veteran activist Peter Tatchell, part of the blame also lies in the hands of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG), who are in charge of this year’s games.

The 60-year-old who has been at the forefront of the global gay rights movement told GSN in May that organizers of the games have done little to make LGBT people more visible in the event and promote gay people in sports.

A GSN feature revealed that the only real presence the LGBT community has had in the run up to the Olympics, which opens next Friday (27 July) is to launch a pin badge with a rainbow on it and recruit volunteers.

Pride House, a gay event for Olympic athletes, spectators, tourists, families and friends, will run during the games from 3 to 7 August, but despite the EU stumping up €10,000 to support the venue, the IOC and LOCOG have provided no financial backing.

In over 150 countries LGBT athletes are forced to hide their sexuality in order to get chosen by their national selectors.

Now Tatchell has launched a campaign, calling on Olympics bosses to force countries which discriminate against LGBT people in sport to sign an ‘equality pledge’ or face a ban from taking part in the games.

In an open letter to London 2012 chairman Lord Coe and IOC president Jacques Rogge he urged them to stand up for LGBT rights, singling out participating countries which he claims clearly 'violate the Olympic spirit of equality' as stated in its charter, including Saudi Arabia, Iran and India.

Tactchell will lead a protest on Sunday (22 July) at the Hilton Hotel in Park Lane, London, from 12 noon to 1pm, to coincide with a meeting of the IOC executive.

He said: ‘The IOC should disqualify from the Olympics countries that discriminate against athletes on the grounds of gender, ethnicity, religion/belief, sexual orientation or gender identity.

‘The Olympic charter prohibits discrimination in sport but it is not being enforced by the IOC.’

Speaking to USA Today, Olympian soccer player Megan Rapinoe sums up perfectly why it is so important for more athletes to come out.

‘I think it's pretty cool, the opportunity that I have, especially in sports, because there's really not that many out athletes,’ she said.

‘I think it's important to be out. It's important to stand up and be counted and be proud of who you are.’

Here is the full list of LGBT athletes participating in the games:

Australian diver Matthew Mitcham, equestrian Edward Gal from the Netherlands, US doubles tennis player Lisa Raymond, cyclist Judith Arndt from Germany, basketball player Seimone Augustus from the US, German fencer Imke Duplitzer, US soccer player Megan Rapinoe, field hockey player Marilyn Agliotti from the Netherlands, Carl Hester from Britain, playing in the equestrian event and Carlien Dirkse van den Heuvel again from the Netherlands, playing field hockey.

Mayssa Pessoa will represent Brazil for handball, along with Rikke Skov from Denmark, while Dutch Maartje Paumen will take part in field hockey, Natalie Cook from Australia will play beach volleyball.

French handball player Alexandra Lacrabère is also competing in the games, along with Swedish soccer player Jessica Landström, triathletes Carole Péon and Jessica Harrison from France.

Paralympians are Lee Pearson, a male British equestrian athlete, and Claire Harvey, a member of Britain’s women’s volleyball team.
 

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