Are The 2016 Rio Olympics The Most LGBT Inclusive Ever?

Notes From A Queer Engineer_Rory Midhani_640

Header by Rory Midhani
feature image by Nikki

Hello again! Are you enjoying the 2016 Rio Queerlympics? I’m really looking forward to watching more women’s soccer. I didn’t manage to watch any of the rugby sevens games live, but all the highlight reels I’ve seen indicate that this new-to-the-Olympics sport is both a) thrilling, and b) super gay. Supposedly the only out athletes in that sport are Kelly Griffin and Jillion Potter from the US, Jen Kish from Canada, and recently engaged Isadora Cerullo from Brazil — but like, please! I know what I’m seeing. Those squads are about as straight as the Ghostbusters, say no more.

I love knowing which players play on our team. And as a numbers person, I appreciate statistics of any kind. So I was absolutely delighted when Olympic historian Tony Scupham-Bilton released this extraordinary “Olympic Outlist” last week, providing the “most complete list of LGBT athletes and reserves at the Olympics and Paralympics, giving country, sport, and other Olympic involvement.” As of Friday, the list stood at 257 Olympians, 11 Paralympians, and 10 Olympic alternate/reserve athletes, with additions already rolling in as more athletes come out.

Headlines have been praising the inclusivity of this year’s games, touting the record-breaking number of out LGBT Olympians competing this year. I believe this is true! According to Scupham-Bilton’s list, the 2000 Sydney games currently holds the record for most known LGBT athlete participants (53!). But several of these athletes (including Rennae Stubbs, Victoria Svensson and Sheryl Swoopes, among others) were not publicly out at the time; it was only in later years that their numbers could be added to the tally. The list this year is already growing, but interestingly, it’s not so much because athletes who were in the closet now feel comfortable going public; more frequently, it seems to be the case that an athlete was out already, and nobody made a big deal about it! Outsports recently explained, “This often occurs on team sports in Europe or in lesser-know sports where athletes are out but haven’t gotten much publicity.” Pretty neat how quickly we went from holding giant press conferences to low-key listing fiancées in fluffy magazine profiles, no?

Anyway! Check out that Olympic Outlist, and enjoy these graphs I made from the data set. Nikki made the last image.



LGBT RECORD SETTERS: Renée Sintenis – First known LGBT medallist (Bronze medal for sculpture in 1928 Amsterdam Summer Olympics). Ireen Wüst – Most decorated LGBT medallist (Earned 4 Gold, 3 Silver, 1 Bronze for speed skating during 2006 Turin, 2010 Vancouver and 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics). Ondrej Nepela – Youngest known LGBT athlete to compete in Olympics (13 years-old during 1964 Innsbruck Winter Olympics). Robert Dover – First athlete to compete openly as LGBT (Equestrian, 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics). Helen Richardson-Walsh and Kate Richardson-Walsh – First same sex married couple to compete in the Olympics (2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics).

Notes From A Queer Engineer is a recurring column with an expected periodicity of 14 days. The subject matter may not be explicitly queer, but the industrial engineer writing it sure is. This is a peek at the notes she’s been doodling in the margins.

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Laura Mandanas

Laura Mandanas is a Filipina American living in Boston. By day, she works as an industrial engineer. By night, she is beautiful and terrible as the morn, treacherous as the seas, stronger than the foundations of the Earth. All shall love her and despair. Follow her: @LauraMWrites.

Laura has written 210 articles for us.


  1. Judo gold medalist Rafaela Silva, Brazil, came out today by introducing her girlfriend of three years

  2. Bronze medal for sculpture? I’d take reintroducing that back into the Olympics over golf any day.

  3. There are definitely several women’s rugby players who are out in their personal lives – the sport just hasn’t been publicized enough for anyone to have the opportunity to mention it.

  4. I think the reason we don’t have more “out” players from rugby 7s is that the sport isn’t popular enough yet for the sorts of articles that profile an athlete’s personal life. Most interviews are still on rugby-specific sites that focus on the game with the exception of players with particularly compelling stories like Potter beating cancer.

    Nathalie Marchino for example called herself a lesbian on Twitter but I’ve never seen a journalist ask her about relationships. She represented Colombia in Rio and played for the US in past competitions but wasn’t eligible for the US team for Rio bc of citizenship requirements.

  5. Soccer, Tennis and Field Hockey.
    Total shocker, there.
    Did not see the Beach Volleyball almost pulling even with Basketball, though.
    Those charts are better than any medal rankings! Thank you!

  6. Love this! But by my count and some heavy deep-web stalking I think at least 4, maybe 5, and possibly 7 canaidian rugby players are queer which has made it my new favorite sport!!

  7. Thank you! I’ve been trying to find queer, female gymnasts. This report highlights at least one I never knew about. Also, cool to see the graphs!

  8. gotta say, I love that the first lgbt medal was won by a woman for sculpture! right on!

    (oh, and hockey! yeah! no surprise there)

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