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Tokyo Olympics: Game changer for LGBTQ community

Every year, the month of June is celebrated as Pride month to honor the various struggles and obstacles faced by the LGBTQ+ community. With only a month until the torch is scheduled to be lit at the Games. This year’s Summer Olympics theme is seen to be celebrating ‘unity in diversity’ and ‘passing on a legacy for the future’.

For six years, LGBTQ+ groups in Japan have pressed the government to pass legislation to protect their rights, and their progress is seen in sharply improved public attitudes. The Olympic platform can be a key driver of change, with its inclusive approach on LGBTQ+ rights, and the demands of athletes to use their voice for change. LGBTQ activists in Japan plan to use the Tokyo Olympics as a "turning point" for non-heterosexual and non-cisgender rights in the country, due to the wide international attention involved with the multi-sport event.

The fact that the games were pushed back last year comes with revamped global attention. Gon Matsunaka, head of Pride House Tokyo stated, “By utilizing this huge momentum, we aim to do two things: first, to create change inside Japan's sports industry, and second to create change in society itself". Athletes and activists have spoken out in support of an equality law ahead of the games, highlighting that the governing Olympic Charter bans “discrimination of any kind,” including on the grounds of sexual orientation.

So how can this Tokyo Olympics be a game changer for gender inclusion?

Picture Courtesy: Getty Images

First Out Trans Olympian:

Since the 2003 Stockholm Consensus on Sex Reassignment in Sports, there has been a growing recognition of the importance of autonomy of gender identity in society, as reflected in the laws of many jurisdictions worldwide. This entails that:

  • Those who transition from female to male are eligible to compete in the male category without restriction and vice versa.

But sadly, there has not been an out transgender athlete who has participated in the Olympic Games. Tokyo could be the breakthrough Olympiad.

New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard, became the first transgender athlete to medal at a world championship in an Olympic sport with two silver medals at the 2017 International Weightlifting Federation World Championships.

The New Zealand Olympic Committee issued a statement that Hubbard clinched Olympic qualification, clarifying that it’s “very likely” she will qualify an Olympic spot. If she qualifies, the committee is expected to decide in June whether to take the next and final step — nominating her to the Olympic team.

Picture Courtesy: Sport Bible

Establishment of Pride House:

LGBTQ+ people have traditionally been pushed to the margins of sport. Negative stereotypes, the threat of real and perceived consequences for living openly, and an exclusionary or hostile culture have made sport unwelcoming. And the problem is not just athletics. During large-scale international events, there is the possibility to connect with people from different cultures and backgrounds, to learn empathy and experience diversity, and to share a common appreciation for excellence. When LGBTIQ+ people are excluded, LGBTIQ+ culture is also excluded.

Over the past several decades, hospitality houses have become an integral part of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Typically organized around nationality or culture, these spaces–which may be inside or outside the official athlete’s village–provide a base for supporters and athletes to enjoy the event.

Modelled after a traditional Olympic hospitality house, Pride House is a venue welcoming LGBTIQ+ athletes, fans, and their allies during large-scale international sporting events. Typically, they are welcoming places to view the competitions, experience the event with others, learn about LGBTIQ+ sport and homophobia in sport, and build a relationship with mainstream sport.

Although there have been similar initiatives before previous Games, organizers said the Pride House Tokyo, which will open its doors on International Coming Out Day on October 11, is the first to get official backing from the International Olympic Committee.

Record breaking out athletes:

The number of publicly out athletes competing in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil was 56. While we knew of 56 out athletes at the Rio Olympics while they were happening, Scupham-Bilton’s current list of LGBTQ athletes whom we now know to have competed in Rio stands at 84.

At the 2016 Summer Olympics, more than 80% of the out athletes were women, and we expect a large majority of the out athletes in Tokyo to be women again. Ultimately there’s no way to be sure just how many LGBTQ athletes will publicly come out in 52 weeks. We can safely assume it will be more than four years ago.

Regardless of how Tokyo 2020 plays out in 2021 — with some or no fans, major restrictions or minor ones — passing landmark legislation to protect LGBT people and workers would ensure that those words become a reality. And it would become part of Japan’s permanent Olympic legacy.

Picture Courtesy: Olympics


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