Yep, I’m still on an Olympic kick on this blog, and since the Rio Olympics are still in the early part of its fortnight, you’re probably hooked on them as well. This time around, instead of having fun with the games (as I did here and here), I want to highlight the fact that the rainbow flag of pride appears to have a prominent place (figuratively speaking) alongside the Olympic rings and the flags of the participating countries. I start with the image to your right that captured a moment one night before last Friday’s opening ceremony. While the traditional torch relay, with the flame that would light the cauldron on Friday night, proceeded through Rio neighborhood of Ipanema last Thursday, two men carrying the flaming torches stopped for just a moment. And they kissed. The news reports I’ve come across about the moment (including here and here) do not identify the men nor confirm if they are indeed a couple. But as you can tell from the photo, at least some of the tan-shirted volunteers helping to escort the torch relay took time to enjoy the moment. Many of the onlookers appear to enjoy it as well, as did the rest of the world, thanks in no small part to Globo Esporte reporter/cameraman Pedro Verissimo’s image making the rounds on social media.
Two men kissing on the torch run hasn’t been the only LGBT moment at the Olympics that likely made your heart all mushy. Case in point, this truly romantic moment that occurred Monday night after the conclusion of the women’s rugby sevens tournament:
That happy couple is Isadora Cerullo, a member of Brazil’s women’s rugby team, and Marjorie Enya, a volunteer manager at the rugby venue. After Australia had won the gold medal match (Brazil finished 9th), Marjorie made her way to the pitch, grabbed a microphone, and with volunteers and Brazilian team members looking on, made a heartfelt speech to Isadora, her partner of two years. And then Marjorie formally asked Isadora for her hand in marriage.
Obviously, Isadora said yes to Marjorie’s proposal. Had she not, there wouldn’t be that beautiful video of the proposal — the first at these Olympics — or news about it here, here, or here. Isadora and Marjorie have been together for about two years, the reports indicate, but they will get to become lawfully wedded souses. In Brazil, same-sex marriage has been legal (by a ruling of the country’s National Justice Council) since 2013 and same-sex unions have been legally recognized since 2004. Parabéns, Isadora e Marjorie! Que o dois de você ter uma vida maravilhosa juntos. (For those who don’t have Google Translate, that’s Portuguese for, “Congratulations, Isadora and Marjorie! May the two of you have a wonderful life together.”)
Seeing two men kiss on the torch run and one woman propose to another on the rugby pitch are but two facets of the LGBT presence at the Olympics. To think it was only two and half years ago that the Olympic Winter Games were held in a country, Russia, where it’s still a crime to spread “gay propaganda.” This year in Rio, however, there are a noteworthy number of openly LGBT athletes participating — 44, by this count on Queerty.com, which is the largest such number at any Olympics and up from the 23 that competed at the London Olympics in 2012. That report suggests that that number could grow as other competitors could come out during or after the games.
This LGBT presence seems to have had a mostly feminine accent. Three-quarters of out athletes in Rio are women, including a quartet on the U.S. women’s basketball team: Brittney Griner, Seimone Augustus, Angel McCoughtry, and Elena Delle Donne. There is also a married couple, Helen and Kate Richardson-Walsh, who together made history over the weekend as the first married couple to play on the same team (Great Britain’s field hockey team) at the same Olympics. The torch run, in addition to the male couple mentioned above, also had one open openly trans person as a runner, the cartoonist and screenwriter Laerte Coutinho.
Then there are the “oh, yeah, by the way…” nature of a couple of Rio athletes. Take Elena Delle Donne, for one. As mentioned above, she is on the U.S. women’s basketball team, which is a medal threat if not a cinch for gold. And she just happens to be in a same-sex relationship. This was revealed rather nonchalantly in a Vogue magazine profile. This online article has a pull quote from that Vogue piece which treats Elena’s relationship status matter-of-factly. I’ll just summarize it very briefly: Elena splits time between Chicago and Wilmington, Delaware. She and Amanda have apartments in both cities.
Yeah, short and sweet on Vogue‘s part. And when word spread that Elena and Amanda are engaged couple, Elena decided that, well, she doesn’t have to be shy about it any longer. Her Chicago Sky teammates, for one, are okay with it, as she indicated in this interview with the Chicago Tribune. But you get the sense that while she’ll be open about her sexuality now, she won’t aim to make a big deal about it.
Then there is the case of Jillion Potter. She is a member of the U.S. women’s rugby team at Rio. She is also a cancer survivor. It’s those two facts that are the main facets of a recent profile of Jillion that ran on NBC Nightly News. I am unable to embed the feature on here, but I do recommend you watch it at this link. Yes, Jillion’s spouse appears in the feature. And said spouse just happens to be female. The piece doesn’t seem to make a very big deal out of that fact. And that’s not to bad. If living as openly LGBT isn’t the main focus of one’s life, then that should be considered a victory.
But while those stories of progress are wonderful to see, living as an openly LGBT athlete and gaining acceptance for it isn’t quite complete. When you notice that above linked Queerty list of LGBT athletes at Rio, you notice that only 11 of the 44 listed are men. And none of the men are from the United States. That’s right, none. That’s not to say that there haven’t been openly gay U.S. male Olympians in history, as this story notes that two equestrians and one diver have been openly gay male U.S. Olympians in the past. But it seems that it’s more comfortable for a gay male U.S. Olympian to live in the closet than out of it. Perhaps it’s not so much the Olympics as it is the macho sports world that’s so prevalent here in America, even after the likes of Jason Collins and Michael Sam so bravely left the closet in recent years.
There is also the tug-of-war between competing openly gay and not making a big deal out of it. It was a great story when British diver Tom Daley won bronze Monday night in synchronized diving alongside Dan Goodfellow. But it was distressing to some when NBC’s announcers never made note of Daley’s sexuality until an hour into the broadcast. And even with Daley’s fiance, the screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, cheering for him in the audience, NBC never noted that Black was Daley’s fiance. Yes, this is the same NBC who didn’t make a big deal about Jillion Potter being in a same-sex relationship. I can understand both sides of the coin. Yes, it’s good when a medal-winner’s sexuality isn’t made a big deal of, but there’s still some merit and strength — not to mention inspiration to other LGBT athletes and youth — in having your sexuality noted in the mainstream media alongside your accomplishments. And it’s understandable that NBC, which has traditionally had faults with its Olympic coverage, can’t get every nook and cranny of every Olympic story. At least Dustin Lance Black himself seems to be taking a diplomatic attitude over the controversy, at least judging from his comments to The Advocate in this article.
One non-LGBT story from Rio that should not go unnoticed — especially here in the United States and during these times where controversy over religion is so prevalent — is that of fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad. Though she was eliminated in the Round of 16 in the women’s individual sabre event on Monday, Ibtihaj is noteworthy in that she became the first American athlete to compete at the Olympics while wearing a hijab, the head cover worn by many women of the Muslim faith. When you think of it, Ibtihaj wearing a hijab is the least important part of her fencing attire. Her face mask, jacket, and suit are more important because… well, the pointy ends of those sabres are sharp! And when it’s fencer versus fencer, skill is much more important than what they’re wearing underneath that face mask and protective suit. And Ibithaj’s skill as a fencer and her desire to represent the United States at the Olympics are more important than what anyone dismissive of the Muslim faith as a whole thinks about her hijab. Ibtihaj had a nice pre-games interview with CNN, which you can check out here.