Post submitted by former HRC Digital Media Manager Helen Parshall
More than 10 LGBTQ athletes from around the globe are in Pyeongchang to compete in the Winter Olympics, the most ever to participate in the Winter Games.
At the 2014 games in Sochi, seven openly LGBTQ athletes competed, all of whom were women. Russia’s harsh anti-LGBTQ agenda made public expression of support for the LGBTQ community a risk for both Olympic athletes and attendees.
Unfortunately, while there are many talented and successful transgender athletes around the globe, there are no openly transgender athletes competing in the Olympic Games in Pyeongchang. The same was true at the 2016 Rio Games.
Anti-LGBTQ Mike Pence led the U.S. delegation at today’s opening ceremony. Two openly gay U.S. Olympians, Gus Kenworthy and Adam Rippon, have been critical of Pence’s role.
These openly LGBTQ Olympic athletes are trailblazers for visibility in their sport and around the world.
- Gus Kenworthy is representing the U.S. in his second Olympics, but his first as an openly gay athlete. The slopestyle skier, who came out in 2015, struggled with Russia’s harsh anti-LGBTQ climate during the Sochi games. "I never got to be proud of what I did in Sochi because I felt so horrible about what I didn't do," Kenworthy said. "I didn't want to come out as the silver medalist from Sochi. I wanted to come out as the best freeskier in the world." Kenworthy was recently featured in P&G’s “Shoulders of Greatness” campaign, waving a Pride flag in a national commercial. Procter & Gamble is a leader in LGBTQ inclusion in the workplace, receiving a perfect 100 on HRC Foundation's Corporate Equality Index. Last year, Kenworthy was honored with the HRC Visibility Award at the HRC Utah Gala.
- Adam Rippon is the first openly gay U.S. American male figure skater to compete in the Winter Olympics. From a small town in Pennsylvania, Rippon has grown to use his national platform for speaking out for LGBTQ issues since coming out in late 2015. “When I was young and still in the closet, I read a lot of articles about other people and their coming out stories and I watched YouTube videos on other people sharing their stories,” Rippon said in an exclusive interview with HRC's Mark Lee. “That’s really what made me feel okay to be myself.” Pioneering U.S. figure skaters Johnny Weir and Brian Boitano came out after their Olympic careers had ended.
- Brittany Bowe is representing the U.S. in speed skating at her second Olympics, but her first as an out athlete. Bowe is currently dating Dutch speedskater Manon Kamminga. “It’s nice being with somebody that has the same passion, same drive, same goals,” Bowe said of Kamminga. “It’s obviously difficult living on different sides of the world. But we’re both focused on our goal.”
- Daniela Iraschko-Stolz is competing for Austria in her second Olympics. Iraschko-Stolz, who won silver in Sochi, married her partner Isabel in 2013 and came out publicly before the 2014 Olympic Games. “I don’t want to hide myself,” Iraschko-Stolz said. “I never cared at all what other people think about me.”
- Canadian pairs figure skater Eric Radford is participating in his second Olympic games, but his first as an openly gay athlete. Radford, who with his skating partner Meagan Duhamel is a two-time world champion, came out in late 2014 -- becoming the first international-level figure skater to come out publicly while still competing. Radford’s fiancé, Luis Fenero, a competitive ice dancer, will likely also be in South Korea as a spectator.
- Cheryl Maas is competing in halfpipe snowboarding, representing the Netherlands in her third Olympics. The two-time world champion is married to former snowboarder Stine Brun Kjedlaas. The couple have two children together.
- Ireen Wüst is a contender to medal in long track speed skating at Pyeongchang, her fourth Olympic games. Previously, the openly bisexual skater competed and medaled at Turin, Vancouver and Sochi. Her partner, Letitia de Jong, is also a competitive speed skater.
- Ice hockey player Emilia Andersson Ramboldt is representing Sweden in Pyeongchang, her second Olympics. Ramboldt married her wife, Anna Ramboldt, in 2015.
- Jorik Hendrickx, a two-time national champion, is representing Belgium in figure skating. Pyeongchang is his second Olympics, but his first as an openly gay athlete. Hendrickx came out publicly last month.
- Simona Meiler is representing Switzerland in snowboarding, making Pyeongchang her third Olympics. Meiler is a fierce advocate for LGBTQ equality. “As an athlete but also as a human being, I think we need to stop any kind of discrimination in order to unleash our full potential,” Meiler said in an interview before the 2014 Sochi Games.
- Sarka Pancochova, another openly LGBTQ snowboarder, is representing the Czech Republic at her third Olympic games - but her first as an out athlete. In an interview with Outsports, Pancochova said she is “stoked” to come out and not have to hide her truth any longer.
- Out athlete Barbara Jezeršek is representing Australia in her third Olympics competing in cross-country skiing — but her first under the Australian flag. Jezeršek competed at the Vancouver and Sochi games for her native Slovenia but became an Australian citizen after moving to the country in 2016.
- Openly lesbian snowboarder Belle Brockhoff is also be competing for Team Australia. Before she even officially qualified, outlets were calling Brockhoff a “major contender” in snowboard cross in Pyeongchang. Brockhoff came out ahead of the 2014 Sochi Olympics, her first Olympics, in part because of Russia’s harsh anti-LGBTQ laws. "I want to be proud of who I am and be proud of all the work I've done to get into the Olympics and not have to deal with this law," Brockhoff said.
- Openly gay athlete Kim Meylemans competes for Team Belgium in skeleton. Meylemans has been outspoken for LGBTQ equality, according to an interview with Outsports. Pyeongchang is her first Olympics.
- Out Belgian bobsledder Sophie Vercruyssen is unapologetic about her LGBTQ identity, according to Outsports’ Olympics coverage. “My relationship has not been secret for the past five years, so you can not call this a coming-out,” Vercruyssen in an interview with ZiZo. Pyeongchang is also Vercruyssen’s first Olympics.
- While openly gay pairs skater Tim LeDuc did not qualify for the U.S. Olympic team, he and skating partner Ashley Cain are alternates.
HRC wishes these brave athletes the best of luck in South Korea
Photos courtesy of Pyeongchang2018.com, TeamUSA.org, @Headshoulders, Wikimedia Austria, Wikimedia Commons.
For more information on openly LGBTQ Olympians, visit Outsports.com.