(CNN)The 2020 Summer Olympic Games are already historic, and not just because they're taking place a year later than scheduled. This year's Olympics feature, by one count, more participants who identify as LGBTQ than at any other Games.
There may be more Olympians who identify as LGBTQ than ever before. But there are limits to inclusion
At least 168 of the 11,000 Olympians competing in Tokyo this week are openly LGBTQ, according to the SB Nation blog Outsports.
Of the 160-plus LGBTQ athletes, some are well-known stars like FIFA Women's World Cup champ Megan Rapinoe, WNBA great Brittney Griner and diver (and newly minted gold medalist) Tom Daley, all of whom came out publicly in the last decade. They're joined by up-and-comers like the Canadian soccer player Quinn and New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard, both of whom are transgender.
The improvement in LGBTQ representation at the Olympics is cause for celebration, but it should also give athletes and audiences pause, said Erik Denison, a behavioral scientist at Monash University in Australia. By Outsports' count, less than 2% of all athletes competing in Tokyo identify as LGBTQ -- and, according to Denison, that number is still low. In the US alone, an estimated 4.5% of people are LGBTQ, according to a 2020 count from the Williams Institute, UCLA Law's LGBTQ policy center.
"We've done an OK job," Denison, who studies inclusion in sports, told CNN. "But this has been a serious problem for a while ... we need to start asking some serious questions about what's going on here."
There are a few likely reasons why there are so few LGBTQ Olympians, researchers who study LGBTQ inclusion in sports told CNN. Young LGBTQ people are still being discriminated against while playing sports, which may lead them to stop playing altogether, narrowing the pipeline to pro sports. There may also be LGBTQ athletes competing in the Olympics who don't feel comfortable coming out, the researchers said, due to a culture within sports that still relies on stereotypes of gender and sexuality.
The relatively low number of participants who publicly identify as LGBTQ indicates that both "top-level sporting cultures, including the Olympics, and broader local-level sports cultures have not truly become welcoming environments for LGBTQ people," said Katie Schweighofer, an adjunct faculty member in American studies at Dickinson College.
To improve LGBTQ representation in professional sports, Schweighofer and Denison said, coaches and leaders in youth sports should set a precedent that homophobic language and discrimination are unacceptable. This way, they said, young LGBTQ athletes should feel accepted by their teammates and coaches, and they may even stick with the sport all the way to the professional level. But even if they only continue to play their sport for leisure, the researchers said, the young LGBTQ athletes will still reap the benefits of an inclusive environment.
The Olympic Games haven't always accepted all LGBTQ competitors. Transgender participants were first allowed to compete at the Olympics in 2004 -- but until the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, no trans athletes ever had.
Sometimes the Games have taken place in countries where homosexuality is not widely accepted or where legislation impacts LGBTQ residents. The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi were particularly controversial for legislation that banned LGBTQ "propaganda," which had been signed less than a year before the start of the Games.
The Olympics also has a ways to go when it comes to the inclusion of athlet