A lot has changed since the 2016 Rio Olympics and Paralympics. While there is a lot of sadness and tough times that have come since then, we also have reasons to celebrate: at least 34 of them. That might sound like a small number, but it’s actually quite significant as it represents the number of out LGBTQ+ competitors in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics, held earlier this year. This year’s Paralympics has almost three times as many out LGBTQ+ competitors than the previous 2016 Rio Paralympics.
These 34 athletes came to Tokyo from 10 different countries. There are three out non-binary athletes, Robyn Lambird, Maz Strong, and Laura Goodkind. Robyn Lambird became the first ever out non-binary Paralympics medalist when they won a bronze medal for Australia in the women’s 100m T34. They also include one out gay man, Lee Pearson, who was the flagbearer for Great Britain. The Tokyo 2020 Paralympics featured 31 out queer women, including Mareike Miller from Germany and Moran Samuel from Israel, both elected flagbearers for their countries. Meanwhile, Robyn Love and Laurie Williams are teammates on the Great Britain wheelchair basketball team, and they got engaged in 2020.
There are a lot of connections between Queerness and Disability. People who are queer and/or disabled face a lot of challenges, such as in social situations, healthcare, and the workplace. There is also the issue of feeling invisible, or being made invisible, within these communities. But the out athletes at this year’s Paralympic games have fought back against that invisibility. Rich Ferraro, Chief Communications Officer at GLAAD, says that “the Paralympics by nature are a celebration of inclusion and equality, and the historic number of out LGBTQ athletes participating this year is something to celebrate. LGBTQ people are more likely to live with disabilities and to face systemic discrimination on both fronts; the visibility brought by the Paralympics and its talented athletes helps fight that stigma.” This high number of out Paralympians at the 2020 games shows the strength of the community of people who are both queer and disabled.
Robyn Love gave a great interview last year about coming out and being a disabled athlete. She said,
“Having positive role models wherever you are is really important. It was for me. If I can be that positive role model for someone, then I’m really proud to be so. I hadn’t come out until I was 21. I was part of the Edinburgh Napier basketball team since I started university and in that team the people were just themselves, others on the team knew that some people were gay. My older sister is gay, I had gone to university by the time she came out, so I didn’t have her there to be inspired by… It was due to one of [my university teammates] that I came out for the first time. When it comes to inspiration, you don’t have to do extreme things, if by being yourself can help other people then that’s great, and if I can just be me and that helps a boy or girl, man or woman, then I’m very lucky.”
These out athletes represent and contribute so much joy for the disabled queer community. There needs to be more inclusion of disabled queer people in all aspects of life. Sports represent a lot of important parts of our lives. Being on a team means that we live in support of each other, rising to the challenge of athleticism. The world is lucky to have out Paralympic athletes to cheer on. Congratulations to Robyn Lambird on their medal, and good luck to all the other LGBTQ+ athletes!