At least 30 athletes competing in the Tokyo Paralympics identify as LGBTQ – a new high for LGBTQ representation at the Paralympic Games, by one count.
That’s more than double the amount of athletes who publicly identified as LGBTQ in the 2016 Rio Paralympics, according to the SB Nation blog Outsports, which conducted a similar count of LGBTQ participants for the Summer Olympics.
Former Paralympians helped the blog compile the list of LGBTQ athletes competing this month in Tokyo. The competitors this year include Asya Miller, a US gold medalist in goalball, a sport for athletes with visual impairments; engaged wheelchair basketball players Laurie Williams and Robyn Love from Team Great Britain; and Edênia Garcia, a Brazilian swimmer with four gold medals.
The Paralympics began this week in Tokyo, with more than 4,400 athletes competing.
Both the Paralympics and Olympics saw an improvement in the number of LGBTQ athletes this year, according to Outsports. The Summer Olympics in Tokyo saw at least 168 LGBTQ athletes, by the blog’s count. A number of those athletes – such as British diver Tom Daley, Canadian soccer star Quinn and Brittney Griner of the US women’s basketball team – earned gold medals.
But researchers who study LGBTQ representation in sports previously told CNN the number of LGBTQ Olympians should have been higher. Less than 2% of all 11,000 Olympians who competed this year identified as LGBTQ, per Outsports’ count. That lapse in representation may be due to a sports culture that still doesn’t welcome queer and trans athletes, said Katie Schweighofer, an adjunct faculty member at Dicksinson College who studies inclusion in sports.
Athletes contend with stigma from disability and sexuality in sport
Paralympians who identify as LGBTQ still have to contend with negative attitudes toward queer and trans people. In a blog post for the International Paralympic Committee, Brazilian swimmer Garcia said she “had to shield myself from a repertoire of jokes” while training.
“Being a lesbian and a person with a disability is a double challenge, as you carry the stigma of being invisible,” Garcia said in the blog post.
But competing before an international audience can inspire change, too. Lee Pearson, champion of dressage and Team Great Britain’s first gay Paralympic gold medalist, was voted his team’s flagbearer in Rio in 2016. The honor moved him, he told the BBC in February.
“It wasn’t about me, it was the message we sent out to other countries,” he said. “I hope it sent a message out to other nations where diverse sexuality is oppressed and still not accepted and where sometimes you can even be put to death.”
Williams and Love from Team Great Britain have been teammates since 2015 and got engaged in 2020. Competing in the Paralympics together “has made [their] relationship strong,” Love wrote in an Instagram post in July.
Williams and Love will compete in women’s wheelchair basketball beginning Wednesday. In an interview last year, Love said she hoped to inspire young people to come out not by doing “extreme things” but by being herself – though winning a gold medal probably wouldn’t hurt, either.