Rio 2016 could well prove the most historic Olympics for LGBTI people ever.
It has already seen a record out 41 Olympians competing, and the first ever lesbian proposal. Helen and Kate Richardson-Walsh are also the first gay married couple to compete on the same team.
Lea T, transgender supermodel, also made history by being the first openly transgender participant in the Games.
The rules were also changed to improve inclusion for transgender and intersex athletes.
1. Since 1928, more than 250 LGBTI Olympians have competed. Prior to Rio, 113 of them had won at least one medal. And of those, 44 have more than one. So out LGBTI athletes are far more likely to win Olympic medals than the others.
2. First off, the ancient Olympics was an all-male event in which participants competed in the nude. It was also staged by the Greeks, a place where homosexuality was very much accepted. Every athlete was expected to have sex with another man or boy.
3. In 1908, 28-year-old gay Danish gymnast Niels Bukh was considered too ‘thick-set’ so he was not selected for the Olympic team. He later became a coach, and his style of gymnastics was introduced worldwide and his influence is still felt to this day. Unfortunately, he was also a spokesperson for Nazi ideology.
4. Otto Peltzer, of Germany, was the first recorded gay Olympian in 1928. He was the 800m and 1,500m world record holder but injury meant he lost out on a medal. He was arrested for homosexuality in 1934, wound up in a Nazi concentration camp and was freed by American forces in 1945.
5. Renée Sintenis, also of Germany, won bronze to become the first LGBTI Olympic medal winner in 1928. She won it in sculpting, when art used to be a part of the Games.
6. American Helen Stephens was accused of being a ‘man’ after beating the reigning Olympic champion Poland’s Stanislawa Walasiewicz, in 1936. This was proved false. When Walasiewicz was murdered, her autopsy revealed she was born intersex.
7. When Hitler came to power, the freedom of sexuality and creativity was stifled and suppressed. However, one of the Führer’s favorite sculptors was (closeted) gay artist Arno Breker. He was tasked with creating statues of flawless, naked, Aryan men. These were later described as Breker’s ‘pin-ups of homoerotic sexual fantasies’. While a member of the Nazi party, his admirers said he never supported the ideology.
8. Alan Turing, the World War 2 genius and father of computer science who was persecuted later for his homosexuality, looked to the Olympics as his next challenge after the war ended. Having competed in marathons, he was sadly injured so couldn’t compete in the heats to choose Britain’s Olympic team.
9. Tom Waddell, a US decathlete, placed sixth at the 1968 Olympics. Post-Games, he became a doctor and established a private practice in the Castro in San Francisco in 1974. Two years later, Tom and his partner were the first gay couple to appear on a cover of a national magazine – People. He came up with the Gay Games, in 1982, which still continues to this day. He died from AIDS in 1986.
10. The original name of the Gay Games was the Gay Olympics. The United States Olympic Committee sued them from using the name, despite events like ‘Wheelchair Olympics’, ‘Police Olympics’, ‘Xerox Olympics’ and ‘Rat Olympics’ were allowed. ‘The bottom line is that if I’m a rat, a crab, a copying machine or an Armenian, I can have my own Olympics,’ Waddell said. ‘If I’m gay, I can’t.’
11. Czech skater Ondrej Nepela competed a week after his 13th birthday in 1964, and became Olympic champion in 1972. He was the youngest ever LGBT Olympian. He also died of AIDS in 1989.
12. Caitlyn Jenner competed in the decathlon competition in 1972 and 1976. In her coming out interview, she revealed she wore bras and panties underneath her suit to feel better about dysphoria. She is believed to be the first trans torch relay runner as well, but the first openly trans runner was Bianka Lins in Rio 2016 – selected specifically to represent the trans community of Brazil.
13. John Curry, a British champion, was outed after he won a gold medal in 1976. While he didn’t deny he was gay, he didn’t confirm it either and insisted people should look at his skating and not his private life.
14. In 1981 tennis champion Martina Navratilova came out, and lost dozens of endorsements. She declined to play on the 1988 team after feeling ‘personally attacked’ by the public. She made her debut in the Olympics in 2004.
15. US equestrian Robert Dover came out during his second Olympics in Seoul 1988. He also holds the record for the most Olympic appearances by an LGBTI athlete, with six games since 1984.
16. Greg Louganis won gold medals in diving in both 1984 and 1988. In 1993, he came out as gay and HIV positive.
17. In 1992, Gigi Fernandez became not only the first Puerto Rican woman, but the first LGBT person from Puerto Rico to win a gold medal.
18. Homophobic and anti-woman’s rights, terrorist Eric Rudolph was guilty of planting a bomb that injured 111 people and killed a spectator at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. Following his arrest, he also confessed to other bombings including an attack on a lesbian bar in 1997 that injured five.
19. Ian Thorpe is the most decorated LGBTI Olympian, winning five gold, three silver and one bronze.
20. The first LGBTI equestrian rider in 1998 was Canada’s Norman Elder. An ‘eccentric’ and explorer, he kept four monkeys, a six-foot boa constrictor and a 200-pound pig named Henry in his basement. His house, which contained several artifacts from his travels, including shrunken heads and human skulls, was made available to homeless teenage boys. In 2000, he was accused of sexually assaulting several of them. In his defense, he said it was consensual. Despite them all being 18, 19, and 20, Canada’s age of consent for gay sex at the time was 21, so he was considered a pedophile. Norman committed suicide in 2003.
21. In 2008, Australian diver Matthew Mitcham came out prior to the Olympics in Beijing. He then became the first openly gay man to win an Olympic gold medal. He made the highest-scoring single dive in Olympic history.
22. Briton Nicola Adams became the first female Olympic boxing champion in 2012, and came out as bisexual shortly afterwards.
23. 2014 saw the Sochi Olympics in Russia, shortly after the ‘gay propaganda’ law was enacted. And it went down in history as an event that made gay rights not just an issue to discuss, but the center of a civil rights firestorm. While there were arrests and beatings, there were also protests, coming outs, and global demonstrations.
24. Sochi also saw the International Olympic Committee approve a new rule that could mean any country that actively discriminates against LGBTI people could be banned from hosting.
And the future will likely see much more LGBTI history being made. Keep an eye on Rio Olympics 2016 with Gay Star News.
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