The Tokyo Olympics will feature a record number of LGBTQ athletes in a variety of sports ranging from basketball to track and field. The LGBTQ sports website Outsports said there are at least 162 out athletes at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, by up just 56 at the Rio Games.
This will also be the first Olympics with transgender competitors. As with past Olympics, a Pride House has been set up at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics to support and champion LGBTQ issues during the Olympics and Paralympics.
Meet 22 out Olympians who will represent the United States and lead Team USA in competition over the next two weeks, plus the transgender athletes making history at the Games.
WNBA star Sue Bird is returning for her fifth Olympics in Tokyo this summer. The Seattle Storm guard is already a four-time gold medalist and is hoping to lead Team USA to another gold medal win, continuing an impressive 49-game winning streak at the Olympics since 1992. Bird, along with her Team USA teammate Diana Taurasi and three other Olympians, hold the Guinness World Records title for most consecutive gold medals in a team Olympic event (female).
The 40-year-old is engaged to fellow Olympian and soccer star Megan Rapinoe. Bird credits Rapinoe for helping her decide to come out publicly in a 2017 ESPN profile. “I think people have this assumption that if you're not talking about it, you must be hiding it, like it's this secret. That was never the case for me,” she told ESPN at the time. “It's happening when it's happening because that's what feels right. So even though I understand there are people who think I should have done it sooner, it wasn't right for me at the time. I have to be true to that. It's my journey."
Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner is getting ready to repeat her gold medal-winning performance in Tokyo with her Team USA teammates. She went to her first Olympics in 2016, where she brought home the gold from Rio.
The 30-year-old has been open about her sexuality and other topics, like mental health, in the past. In 2013, she told Sports Illustrated she wasn’t scared of being out and proud. “Being one that's out, it's just being who you are. Again, like I said, just be who you are,” she said. “Don't worry about what other people are going to say, because they're always going to say something, but, if you're just true to yourself, let that shine through. Don't hide who you really are."
Another WNBA star and Griner’s teammate on the Phoenix Mercury, Diana Taurasi is a veteran of Team USA, along with Bird. The 39-year-old guard is headed to her fifth Olympics and like Bird, has earned four gold medals — her first in Athens in 2004 and her latest in Rio in 2016. In June, Taurasi, a lead scorer for WNBA also became the first league player to achieve 9,000 career points.
Taurasi has been married since 2017 to her wife and former Olympian, Penny Taylor, who now coaches her as the assistant coach for the Phoenix Mercury. Taurasi also became a mom in 2018 when she and Taylor welcomed their first child, a son named Leo Michael.
Breanna Stewart, Bird’s teammate on Seattle Storm, is back on Team USA this year and like Griner, is returning to the Olympics for a second time. The 26-year-old forward was the youngest team member in Rio and is ready to chase a second gold medal.
Stewart is engaged to Spanish pro basketballer Marta Xargay Casademont, whom she proposed to in May. Last month, Stewart shared an inspirational letter with fans on Instagram in honor of Pride Month. “When you are out on the court play with pride, embrace who you are and what you represent!” she wrote in part. “Sometimes the world we live in is a lot, so do what makes you happy and love who you want to love. Love is love.”
Soccer star Megan Rapinoe, a co-captain of the U.S. women's national team, is headed to Tokyo for her third Olympics, alongside her fiancée Sue Bird. The 36-year-old Seattle Reign forward is no stranger to the global stage and is already a gold medalist, having earned her first medal with Team USA at the 2012 London Olympics. She is also a two-time World Cup champion, winning with the U.S. team in 2015 and 2019.
Rapinoe is well known as an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ rights and other issues such as pay equity. She’s also an author, model and in June, became an ambassador for lingerie brand Victoria’s Secret. In her book “One Life,” released last November, Rapinoe opens up about coming out publicly in 2012 through an Out magazine feature. She also credits her friend and former teammate Lori Lindsey for helping her decide to come out. “I leaned on her so much. I feel like that was the genesis of my advocacy work in general … We were both very involved in both of our coming out process, being able to speak publicly about that and have someone that was with me in that … was just really incredible,” she said in a July 6 Instagram video.
Although she dreamed of becoming an astronaut when she was young, Tierna Davidson, 22, is now a rising soccer star and currently a defender for the Chicago Red Stars. She became the youngest player to join the U.S. women’s World Cup team in 2019 and now, just two years later, is headed to Tokyo with Team USA.
In June, Davidson wrote a letter of encouragement to LGBTQ youth and shared it on Instagram. She wrote in part, “Though it may be hard, I promise embracing your authentic self will bring you incredible joy. You don’t need to be loved by everyone, but you must always insist on being treated with respect. … Play as your whole self, play with pride!”
Soccer runs in Houston Dash midfielder Kristsie Mewis’ family as both she and her younger sister, Sam Mewis, a midfielder for the North Carolina Courage, are headed to the Tokyo Olympics. The older Mewis, 30, became a breakout star last year upon returning to the national team after getting sidelined for several years. Her trip to Tokyo won’t be her first time in the country as she has played soccer internationally and specifically for Iga FC Kunoichi Mie in Japan’s women’s league in 2014.
During Pride Month in June, Mewis showed off a special version of her no. 22 jersey decorated in the rainbow colors of the Pride flag.
One of two goalkeepers for Team USA, Portland Thorns’s Adrianna “A.D.” Franch is an out and proud athlete and advocate. The 30-year-old has partnered with various companies to show her pride and in a letter posted to Instagram in June, Franch wrote an inspirational letter to up-and-coming LGBTQ athletes. “At the end of the day, you only (and always) have yourself to love and accept. Remember to love your unique qualities and personality, no matter what other people think of you,” she wrote in part.
Franch tied the knot with her wife, Emily Boscacci-Franch, in December 2019. At the time, Franch shared a celebratory wedding photo with fans and wrote on Instagram. “Couldn't write a better ending to 2019 than marrying the woman of my dreams on 12/21. Cheers to the rest of our lives baby.”
This year, BMX freestyle will make its debut at the Olympics and Hannah Roberts will lead Team USA in the sport. The 19-year-old is the current world champion and is the favorite to win a gold medal in Tokyo. If she does come out on top, Roberts would become the youngest female cyclist from any country to take home the gold and the youngest American gold medalist cyclist since 1904.
Chelsea Wolfe, Roberts’ teammate on the national BMX freestyle team, is also headed to Tokyo as an alternate. Wolfe had the honor of becoming Team USA’s first trans athlete to qualify for the Olympics this year.
In June, the 28-year-old opened up on Instagram about what it meant to her to qualify for the Tokyo Games. “I searched for so long trying to find out if there had ever been a professional trans BMX rider to show me that who I am would be okay and unfortunately I found no one,” she wrote in part. “Eventually I started to meet some amazing women who helped me accept that I am a woman just like any other and that I deserve a place to exist in the world just like everyone else. … On top of the thrill and challenge and the glory of chasing my Olympic dream I kept fighting because I wanted to change the world … to help create a world where everybody has access to opportunity and is celebrated and supported to chase their dreams, no matter who they are and what those dreams may be.”
Paratriathlete Hailey Danz is a seasoned athlete with multiple championship medals under her belt. Danz formerly competed under the name Hailey Danisewicz until she changed her last name in 2016. Now 30, Danz was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer, when she was 12 and had her leg amputated at 14 so she could return to sports. She used to be a downhill skier but became a triathlete in 2011 and by 2015, was named a Paratriathlete of the Year by USA Triathlon.
Danz came out publicly in an Instagram post last November, an action she described as “one of the most terrifying things” she’s ever done but also something she doesn’t regret. “The truth is, I‘ve spent much of my life building dams — constructing barriers that prevented me from flowing freely — in an attempt to hide my sexuality. … It wasn’t until recently that I realized how much these dams were harming me. The time required to build them; the mental space needed to keep track of the reservoirs; the buildup of resentment; and the knowledge that I was restricting my own strength — strength that, if left uninhibited, could leave a canyon in its wake. So here I am, sharing that I’m gay not because I think it’s something that requires a public announcement, but because I can’t afford to waste any more energy building dams. Because I have far more important things to do with all that energy,” she wrote in part.
In April, wrestler Kayla Miracle not only turned 25 but also secured her spot for the Tokyo Olympics, taking first place at the U.S. Olympic trials in her weight class of 62 kg. Miracle will make her Olympics debut this month and shared her excitement in a recent Instagram post. “Last day of Pride month but definitely not the last of the celebrations!! I am so thankful for those that have continuously supported me! And gosh, I am beyond stoked to represent this community in Tokyo!” she wrote.
Softball is returning to the Olympics this year after it was dropped for the 2012 and 2016 Games and Haylie McCleney and the rest of Team USA are hoping to lead the national team back to the podium. After all, the U.S. took home gold in 1996, 2000 and 2004, although the home team, Japan, is ready to challenge as the current world No. 2 team.
McCleney plays outfield and is a seven-time Team USA member and two-time world champion, according to her website. The 27-year-old wished her fans and followers a Happy Pride Month in June, sharing a photo with her girlfriend, retired pro softball player Kylee Hanson, on Instagram.
A true all-arounder, heptathlete Erica Bougard will compete for Team USA after placing third at the U.S. Olympic trials. Bougard, who will turn 27, during the Olympics, will compete in seven events: 100-meter hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200-meter run, long jump, javelin and 800-meter run.
In addition to being an accomplished athlete, Bougard is also a proud LGBTQ advocate and one of the stars of Nike’s “Be True” campaign along with Adrianna Franch and Tierna Davidson. “I’m going to be myself no matter what and let people know,” she told Nike. “I let the track community know that this is me, this is who I am. This is who I've always been.”
Venonsky, a coxswain, is set to lead the U.S. men’s eight team, which finished fourth at the 2016 Rio Olympics. The 27-year-old steersman and rower opened up about how his personal life unexpectedly strengthened his athletic focus while rowing for U.C. Berkeley in an episode of the Five Rings To Rule Them All podcast. “Halfway through my college career, my sophomore year, I started actually thinking about dating or what kind of my life I wanted to look like and I found my boyfriend on Tinder … and that kind of was a little a-ha moment for me that kind of allowed me to really dive into rowing and coxswain even more and really go after it from 2014 on and that’s kind of where I found a lot of my success,” he said.
Skateboarding joins BMX freestyle in making its Olympic debut this year in Tokyo and skateboarder Alana Smith is ready for their spotlight. Smith, who has been skating since they were young, is already accomplished, having achieved major milestones like becoming the first girl at age 12 to land a McTwist in competition back in 2012.
Smith, 20, identifies as nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns, according to their Twitter. On Instagram, Smith opened up about focusing on their mental health during the coronavirus pandemic. “My abusive biological mother molded me to be this always happy, long blonde hair, hyper feminine kid… and that was never actually me. So through the pandemic I really took the time to learn about myself and find the human I am, a nonbinary individual,” they wrote in an Instagram caption. “With that said, I got really emotional at the press conference because this was one: my moment of coming out to the world but two: I get to unapologetically be me for the first time in my entire life… despite lots of people telling me I would never get here if I stayed true to who I really am. Whether you’re out or not, I want you to know you’re loved, accepted and I’m doing this for YOU.”
Smith’s teammate, Alexis Sablone, 34, is a decorated X Games medalist and also poised to shine in Tokyo. Sablone, who identifies as queer, has expressed mixed feelings about skateboarding — long embraced as an example of counterculture — becoming an Olympic sport but at the same time, is excited to compete. “Although it doesn't really fit why I started or what skateboarding's about, it's a huge honor. It's a crazy life opportunity. And it's just something that I want to do, if I can,” Sablone told GQ last year.
Rower Kendall Chase is making her first trip to the Olympics this year as part of the women’s four team. Like Venonsky, Chase rowed on the collegiate level for U.C. Berkeley and graduated in 2016.
The 26-year-old opened up earlier this month about making Team USA and achieving her Olympic dreams. “As I pack up for the Olympics, with all of my gear blaring the big USA, I can’t help but feel mixed feelings,” she wrote on Instagram. “I am SO incredibly proud and honored to have been given this opportunity to represent my country, but I can’t ignore the fact that the country that I’m representing has a long history of oppression and systemic racism. Although I may have a wave of patriotism over the next month, it goes without a doubt that I will continue to fight and advocate for BIPOC, Queer and Trans people.”
Another first-time Olympian, Gia Doonan is already a world medalist. She will row on the U.S. women’s eight team, which is fighting to win a fourth Olympic medal.
The 27-year-old has shared with fans that she is in a relationship with girlfriend Gina Pellechio. “Due to the increased homophobia directed towards me recently and also in the country, I have never felt more empowered,” Doonan wrote on Instagram last September. “I am so glad these h8ers are thinking about us more than ever. I mean I understand, hating on other people helps distract you from your own self loathing. Feeling happy and loved. Respond to hate with kindness.”
A teammate of Doonan’s on the women’s eight team, Jessica Thoennes is making both her Olympic and global championship debut in Tokyo. According to The Seattle Times, the 25-year-old started rowing for the first time six years ago while in college at the University of Washington.
Meghan O'Leary is returning for her second Olympics after making her debut at the 2016 Rio Games, where she placed sixth. The 36-year-old, who only started rowing professionally after college, will compete in the women’s quadruple sculls in Tokyo.
O’Leary opened up about journey to self-acceptance last year in an interview with Before College TV. “I could not control the way I felt, the uneasiness and sort of, really, the self-hate I had about my sexuality ... and that led to a deep-seated hate and unhappiness,” she said, after revealing her self-hatred had contributed to an eating disorder. O’Leary credited a friend who helped her accept herself. “For me, it was one of my best friends who I made in college. She saw me for who I was right away. I thought I was a good pretender. I remember I was hiding, like I had a friend back home. It was really, I didn’t even call her my girlfriend at the time but she called me out on it because she wanted me to know that it was OK.”
O'Leary’s teammate, Ellen Tomek, will also row in the women’s quadruple sculls. Tokyo will be her third trip to the Olympics. A decorated world medalist, Tomek placed fifth at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and sixth at the 2016 Rio Games and hopes to medal in her final Olympics run before she retires.
Honorable mentions from other countries:
Laurel Hubbard made headlines in June when she became the first transgender athlete to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. The New Zealander is a weightlifter who will represent her home country and at 43, she will also be the oldest weightlifter at the games, competing in the women’s 87-kilogram plus division.
The 2017 World Championship silver medalist came back from an elbow injury in 2018 that some thought would end her weightlifting career. In addition, Hubbard has had to face criticism from others, including some within the weightlifting community, who say she has an unfair advantage over other women when it comes to strength and physiology. Hubbard responded in 2017 to critics, telling the New Zealand news website Stuff, “All you can do is focus on the task at hand and if you keep doing that it will get you through. I'm mindful I won't be supported by everyone but I hope that people can keep an open mind and perhaps look at my performance in a broader context. … Perhaps the fact that it has taken so long for someone like myself to come through indicates that some of the problems that people are suggesting aren’t what they might seem.”
Canadian soccer player Quinn is Megan Rapinoe’s Seattle Reign teammate and is returning for her second Olympics run. The 25-year-old midfielder uses they/them pronouns and is originally from Toronto.
In an interview with BBC, Quinn opened up about becoming a visible trans athlete. “I wanted to, you know, take a platform to speak out on issues that are happening around in the world and offer my support to other trans folks,” they said in part. “I think being visible is huge and it's something that helped me when I was trying to figure out my identity and so I wanted to pass that along. And then hopefully, you know, other people will come out as well as they feel safe to do so. I can create a safer space for them.”