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For LGBTQ reporters, covering the Olympics is surreal

Several openly LGBTQ reporters will be covering the Games in Tokyo, and they’re ready to tell the stories of the record-setting number of out athletes.

Devin Heroux believes coming out as gay helped prepare him to cover the Olympics.
Photo provided

Days before Devin Heroux boarded his flight to Tokyo to cover the Olympic Games, he received a package from his mom. It contained two pairs of Canadian socks: one features maple leaves, and the other is embroidered with the Canadian flag.

For Heroux, the sentimental gift brought back memories from his childhood, and how difficult it was for him growing up gay in conservative Saskatoon. As a child, he dreamed of competing in the Olympics, but didn’t have many LGBTQ role models to admire.

Now, the CBC broadcaster will be on the ground for this year’s Games, telling the stories of Canada’s Olympic athletes, 16 of whom are openly LGBTQ.

In many respects, Heroux feels like his whole life has been leading to this special assignment.

“A (record number) of athletes are going to show up to the five-ring circus fully with all that they are, and they’re going to compete better because of it,” Heroux told Outsports. “Unequivocally, we show up in life and we show up in sport better when we are a 100 percent ourselves. That’s what you’re going to get from me, and my stories are more thoughtful, compassionate, and rich because of my experiences leading to this moment.”

At least 157 out LGBTQ athletes will be competing in Tokyo, a record-setting total that more than doubles the number who participated in the 2016 Rio Games. But the rainbow wave is spreading to the media room as well.

NBC is sending multiple openly gay reporters and broadcasters to Tokyo, including Shepard Smith, Steve Kornacki, Johnny Weir, Kate Scott, Gus Kenworthy and Chase Cain. The Olympic platform is significant, and though Cain usually covers climate-related issues for NBCLX, he understands the significance of the Olympic platform.

“Hopefully that visibility will help the advancement of LGBTQ acceptance and protections internationally— especially in the countries our community is so threatened,” he said.

(There are also openly LGBTQ workers on the production end, such as former college hockey player Stephen Finkle, who wrote a coming-out essay for Outsports last summer. He’ll be working as an NBC production assistant in Connecticut.)

Anastasia Bucsis took full advantage of the Olympic platform in 2014, when she publicly came out prior to the Sochi Games.

The Canadian speedskater came out in response to Russia’s passing of repugnant anti-gay laws. She was one of two athletes to do so.

The number of out athletes is a bit larger now. Buscis will be on the ground for CBC Sports, covering her second Olympics.

“It takes my breath away, to be honest,” she said. “Representation matters. When I was growing up as a little speed skater and when I realized my sexual orientation, I felt so alone because I had no one, honestly, to look up to or identify with. I felt like I was like the only gay person in the entire world.”

It’s safe to say little speed skaters watching this year’s Games won’t feel so isolated.

“I’m so happy because it makes me think to all the kids that are going to struggle coming out of the closet, and they’re not going to just have a few to look up to,” she said. “They’re going to have a really significant number.”

Speed Skating - Winter Olympics Day 4
Anastasia Bucsis, picture here competing in Sochi, is covering her second Olympic Games for CBC.
Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

We often write about how coming out is a liberating experience for LGBTQ athletes, and the same is true for LGBTQ media members. There is power in authenticity.

Heroux believes being openly gay allows him to have deeper relationships with members of Team Canada.

“I’ve always said that my being gay was probably the greatest blessing of my life, because it’s allowed me to be a way better reporter,” he said. “For me, as a gay sports reporter, I just think I’m better prepared to listen fully, appreciate fully and understand fully the journey these athletes have been through.”

That’s a good thing, because LGBTQ athletes have important stories to share. Being able to understand their experiences is a big advantage that LGBTQ reporters possess.

For Ina Fried, an out transgender reporter covering the Games for Axios, it is especially meaningful to see out trans and non-binary athletes competing.

“This Olympics has been filled with challenges and it’s still not clear whether having them will prove to be a good idea,” she said. “At the same time it’s incredibly meaningful as a transgender journalist to be at the first games where trans and non binary athletes are competing openly as their authentic selves.”

Bucsis hopes she can provide her unique insight to viewers across her home country, and the world.

“Everyone has closets that they’re hiding in,” she said. “If I can still be someone that’s living my values and being genuinely myself, and if that can shed light on anyone, then I’m never not going to take that challenge. I hope that that comes through in my journalism.”