When Olympic diver Tom Daley announced in 2013 that he was dating a man and “couldn’t be happier,” his coming out was an act of courage that, with its rarity, also exposed how the top echelons of sports weren’t seen as a safe space by the vast majority of LGBTQ athletes.
Back then, the number of gay Olympians who felt able and willing to speak openly about their private lives could be counted on a few hands. There’d been just two dozen openly gay Olympians among the more than 10,000 who competed at the 2012 London Games, a reflection of how unrepresentative and anachronistic top-tier sports were just a decade ago and, to a large extent, still are.
Still, at the Tokyo Games, the picture is changing.
A wave of rainbow-colored pride, openness and acceptance is sweeping through Olympic pools, skateparks, halls and fields, with a record number of openly gay competitors in Tokyo. Whereas LGBTQ invisibility used to make Olympic sports seem out of step with the times, Tokyo is shaping up as a watershed for the community and for the Games — now, finally, starting to better reflect human diversity.
“It’s about time that everyone was able to be who they are and celebrated for it,” said U.S. skateboarder Alexis Sablone, one of at least five openly LGBTQ athletes in that sport making its Olympic debut in Tokyo.
“It’s really cool,” Sablone said. “What I hope that means is that even outside of sports, kids are raised not just under the assumption that they are heterosexual.”