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7 defiant, daring and joyous queer moments from Olympics history that blazed a trail

Patrick Kelleher July 23, 2021
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Olympics LGBT

Marjorie Enya (R) proposes marriage to rugby player Isadora Cerullo of Brazil after the Women's Gold Medal Rugby Sevens match between Australia and New Zealand on Day 3 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Deodoro Stadium on August 8, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (David Rogers/Getty)

The 2021 Tokyo Olympics is set to be the queerest in history, with more than 160 openly LGBT+ athletes set to compete.

That might not seem like a remarkable figure given that some 11,000 athletes are competing in Tokyo, but it represents a startling shift – and is more than the total number of out athletes at every other Olympics put together.

Up until 2008, there were very few openly LGBT+ athletes who had taken part in the Olympics, but things have slowly begun to change.

The Rio Olympics in 2016 was a momentous occasion for the LGBT+ community, with lesbian couples competing together, proposals and trans representation – albeit only in the opening ceremony.

Here, we reflect on seven queer moments from the history of the Olympic Games.

Robert Dover was the first openly gay athlete to compete at the Olympics

Robert Dover of the USA competes in Grand Prix Dressage
Robert Dover of the USA on Rainer competes in Grand Prix Dressage at the Sydney International Equestrian Center during the Sydney Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia on September 26, 2000. (Hamish Blair /Getty)

In 1988, Rovert Dover made history when he became the first openly gay athlete to compete at the Olympic Games.

The American equestrian made waves at the Olympics in Seoul when he casually identified himself as “the token Jewish gay boy on the US Olympic team” when talking to reporters.

Speaking to Outsports in 2020, he said: “People laughed, but I had a lot of press following me around. And the same with ’92 and ’96. I had a lot of press because… I was somebody who wasn’t afraid to talk about being openly gay in Olympic sport.”

Matthew Mitcham became first out Olympian to win gold with his boyfriend cheering him on

LONDON, ENGLAND – AUGUST 11: Matthew Mitcham of Australia competes in the Men’s 10m Platform Diving Semifinal on Day 15 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre on August 11, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)

Matthew Mitcham, a diver, won the heart of queer people everywhere when he took the gold medal for Australia at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

Mitcham, who has since retired from diving, came out as gay shortly before the Olympics in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald.

It was a significant moment for queer people watching at home when they saw Mitcham’s then boyfriend in the crowd, cheering him on.

Rugby player Isadora Cerullo proposed to by her girlfriend at the Rio Olympics

Marjorie Enya (R) proposes marriage to rugby player Isadora Cerullo
Volunteer Marjorie Enya (R) proposes marriage to rugby player Isadora Cerullo of Brazil. (David Rogers/Getty)

Isadora Cerullo was part of the Brazilian squad that narrowly missed out on reaching the knockout rounds at the Rio Olympics in 2016 – but the event was still incredibly special for the rugby player.

She made headlines across the world when her girlfriend Marjorie Enya grabbed a microphone and delivered an emotional speech. Enya then proposed to Cerullo, with video footage of the pair kissing and embracing broadcast across the world.

Speaking to BBC Sport afterwards, Enya said she wasn’t nervous about proposing to Cerullo in such a public forum.

“I wanted to show people that love wins,” she said.

Lesbian hockey players became first married couple to play together at the Olympics

Kate Richardson-Walsh and Helen Richardson-Walsh.
Kate Richardson-Walsh and Helen Richardson-Walsh. (Lynne Cameron/Getty)

Helen and Kate Richardson-Walsh made history at the 2016 Rio Olympics for an unusual reason – they became the first ever married couple to compete together at the Olympics.

The women played together on the British team, breaking new ground for LGBT+ representation in sport in the process.

Speaking to The Sun at the time, Helen said they wanted their relationship to be seen as “a normal thing”.

“We’re not out there shouting it, it’s just part and parcel of who we are,” Kate added.

Team GB’s Tom Bosworth proposed to his boyfriend at the 2016 Olympics

Tom Bosworth proposes to boyfriend
Tom Bosworth proposes to boyfriend. (Twitter)

In 2016, Team GB’s Tom Bosworth, a race walker, proposed to his boyfriend on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, where he had travelled to compete in the Olympics.

Bosworth shared the joyous news on social media, writing: “He said YES!!!”

The race walker proposed to his boyfriend shortly after Isadora Cerullo and Marjorie Enya had their special moment.

Gay athlete Amini Fonua took a stand for equality in the best possible way

Amini Fonua
Amini Fonua. (Social media)

Openly gay swimmer Amini Fonua, who competed at the 2016 Olympics for Tonga, showed his support for the LGBT+ community by wearing a special pair of swimming trunks given to him by the Los Angeles LGBT Center.

“Having the words ‘gay and lesbian’ over my butt is my way of announcing my queernes for the swimming world to see,” Fonua said at the time.

Sadly, Fonua wasn’t allowed to wear the trunks in the 100-yeard breaststroke, but he still made sure to show them off to promote equality at practice sessions.

Trans supermodel Lea T made waves at the Rio 2016 opening ceremony

Olympics Rio
Lea T leads the Brazil delegation during the opening ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro on August 5, 2016. (Leon NEAL/Getty)

The Tokyo Olympics is set to make history as Quinn and Laurel Hubbard become the first out trans athletes to compete – but Lea T flew the flag for trans representation in Rio in a different way.

The supermodel, whose full name is Leandra Medeiros Cerezo, cycled along with a spectacular float at the opening ceremony, leading the Brazilian team.

The event made her the first openly trans person to ever take part in an Olympic opening ceremony.

 

Related topics: tokyo olympics

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