The Tokyo Paralympics is welcoming a record-breaking number of out LGBT+ athletes, more than double the total that competed in Rio in 2016.
After the loudest and proudest Olympic Games yet the eyes of the world turn to the Paralympics, where at least 30 publicly out athletes will be performing on the global stage.
They represent eight countries and at least a dozen sports, according to Outsports, with the top three nations being the US (nine out LGBT+ athletes), the UK (nine) and Canada (three). Australia, Germany and Brazil add another six out athletes to the total.
Wheelchair basketball makes up more than 40 per cent of the LGBT+ list, and as with the summer Olympics women vastly outnumber men.
Great Britain’s women’s wheelchair basketball team includes Laurie Williams and Robyn Love, a couple of more than six years who got engaged in February 2020.
“I couldn’t imagine what my GB journey would have been like if Laurie and I weren’t together,” Love shared on Instagram ahead of the Games.
“I don’t think I would have progressed so quickly without her pushing me so hard, I can still hear ‘one more push’ in my head every time I’m defending… It hasn’t always been plain sailing but competing at the highest level under incredible pressure has made our relationship strong and I cannot wait to compete in Tokyo together.”
The only out gay man at the Tokyo Paralympics is Sir David Lee Pearson, a highly decorated para-equestrian who’s won gold 11 times at the Paralympics.
There are also two non-binary Paralympians competing, both Australian: shotputter Maria “Maz” Strong and wheelchair racer Robyn Lambird.
“Beyond excited to announce I am officially Tokyo bound!!!” Lambird shared. “It’s been a crazy six year journey with plenty of ups and downs but I can truly say it’s a dream becoming a reality.”
The year’s delay due to COVID-19 added another out LGBT+ Paralympian to the list: Team USA triathlete Hailey Danz, who came out as gay in a heartfelt Instagram post in November 2020.
“I’ve spent much of my life building dams – constructing barriers that prevented me from flowing freely – in an attempt to hide my sexuality,” she wrote.
“I know there are a lot of people who say that sexuality has no place in sport; that the press should stop sensationalising who we love and simply focus on the game,” she elaborated in a piece on the Team USA website in June.
“To those people let me say this: it was by seeing openly gay athletes that I’ve been able to work through my shame and insecurities and accept who I am.””
LGBT+ athletes are also represented in Paralympic cycling, rowing, swimming, sitting volleyball, track and field, canoe, wheelchair fencing, wheelchair tennis and equestrian events.
Lauren Appelbaum of RespectAbility, a nonprofit that works to change how society views people with disabilities, said the increased visibility points to the “large intersection” between the LGBT+ and disabled communities.
“We hope that even more out athletes participate in the future, as it is critical for all disabled people to have positive role models for success,” she said in a statement to NBC.
The Tokyo Paralympic Games kicks off Tuesday (24 August), and lasts until 5 September.
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