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These are the 6 Openly Gay Athletes Competing at the Sochi Olympics

SochiBY SARAH DOUGHERTY / GlobalPost

On Sunday the world gained another openly gay Olympic athlete: Ari-Pekka Liukkonen of Finland. His announcement comes just days before the 2014 Winter Olympic Games start in Sochi, Russia, where an anti-gay law has been in effect since last year. The Finnish swimmer said, “I wanted to start a broader discussion in connection with Sochi, because it’s sad that the legislation in Russia restricts the human rights of young people and others.”

This issue is both public and personal for the six openly gay Olympians who will be competing at Sochi. They'll join 6,000 athletes from 85 countries — some of whom will be wearing space suitsdazzlingly geometric pants or mariachi costumes.

Gay rights have taken center stage at Sochi, thanks to Russia's own targeting of the LGBT community. In June 2013, the Russian government banned dissemination of pro-gay "propaganda" that could be accessible to children. The law’s vagueness, activists note, could prohibit almost any pro-gay expression, such as public statements, rallies, rainbow flags, rainbow nesting dolls, or same-sex hand-holding. Violators can be fined or jailed up to 14 days. Foreigners can be expelled.

Then in July 2013, Russia made it illegal for foreign gay and lesbian couples to adopt Russian children, and in October 2013, the government proposed legislation that would remove Russian children from their LGBT parents. The proposal is now withdrawn.

Over the last seven months, Russia has introduced or amended at least 13 laws restricting freedom of expression, association and assembly of non-governmental organizations, particularly those that receive foreign funding — a violation of international human rights law, says Amnesty International.

The cumulative effect of Russia’s crackdown on human rights, including on those of the LGBT community, has been ugly. Russian activists note that the measures strengthen homophobia in a country where 74 percent of people already believe that homosexuality is unacceptable.

3_hrw_russiaThe new laws, says Human Rights Watch, have also fueled vicious attacks against LGBT individuals, including beatings, kidnappings, torture and murder. GLAAD has compiled many horrifying examples since the 2013 legislation went into effect, which you can read about here. Or watch this documentary, "Hunted," by investigative journalist Liz Mckean.

But here’s the rainbow lining: Sochi has also provided a highly visible forum for international protest and pressure in response to Russia’s anti-gay laws. For example, some 50 Olympic athletes — plus 406,000 other people around the globe — have petitioned the Russian government to "eliminate all anti-gay laws and protect all citizens from violence and discrimination in Russia."

PoundWhile International Olympics Committee member Dick Pound (no, really) has downplayed the harshness of the country's “antigay stuff,” European Union Commissioner Viviane Reding confirmed that she'll boycott the Games because of Russia's treatment of minorities. German President Joachim Gauck and French President Francois Hollande have denied a boycott but they won't be attending either. Nor will US President Barack Obama. Instead, he'll be sending the largest and most openly gay delegation in Olympics history.

In response to the international outcry, Russian President Vladimir Putin awkwardly backpedaled into a pedophilia comparison. The leader — known for riding shirtless on a horse — assured the world on Jan. 17 that LGBT people attending the Olympics could “feel safe” so long as they “leave kids alone.” Sochi’s mayor then claimed there are no gay people in Sochi, leading to some entertaining fact-checking by the BBC.

The Olympics are a time to celebrate world-class feats of athleticism, flamboyant displays of nationalism and maybe some spandex-clad buns. But they’re also a time to honor human courage. Even if the mayor of Sochi does not believe in gay people, they'll be at the Winter Games.

Here are the five other openly gay athletes who will be competing at Sochi.

1) Anastasia Bucsis, Canadian speed skater

Bucsis

Bucsis came out publicly at Calgary’s Gay Pride Parade in September 2013, two years after telling her family and friends. The 24-year-old speed skater is on Canada’s national team and competed in the 500-meter speed skating event at the 2010 Vancouver Games. She told the Globe and Mail she was “so proud to be gay” and wanted to speak out against Russia’s anti-gay laws: “I could never promote that message of concealing who you are with all of this going on in Russia. I’m kind of happy that I did it on my own terms. ... I also have faith in Russia. I think, I hope, that things will get better.”

 

2) Belle Brockhoff, Australian snowboarder

Brockhoff

Brockhoff was the first LGBT Olympian to come out in protest of Russia’s legislation, during an interview with Australia’s ABC TV on Aug. 22, 2013. The 20-year-old snowboarder and Olympic newbie said she wanted to show Putin how successful gay and lesbian athletes could be. In January Brockhoff seriously upped her game: “After I compete, I'm willing to rip on [Putin's] ass. I'm not happy and there's a bunch of other Olympians who are not happy either.” She promised to send him a six-finger salute on camera — representing Principle Six, the Olympic Charter’s anti-discrimination principle.

 

3) Ireen Wüst, Dutch speed skater

Wust

In October 2009, Wüst told Dutch magazine I she had a girlfriend — fellow speed skater Sanne van Kerkhof. Wüst, who is 27, won gold in the 3,000-meter race in the 2006 Torino Games and in the 1,500-meter race in the 2010 Vancouver Games.

 

4) Sanne van Kerkhof, Dutch short track speed skater

Vankerkhoff

The 26-year-old skater has been out since at least 2009, when Dutch speed skater Ireen Wüst revealed the two were dating. Van Kerkhof competed in the 2010 Vancouver Games. But as blogger Pat Griffin points out, not all openly gay athletes are interested in public LGBT advocacy. Last November, van Kerkhof said: "It is sad to hear about somebody beaten up because he is gay. It's terrible... but we, professional athletes, did go to China as well. There are also people who live in inhumane conditions in slums and we are housed in a 5-star hotel. We can't do anything about it."

 

5) Cheryl Maas, Dutch snowboarder

Maas

Maas is married to Norwegian former snowboarder Stine Brun Kjeldaas, with whom she has a daughter. The 29-year-old snowboarder competed in the half-pipe at the 2006 Torino Games. Her wife, a fellow Olympian, competed in the 2002 Salt Lake City Games and won silver in the half-pipe at the 1998 Nagano Games. In October, Maas said: "In my opinion, the IOC should choose a location more deliberately. They should exclude countries where certain minorities are excluded, such as in Russia. With the choice of Russia, the IOC is taking a step back in time. Russia lives in the past, while we should look forward."

 

6) Barbara Jezeršek, Slovenian cross country skier

Pokljuka

Jezeršek, who is openly lesbian, competed in the 10-kilometer race, 15-kilometer race and 4x5-kilometer relay in the 2010 Vancouver Games.

 

And here are five more international athletes who've come out in the past two months alone, some of whom are Olympic hopefuls for the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro:

1) Ari-Pekka Liukkonen, Finnish swimmer

Liukkonen

Liukkonen came out in an interview with Finnish newspaper YLE on Feb. 2, 2014. The 24-year-old swimmer competed in the 2012 London Games and won a bronze medal in the 4x50m mixed freestyle relay at the 2012 European Championships. Luikkonen is the first Finnish athlete to come out publicly while still active in his sport. He said, “I hope that in Finland we can get to the stage where we don’t need to talk about this anymore as soon as possible.... It’s a really great feeling that I can finally be myself.”

 

2) Thomas Hitzlsperger, German football player

T_hitzlsperger

On Jan. 8, 2014, Hitzlsperger assembled a group of reporters from German weekly Die Zeit and told them he is gay in a lengthy interview. “I think this is a good moment for it. The Olympic Games in Sochi are coming up and I think we need critical voices against the campaigns of several governments against homosexuals.” The 31-year-old midfielder played for Germany in the 2006 FIFA World Cup and the 2008 UEFA European Championships. Hitzlsperger noted, “Modern soccer is no place for people stuck in yesterday, or people with crusty old prejudices. This all serves to encourage young people about to enter the world of professional sports.” Watch the full interview here.

 

3) Ian Matos, Brazilian diver

Matos

Matos came out to Brazilian newspaper Correio on Jan. 6, 2014, partly inspired by the YouTube video of British diver Tom Daley (see below). The 24-year-old diver said: “When I saw it, I joked with a friend. I said I was going to do it as well. He advised me to [stay closeted] until after the [2016 Rio Games] so I wouldn’t lose sponsorship” — a common concern among Brazilian athletes. But Matos says he is tired of avoiding gay parties, hiding boyfriends and pretending to be straight. The diver, who was born in Pennsylvania, was Brazil’s 3-meter champion in 2013.

 

4) Brian Boitano, US figure skater

Boitano

Boitano came out publicly on Dec. 19, 2013, a day after Obama appointed him to the US delegation to Sochi. He later told The New York Times: “We were going on the president’s behalf and we were standing up for that message that I completely believed in. [I told myself,] ‘I can’t go to Sochi and not make this official. I need to get past my comfort zone of being a private guy like I’ve been my whole life.” The 50-year-old figure skating legend, who won gold at the 1988 Winter Olympics, joins two other openly gay athletes on the delegation — tennis champion Billie Jean King (39 Grand Slam titles) and Olympic ice hockey player Caitlin Cahow (bronze medal in the 2006 Torino Games).

 

5) Tom Daley, British diver

Pool_daley

Nineteen-year-old Daley opened up about his personal life via YouTube on Dec. 2, 2013: “Come spring this year, my life changed massively when I met someone and it made me feel so happy, so safe and everything just feels great. And that someone is a guy.” Specifically, that guy is "Milk" screenwriter Dustin Lance Black. Daley said he still “fancies” girls but wanted to put an end to speculation about his relationship status. He then tweeted the video to his more than 2.4 million Twitter followers. The teen concluded: “I still want to win an Olympic medal in Rio 2016 for Great Britain. I'm still as motivated as ever to do that and it would be great to have you guys on that journey as well.” Daley competed in the 2008 Beijing Games (when he was 14!) and won a bronze medal in the 10-meter platform at the 2012 London Games. Watch the teen's coming-out video here.

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Comments

  1. Hi,
    you forgot one more openly gay athlete from Austria. Her name is Daniela Iraschko-Stolz and she is competing in women's ski jumping, which has its premiere at the olympics.
    In February she entered a civil union with her partner, an event the was covered in the Austrian mainstream media.
    I found this interview with her, unfortunatly I don't know if there are any English articles an her: http://www.news.at/a/iraschko-interview-vor-olympia

    Posted by: FromAustria | Feb 5, 2014 11:11:53 AM


  2. Ireen Wüst is bisexual, she's currently dating a man

    Posted by: Cal | Feb 5, 2014 11:15:02 AM


  3. 6... out of thousands. That is pathetic. And no "man" has balls to come out. IOC is clearly homophobic organisation who still forces DADT on every gay athlete!

    Posted by: litper | Feb 5, 2014 11:18:50 AM


  4. Obvious gender differences. Lesbians out at the current Olympics. Out gay men who might compete at the next Olympics.

    Posted by: Qj201 | Feb 5, 2014 11:28:05 AM


  5. Did I miss something? Are there no openly gay male figure skaters???

    Posted by: Michael | Feb 5, 2014 11:49:02 AM


  6. Michael--Nope, not one.

    And really Boitano should not be on this list. He came out with little at stake. I applaud him for the act but competing or potentially competing while openly gay, especially in Sochi, is a lot tougher than coming out after being more or less retired.

    Posted by: Bryan | Feb 5, 2014 11:51:56 AM


  7. I wish them all the best in the games and hope all will be safe for them.
    By the way, those guys who came out are not just good in their sports but also hot. I wish them, too, all the best.

    Posted by: Matt27 | Feb 5, 2014 12:09:39 PM


  8. "THESE ARE THE 6 OPENLY GAY ATHLETES COMPETING AT THE SOCHI OLYMPICS”

    Umm, these are the winter olympics, there is no swimming or diving events and i’m assuming no football either. so that makes 3

    Posted by: derek | Feb 5, 2014 12:31:47 PM


  9. NM, didn’t read the whole article :-/

    Posted by: derek | Feb 5, 2014 12:33:09 PM


  10. Am I missing something? The headline says "competing at the Sochi Olympics" but many of these athletes seem to compete in summer Olympic events, not winter Olympic events (e.g. diving, swimming, etc.) plus Brian Boitano will not be competing at these games but is just in the U.S. delegation. I am encouraged by these Olympic athletes coming out but I think it is inaccurate to state that they will all be "competing at the Sochi Olympics."

    Posted by: Bill | Feb 5, 2014 12:35:46 PM


  11. Good grief, that male figure skating closet must be pretty damn deep!

    Posted by: Albert | Feb 5, 2014 12:56:03 PM


  12. no swimming at winter olympics...

    Posted by: Ev | Feb 5, 2014 1:08:49 PM


  13. Heh! In the summer Olympics stuff and you forget to mention Matthew Mitcham? Who has competed while out and proud?

    Posted by: Stufromoz | Feb 5, 2014 2:00:11 PM


  14. The last time the US had a heterosexual man in the men's singles figure skating completion in the Olympics was 2002. In the last 20 years this is the 4th time we filled our slots in that event with entirely gay men. Granted two of those times we only qualified 2 men.

    Posted by: robroy | Feb 5, 2014 2:54:39 PM


  15. Seriously only out lesbian athletes?! Where are the men?! Grow a pair guys- if there was an Olympic in which a gay statement needs to be made is this one.

    Posted by: jarago | Feb 5, 2014 4:32:22 PM


  16. Blake Skjellerup, the speed skater from New Zealand, has been out since 2010 and very vocal against homophobia and bullying. He didn't qualify for 2014, but I wish him luck next time.

    Posted by: jb | Feb 5, 2014 5:03:46 PM


  17. Sadly, until the deeply entrenched stereotypes of gay men being effeminate and gender-confused (read: transexual) we shouldn't expect many Olympic or professional athletes to come out publicly.

    Posted by: Glen | Feb 5, 2014 8:53:43 PM


  18. Jeeze Olympic Guys, if there ever was an Olympics where coming out would have a really great point, I think this is it.

    Actually, I can understand not wanting to screw up things for yourself by adding extra attention and stress by coming out right before the competition. But after, particularly on the medals podium, hey guys, PERFECT. Guaranteed decades of fame. Your photo used years and years later. (See: 1968 Mexico City Olympics)

    Posted by: emjayay | Feb 6, 2014 3:34:42 AM


  19. It would be remarkable if every athlete - or the majority of them - made a pledge to come out in their speeches after winning or competing, even if they're not gay or lesbian.

    Imagine the amazing publicity that would get if tens of athletes all started their speeches and interviews after competing with "As a gay athlete..." or "As a lesbian Olympian..."

    Unfortunately, I am of the opinion that most of those competing really don't give a damn about LGBT rights in Russia. So few have commented, and those that have seem to be more interested in justifying their own ambitions and egos.

    Either way, Sochi is going to be a flop the world over. The IOC should be paying attention here, and so should the sponsors. They're both embarrassing themselves and showing the world that they just don't care that much about Human Rights.

    Boycotts are most definitely in order.

    Posted by: BlokeToys | Feb 6, 2014 11:25:23 AM


  20. Funny detail: Putin shook hands with Sanne van Kerkhof the other day....

    Posted by: NaomiClareNL | Feb 6, 2014 12:32:12 PM


  21. I hearby declare open war againts the Goverment of Russia. Untill this law is withdrawn i consider you an Eni
    ymy of the United States of America and other Nations.

    Posted by: darrin jones | Feb 7, 2014 10:56:26 AM


  22. I'm pretty sure Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu is openly gay.

    Posted by: Charlee Zarcastic | Feb 8, 2014 2:18:52 AM


  23. -.- yuzuru's not openly gay...i dont know where you got that from... there's an interview of him (in japanese) where they talk about the type of girls he likes... freaking...

    Posted by: chai | Feb 24, 2014 4:13:09 AM


  24. Chai, you do know Japanese skating depends on Hanyu for the next 4 years. That in itself requires a certain image from him above all else. He is literally an idol to toddlers, teens, and even adults. It still takes more than great athleticism and sportsmanship to be "idol to millions", unfortunately.

    Posted by: @CHAI | Jul 12, 2014 10:07:27 PM


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