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Tokyo 2020: 9 inspiring LGBTQ+ athletes to follow on Instagram

If you’re following the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, keep an eye out for these LGBTQ+ athletes. 

For individuals who identify as LGBTQ+, who have faced discrimination and are still experiencing persecution, look up to these role models competing at Tokyo 2020 who have worked inexhaustibly to get to where they are, in spite of the hurdles laid in their paths.  

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games is the greatest sporting event at its most inclusive yet. As of writing, outsports.com reports at least 172 LGBTQ+ athletes compete in Tokyo – tripling the number just five years ago in Rio de Janeiro – and the number has been rising steadily as the Olympics gets underway. While others have come out in previous years and are now involved in advocacy, others have come out during the games and even on the podium. At present, their medal tally stands at 11th place overall, with 2 gold medals from 3×3 basketball and diving.   

These LGBTQ+ athletes are living, breathing and thriving proof that you can channel the energy positively and that you aren’t defined by your sexuality, but by attitude, fortitude and your qualities as an individual. Follow them on social media and be inspired every day.

[Hero and feature images of Erica Sullivan at Tokyo 2020 by Odd ANDERSEN / AFP]

Alexis Sablone 

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Alexis Sablone (@suminaynay)


The pro-skateboarder ushers in a new era in the Olympics with the sport making its debut in Tokyo. Sablone finished one below podium places at the street event. The 34-year-old identifies as queer, has a respectable Master’s Degree in Architecture from MIT and even partnered with Converse for collaborative sneakers. “A decade ago, the concept of a ‘pride shoe’ didn’t exist. There was so much less visibility and support for the queer community. It means a lot to get to design something people can wear that says, ‘I’m proud of my identity’ or ‘I’m an ally’ and support this movement and community,” she said of the Pride collection

Ari-Pekka Liukkonen 

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Ari-Pekka Liukkonen (@liukkonenap)


The flag bearer of Finland came out publicly in 2014 via state-owned broadcaster YLE in a protest against Russia passing anti-gay laws ahead of the Sochi Winter Olympics. According to the Advocate, Liukkonen is the first Finnish athlete to come out while still active. “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. Homosexuality is the same kind of characteristic as whether a person has blue or brown eyes, or whether they are left- or right-handed,” he said in the interview with YLE.

Caitlin Rooskrantz

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Caitlin Rooskrantz :) | 19 (@caitrooskrantz)

Hailing from South Africa, Rooskrantz is a pioneering woman of colour. Apart from being the the first woman to be publicly out in gymnastics while competing at an Olympics, according to outsports.com, she is also the first gymnast to qualify for the Olympics for her country via a world championship. “For me to have started as a young girl, a person of colour, I was just doing it recreationally; I didn’t even think that it would go anywhere,” she said in an interview with the Olympic Channel at the time.

Dutee Chand

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Dutee chand (@duteechand)


A sprinter and the reigning national champion in women’s 100m event, Chand came out in 2019 and thus became India’s first openly gay athlete. Her courage, however, was met with hostility even from her own family members. “They have been telling me to marry a man and have children. That’s the only tradition they know. But everyone I know in the city where I studied supports me. I don’t know if my family and village will come round. I will have to wait and see,” she said in an interview. Critics, however, couldn’t halt her from marching towards India’s first World University Games gold medal and gracing the cover of Vogue India.

Erica Sullivan

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Erica Sullivan (@erica.sully)


Amidst the euphoria surrounding the first-ever winner of the inaugural women’s 1,500 freestyle event, Sullivan emerged as a silver medallist. Following her heroics, she had this to say in the ensuing interview as reported by the Washington Post. “I’m multicultural. I’m queer. I’m a minority. That’s what America is. To me, America is not about being a majority. It’s about having your own start. The American Dream is coming to a country to establish what you want to do with your life.”

Katarzyna Zillmann

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Katarzyna Zillmann (@kzillmann)


The Polish rower is cool personified. Upon winning a silver medal in the quadruple sculls, Zillmann came out publicly by grabbing a mic to express gratitude to her partner. “I got a few messages from young girls practising rowing. One of them opened up to me, described her difficult home situation to me and confessed that I helped her a lot with my attitude,” she said in an interview translated into English.

Margielyn Didal

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Margielyn Arda Didal (@margielyndidal)


Born in 1999 in Cebu, Philippines, Didal draws philosophical parallels between skateboarding and life. “Skateboarding is the same as life; no matter how many times you fail, you still get back up and keep going. It’s my entire life,” she said in an interview with Red Bull. One of the very few openly gay Asian athletes at Tokyo 2020, Didal is well supported by her friends and family. “I’m thankful to my parents because they raised me well. They supported what I wanted even when I was reprimanded. As an LGBTQ+ too, my parents accepted me. I love them,” she told ABS-CBN in 2018 in an interview translated into English. 

Stefanie Dolson

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Stefanie Dolson (she/her) (@bigmamastef)


Standing at 1.96m, WNBA athlete Dolson lets her basketball skills do the talking on the court. Now a Tokyo 2020 Olympic champion thanks to a gold medal in 3×3 basketball, she came out in 2016 in an interview with ESPN. “Not everyone in the WNBA needs to be out, but I feel called to lead an authentic life in the open. I know who I am and I don’t care if people judge me. I am 6’5”, and I dye my hair purple and experiment a lot with fashion. My motto is: If they’re going to stare, they might as well stare at something fun,” she said candidly in that interview.

Tom Daley

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Tom Daley (@tomdaley)

The poster boy of Team GB is an accomplished diver. In Tokyo, his fourth Olympics appearance, he won gold in synchronised diving. Daley came out in 2013. “I feel incredibly proud to say that I am a gay man and also an Olympic champion. When I was younger, I didn’t think I’d ever achieve anything because of who I was. To be an Olympic champion now just shows that you can achieve anything,” he said, still glowing after his victory. 

This article first appeared on Lifestyle Asia Kuala Lumpur.

Justin Ng
Digital Content Director, Kuala Lumpur
Often think of myself as a journalist and so I delve deeper into a range of topics. Talk to me about current affairs, watches, travel, drinks, new experiences and more importantly, the business, economics and dynamics behind it.