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Tokyo Was the Most Openly LGBT Olympics Ever

Tom Daley came out in 2013, a time when it was rare for Olympic athletes to be openly gay. This could be easy to forget after this year…

I’m sure a lot of people my age will understand this: it sort of feels like I grew up with Tom Daley, but also a bit like he’s the one that got away. I was an 11 year old dweeb, he was a 14 year old Olympic diving finalist, can I make it any more obvious?  

Possibly my favourite Olympic memory is watching the absolute chaos that followed 18 year old Daley winning a bronze medal in London. He and his fully clothed team hurled themselves in the pool, ecstatic with third place, whilst Qiu Bo, then the world champion, stood at the sidelines looking absolutely crushed with second. I am not an Olympic diving trainer (currently) but my advice to him would have been along the lines of: ‘Come on mate, get some perspective, you’ve won an OLYMPIC SILVER MEDAL! Get in the pool and have a laugh!’  

Over the last 13 years we have watched Tom Daley go from tween heartthrob to devoted husband and father. He also knits and crochets, obviously, because he’s the sweetest man in the world.   

His gold win this year in Tokyo was well deserved, but also long awaited. The heartbreak after he failed to qualify for the 10m final in 2016 was in our minds as he cried under his mask on the podium next to his diving partner, Matty Lee. It was a victory for the pair, a victory for Team GB, but also, it was a victory for LGBT athletes, competing or aspiring, everywhere.  

Tom Daley came out in 2013, a time when it was rare for Olympic athletes to be openly gay. This could be easy to forget after this year. At least 182 openly LGBT athletes competed in Tokyo – more than three times the amount there were at Rio 2016, and more than there have ever been at all the past Olympic Games put together.  

This is another reason I feel duty bound to protect Daley – I understand how it feels to know you’re different and not want to be, to be worried about the impact something you can’t control will have on your life and on how other people will see you. I found being a closeted bisexual teenager very stressful, and was never once expected to throw myself into a pool from a great height for my country, over and over again. It’s quite a weird thing to do, when you really think about it. 

The massive number of openly LGBT athletes at the ‘Rainbow Olympics’ demonstrates how significantly attitudes have changed in such a short space of time, but equally we are nowhere near done. There were 10 countries that participated in the Olympics this year where homosexuality is considered an offence punishable by death, and homophobia and transphobia are the mainstream in many more. The two most popular Russian TV channels, which are run by the state, have broadcast several shows containing hate speech and criticism of LGBT athletes, including Tom Daley.  

During his post-win press conference, Daley made a point of discussing his sexuality, knowing his comments would be shown all over the world – a world which may be changing, but not quickly enough. It is still brave for athletes to be open and proud about their sexuality, and Daley’s message was a powerful one.  

‘I hope that any young LGBT person out there can see that no matter how alone you feel right now, you are not alone and that you can achieve anything, and there is a whole lot of your chosen family out here ready to support you.’  

‘I feel incredibly proud to say that I am a gay man and also an Olympic champion. I feel very empowered by that. When I was younger I thought I was never gonna be anything or achieve anything because of who I was.’  

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