This year’s Olympic Games will be out of the ordinary in multiple ways, including how the 2020 games are taking place in 2021. For the LGBTQ+ community, it’s also a year of firsts and broken records.
An openly transgender athlete, weightlifter Laurel Hubbard of New Zealand (pictured below), will compete for the first time ever in the history of the Olympics. Hubbard will be joined by an unprecedented 163 out athletes, more than double the number who participated in the 2016 Games. In fact, according to Outsports, “the number of publicly out LGBTQ athletes in Tokyo is greater than the number athletes who have participated in all of the previous Summer Olympic Games combined while publicly out.”
This will be the queerest Olympics on record, but many faces will be missing — particularly those of Black women. American running star Sha’Carri Richardson was disqualified, and South African runner Caster Semenya and American runner CeCe Telfer won’t compete due to testosterone levels deemed too high by World Athletics.
The 40 out Americans — overwhelmingly queer women — who have made it through the rules and trials will represent the United States in the Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo while also representing Team LGBTQ+. Below, read up on the incredible LGBTQ+ Olympians and Paralympians of 2020, grouped together by sport.
Women’s basketball would be nothing without queer women, and some of the sport’s biggest stars are heading to Tokyo. Sue Bird (pictured above), who will be a flag bearer for Team USA at the Opening Ceremony today (July 23), will be in Japan with her fiancée Megan Rapinoe, who will play for Team USA in women’s soccer. We can’t wait for pics of the power couple gracing us with their royal presence. Bird will play alongside legends like Diana Taurasi and Breanna Stewart. Teammates Elena Delle Donne, Brittney Griner, and Chelsea Gray are all out and proud, too, bringing the total on the team to six.
WNBA player Stefanie Dolson will represent the U.S. in its first ever women’s 3x3 basketball team. “I know who I am and I don't care if people judge me,” Dolson said in 2016 when she came out. “I am 6'5", and I dye my hair purple and experiment a lot with fashion. My motto is: If they're going to stare, they might as well stare at something fun.”
Out trans woman Chelsea Wolfe (pictured above) will be a reserve player for Team USA’s BMX team, making history as the first American trans athlete the U.S. is sending to the Games. If she competes, it will double the number of trans Olympians from one to two. Wolfe loves the individualistic nature of BMX Freestyle, she told ESPN in June: “Being on the course by yourself, it just really lets you express however you want to do your riding.”
Ellen Tomek and Meghan O’Leary will compete on the “Quad Squad,” the unofficial team name for the four American women competing in women’s quadruple sculls. Kendall “Kenny” Chase, Gia Doonan, Jessica Thoennes, and Julian Venonsky will all row for Team USA as well.
Venonsky (pictured above with his teammates), a coxswain and one of the only out men competing for Team USA in Tokyo, came out as gay when he was a student at U.C. Berkeley to great support. He said his “Cal family” members were “easily and unequivocally my greatest allies. Nothing changed when I was truly open, out, and even in a relationship. If anything, our bond strengthened, and our family grew.”
Out-and-proud athlete Alev Kelter (pictured above) spoke out against banning trans people from the sport last year. Last month, Kristen Thomas posted on Instagram showing off her new love of crop tops and using the hashtags #androgynous, #lgbtq, #stemme, and #nonbinary.
Kelter and Thomas will both play sevens for Team USA.
Leave it to queer people to gravitate toward a groundbreaking sport. Skateboarding will be one of four new Olympic sports this year, and Alexis Sablone (pictured above) and Alana Smith will be rocking their boards in their first Olympics.
Sablone, also a visual artist, created a shoe design for Converse for Pride 2021 that includes a rainbow with black and brown, a transgender emblem, and the Lambda symbol.
Ah, women’s soccer, our home away from home. It’s no surprise that over 25% of all LGBTQ+ Olympic athletes from around the world this year are competing in this sport.
Get ready to swoon when Megan Rapinoe (pictured above, far left) takes the field in Tokyo. This celesbian has captured our hearts with her advocacy for equal pay, racial equity, and trans inclusion.
Rapinoe’s out teammates include Tierna Davidson, Adrianna Franch, and Kelly O’Hara.
Embracing the stereotype, the women’s softball team naturally has multiple queer women playing for it. Haylie McCleney, Ally Carda, and Amanda Chidester (pictured above) will be playing in a league of their own, and Taylor Edwards is on deck as a reserve player, too.
Chidester is engaged to another Olympic softball player, Anissa Urtez, who will play against her fiancée in a July 23 game. Urtez says, “We don’t know each other when we’re on the field. It’s game on.” Chidester adds, “Whoever medals, we’re going to be happy for each other no matter what. No matter what.”
Track and Field
Queer women will be competing in two track and field events this year. Erica Bougard (pictured above) will take on the heptathlon, a seven-event competition which includes the high jump, shot put, javelin throw, 200-meter dash, long jump, 100-meter hurdles, and 800-meter race.
Bougard caused a stir when she wore rainbow shoes to a 2019 competition in Qatar, where homosexuality is a crime that is punishable by prison sentence. She told the Associated Press she was “not afraid of the consequences” and felt it was important to use her voice as an athlete.
Raven Saunders will be competing in the shot put event. She has earned the nickname “Hulk” and competed at the Olympic trials with green hair and a Hulk mask.
These athletes are much more than the miscellaneous. They may be the sole LGBTQ+ American representing their sport in Tokyo, but they are making space for themselves regardless.
Kayla Miracle (pictured above, bottom) will be the first out Olympic wrestler for any country when she competes in Tokyo, according to Outsports. Erica Sullivan will be swimming for gold, Linnea Gonzalez will play on the field hockey team, and Rashida Ellis will be boxing for Team USA. Evy Leibfarth will be competing in canoe slalom, and Nick Wagman is an alternate for the equestrian team.
There are at least four out athletes competing in the 2020 Paralympics, which will take place between August 24 and September 5. Asya Miller will play goalball for Team USA, where she has already medaled in the 2004, 2008, and 2016 Games. Monique Burkland will play sitting volleyball and has medaled in the 2012 and 2016 Games. This will be the first Olympics for wheelchair basketball player Courtney Ryan and the second for triathlete Hailey Danz.
The 2020 Olympic Games will take place from July 23 to August 8, 2021. Viewers in the U.S. can watch across NBC platforms, including streaming.
Main image: Olympic track and field star Erica Bougard.