Gay athletes have probably been setting Olympic records since the days of the ancient Greeks.
But openly gay and lesbian athletes are another matter, especially in the Winter Olympics, which makes a couple of recent milestones all the more noteworthy.
First, Team USA’s Adam Rippon made history by becoming the first out gay man to medal in a Winter Olympics by taking home the bronze for his free skate performance.
Then, Canadian Eric Radford became the first openly gay Winter Olympics champion after winning the gold with partner Meagan Duhamel in the pairs free skate performance.
The milestones come after NBC faced criticism for straight-washing its coverage of Opening Ceremonies by not identifying LGBTQ athletes in the same way it highlights athletes for their gender or ethnic backgrounds. Advocates say that recognizing LGBTQ athletes helps normalize their presence and encourages others to come out so that, one day, it won’t be such a big deal that they’re participating in international sports events.
The significance of their victories was not lost on them as they posed together for a photo with medals.
“So proud to be wearing these medals and showing the world what we can do!” Radford said in an Instagram post.
It was the latest win, so to speak, for Team LGBTQ. A record number of 14 out athletes are participating in this year’s Games, according to SB Nation’s Outsports.
That’s up from seven in the 2014 Winter Games, according to the site. And yet, it’s a far cry from the 2016 Summer Olympics, which boasted a record number of LGBTQ athletes, with at least 41 participating.
Outsports’ tally includes athletes who have at some point spoken publicly about their orientation. “We are aware there are other LGBT Winter Olympians who are out within their sport or team, but they have chosen not to discuss it publicly; these athletes are not on this list,” the outlet notes.
Another sign of progress for LGBTQ representation at the Olympics is the Canadian Olympic Committee’s Pride House, a safe space in the Olympic Village for LGBTQ athletes and their supporters. The first Pride House appeared in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, but this one is the first to be affiliated with and hosted by a national Olympic committee. And it’s the first Pride House in Asia.
Mixing sports and politics
Rippon is one of two openly gay American athletes to represent team USA for the first time in the Winter Olympics, along with freestyle skiing’s Gus Kenworthy.
Rippon hasn’t shied away from mixing sports and politics when it comes to his orientation. In January, Rippon criticized the White House for tapping US Vice President Mike Pence to lead the official American delegation to the 2018 Winter Olympic opening ceremony, according to USA Today. After he made those comments, USA Today reported that Rippon declined a request to meet with Pence. The Vice President’s office later said he never reached out to set up a conversation with Rippon.
“The reason that I wanted to come out in such a public way was, like, in the hopes of helping people that were struggling in the same position that I struggled with for most of my life, in the closet,” Kenworthy told Us Weekly.
“I have people constantly coming up to me and sending me messages saying how much my story has helped them come to terms with themselves,” he told the publication. “And for that reason, it’s just been the best decision that I’ve ever made.”