(TOKYO) — A record number of LGBTQ athletes will compete at the Paralympics in Tokyo, which are set to kick off on Tuesday.
“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,” Rich Ferraro, communications officer at GLAAD, said in a press release. “Every athlete, regardless of ability, gender, race, or sexual orientation, deserves a chance to participate in sports and to represent their communities with pride.”
According to Outsports, which tracks LGBTQ athletes at each Olympic Games, the number of out athletes is at least 28, more than doubling the number of those who competed in the 2016 Summer Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The number represents at least a dozen sports and eight countries.
Robyn Love and Laurie Williams, who compete on Team Great Britain on the women’s wheelchair basketball team, got engaged in February 2020 and Love reflected on their journey as “team mates & soul mates.”
“I couldn’t imagine what my GB journey would have been like if Laurie and I weren’t together … I don’t think I would have progressed so quickly without her pushing me so hard, I can still hear “one more push” in my head every time I’m defending,” she wrote in a belated Instagram Pride month post. “It hasn’t always been plain sailing but competing at the highest level under incredible pressure has made our relationship strong and I cannot wait to compete in Tokyo together,” she added.
According to Outsports, this year was the first year that athletes reached out to the outlet, asking to be added to the list. Americans athletes on the list include Monica Sereda (cycling), Asya Miller (goalball), Laura Goodkind (USA) and Hallie Smith (rowing), Monique Matthews (sitting volleyball), Hailey Danz (triathlon), Kaitlyn Eaton (wheelchair basketball) and Terry Hayes (wheelchair fencing).
The majority of out LGBTQ Paralympians are women, while there are two athletes on Team Australia who identify as nonbinary — Maria “Maz” Strong, who competes in seated shot put and wheelchair racer Robyn Lambird, according to the list.
Lambird, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at age 9, shared her excitement on Instagram as she arrived in Tokyo ready to compete, writing, “When the dream becomes a reality.”
“I love seeing our out Paralympians highlighted because it shows that while we still have a ways to go, as a society, we have become more accepting therefore people are able to be their authentic selves and feel safe,” Team USA sitting volleyball player Monique Matthews told Outsports. “It gives me great pride to be part of such a diverse trailblazing group of people.”
The Paralympics is the largest sporting event globally for people with disabilities and according to the International Paralympic Committee, the first Paralympic Games were held in Rome, Italy, in 1960 featuring 400 athletes from 23 countries.
This year, the Games will feature over 3,500 athletes from at least 134 nations, including a Refugee Paralympic Team, which represents more than 82 million people around the world who were displaced and forced to flee their countries due to war, natural disasters and human rights abuses.
This year’s Paralympic Games were initially scheduled for the summer of 2020, but were rescheduled to take place in the summer of 2021, along with the Olympics, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Olympic Summer Games, which wrapped up earlier this month, were also groundbreaking for the LGBTQ community, with a record number of out LGBTQ athletes competing — at least 185, up from only 56 at the 2016 Games in Rio, according to Outsports. The Tokyo Olympics were also the first in which transgender athletes qualified to compete.
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