This year, more LGBT Olympians are participating in the games than ever before—44 to be exact. This is quite an amazing achievement. They have a huge legacy to live up to, however, as it has not always been as easy to be openly LGBT as it is today.
There have been more than 250 recorded LGBT athletes who have competed at the Olympic Games, but in 1928, Otto Peltzer was the first known gay athlete at the games. The pioneer competed in track and field events in the Amsterdam and Los Angeles Olympics. Unfortunately, Peltzer was arrested by Nazis later on and spent time in a concentration camp, but he was eventually freed in 1945.
In the 1928 Olympics, there was another gay competitor. German Renee Sintenis was a lesbian who won a Bronze Medal for her artwork. Yes, back then “sculpture” was part of the games. She’s not highly recognized in Olympic history, however, because she was not an athlete.
In the Berlin 1938 Olympics, Helen Stephens was accused by Poland of being a man after she beat the Polish reigning champion, Stanislawa Walasiewicz, in the 100 meters, which was a huge upset. It was later confirmed that she was indeed a woman. But interestingly enough, Walasiewicz, who was later killed, had an autopsy that revealed she was actually intersexed.
Figure skating has attracted many LGBT athletes in the past. In 1964 Czech skater Ondrej Nepela took the title of youngest LGBT person to compete at the Olympics as he was only 13 at his first games. Unfortunately, he died in 1989 due to AIDS related complications. In 1976 British figure skater John Curry won a gold medal for an outstanding performance but was then outed by a newspaper the following day. He asked everyone to focus on his skating rather than his personal life.
In the 1980s and 1990s homophobia was rampant as HIV became more prevalent, and this homophobia is still experienced in many sports. This may be one of the many reasons why fewer male athletes have come out than female. The number of known LGBT Olympians to have competed in the women’s competitions is 153 compared to 93 in the men’s competitions. Unfortunately, many athletes remain in the closet. This is one of the reasons that the LGBT record shattering that is happening in Rio right now is so impressive!