A record number of 142 out LGBTQ+ athletes, including nine from Australia, will compete in the the summer Olympics in Tokyo to be held from July 23 – August 8. This far surpasses the 56 out athletes who competed in Rio De Janeiro in 2016, and 23 out athletes at the 2012 Games in London. 

According to OutSports, 25 countries will be represented by at least one out LGBTQI+  athlete, participating across 26 different sports. Team USA has the most out athletes at 30, followed by Canada (16),  Great Britain (15) the Netherlands (13), Australia (9), New Zealand (9)  and Brazil (8). 

The number of out Australian athletes is certainly a positive change  from the 2016 Games when only one out Australian athlete made the  trip to Rio – Michelle Heyman, who competed in women’s soccer. 

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This year out women athletes vastly outnumber the men at a ratio of 8-1. The  Games will also be the first to have a transgender athlete – Laurel Hubbard competing for New Zealand in weightlifting. Incidentally, the Australian weightlifting federation had sought to block Hubbard from competing at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold  Coast. 

Japan Has No Out Athlete At Olympics

The diversity among the participating overseas teams stands in stark contrast to the current status  of LGBTQI+ equality in the host country Japan.

As Human Rights Watch points out,  “There are no national anti-discrimination laws on sexual orientation  and gender identity, or race and ethnicity. Recent surveys show that 3 to 10 percent of people in Japan identify as LGBT. Yet LGBT people in  Japan face stigma and discrimination. Japan does not recognize same sex marriage, [and] transgender people are forced to be surgically  sterilized if they want legal recognition of their gender identity.”

A push to pass an anti-discrimination law that protects LGBTQI+ persons in Japan failed, after the draft Bill was withdrawn following protests from conservatives in the ruling party.  Japan also has no athletes who identify as  LGBTQI+ participating in the Games. 

Out & Proud: Team Australia

Australia’s historic tally of nine openly LGBTQ+ athletes, suggests the  drive for more inclusiveness in sport is working. A 2019 study by  Adelaide’s Flinders University, found “that almost 40 per cent of the  LGBTIQ+ respondents who participate in sports have felt unsafe or  vulnerable in a sporting environment as a result of their gender  identification or sexuality.” 

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Star Observer takes a look at Australia’s Out and Proud Athletes participating in the Tokyo Olympics:

Team Australia’s LGBTQ+ contingent includes Leilani Mitchell, 36,  who is competing in basketball (women’s 5×5). Mitchell, a member of  the Australian women’s national basketball team, in 2019 became the  first WNBA player to twice win the ‘Most Improved Player’ award.  Mitchell is engaged to fellow WNBA player Mikaela Dombkins with  whom she shares a son, Kash Maxwell.  

 

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A post shared by Leilani Mitchell (@leilani_mitchell5)

Poppy Starr Olsen, 21, competing in skateboarding, was also the first  Australian woman to compete in the Summer X Games in 2016. Posting on Instagram, Olsen said “When I was 8 I was given my first skateboard. My family was walking home with my neighbour and family friend at the time and he had a skateboard… I asked if I could have a turn and ended up stealing it the whole walk home. When it was time to go I went to give him back his skateboard and he looked at me and said ‘it’s yours.’ This kind gesture ended up being the start of such a beautiful life. Thank you.”

 

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A post shared by poppy (she/her) (@poppystarr)

Chloe Logarzo, 26, competing in women’s football, said, in a self penned essay, in Athlete’s Voice, “I’’d come out as gay to my parents  when I was 17. They were a bit stunned and didn’t show emotion either  way. That wasn’t good enough for me. I took it to mean they didn’t  approve when all they were really trying to do – as I realised much later  – was deal with the initial shock and process what I’d told them…My  parents Joe and Kim, love me for whoever I am as long as I’m happy,  but I couldn’t see that at the time. Or I ignored it.”

 

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A post shared by Chloe Logarzo (@chloelogarzo)

Sam Kerr, 27, also a member of the women’s football team, and the  Captain of the Matildas; the Australia national women’s soccer team,  posted on Instagram, “When we step on the field we are all EQUAL. I  play for the day that it’s the same once we step off it.”

 

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A post shared by Sam Kerr (@samanthakerr20)

Kerr, has certainly  experienced her share of homophobic abuse, particularly after the  Matildas win against Brazil in the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup final,  when she was trolled by an anonymous twitter user.

Tameka Yallop, 30, another women’s football team member, has been  married to fellow footballer Kirsty Yallop since 2019 with whom she  shares a daughter, Harley Rose. Yallop, who adopted her wife’s  surname after their marriage, spoke candidly about how her fear of  coming out could potentially damage her career in sport. Yallop,  speaking out as part of Pantene’s Ribbon of Strength campaign said, “I  definitely decided to keep it to myself for a long time, until I realised that  it shouldn’t be like that and I kind of had my own independence. And I  guess strength in numbers with more people sort of coming out as well,  that gave me confidence.” 

 

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A post shared by Tameka Yallop (Butt) (@tamekayallop)

Teagan Micah, 23, also competing in women’s football, tweeted, “An  unreal feeling. Heading to my first Olympics with the best bunch of girls!  Let’s get to work.”

 

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A post shared by Teagan Micah (@teaganmicah_)

Micah, who is a goalkeeper for the Matildas, was a  member of the squad representing Australia at the 2019 FIFA Women’s  World Cup. 

Kaia Parnaby, 31, competing in women’s softball, posted on Instagram: “That dream I had as a little kid is about to become reality.” 

 

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A post shared by Kaia Parnaby (@kaiaparnaby)

Sam Stosur, an Olympic veteran with four games under her belt, is  competing in Tennis; women’s singles and doubles. Stosur, 37, came  out in 2019 during her acceptance speech at the Australian Tennis Awards when she received the Spirit of Tennis award.

 

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A post shared by Samantha Stosur (@samstosur)

Stosur posted on  Instagram, “So excited to be going to Tokyo! Can’t believe it’s #5. I have  so many amazing memories from previous Olympics so here’s to  making more.” Stosur and her partner Liz became parents to daughter  Genevieve in 2020. 

In an emotional post on Instagram, women’s rugby sevens player  Sharni Williams, 33, wrote, “As the saying goes and as I’ve always said,  Rugby is a game for all. It’s where I first felt comfortable and accepted  for who I was. That inclusivity plays a big part in why I still choose to  play rugby today. Visibility and awareness is an important part of  making the world of sport a better and safer place for members of the  LGBTQI+ community.” Casey Conway, replied to her post saying, “I  can’t like this enough! Such an inspiration. Love you long time.” 

 

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A post shared by Sharni Williams (@sharni_will)

No matter how these outstanding athletes fare at the Olympic Games,  the Australian Olympians’ Oath will always ring true for them; “Once an  Olympian, Always an Olympian.” 

 

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