“An unforgettable moment for Chilean sport” — that’s how Daniel Arcos described his lifting of a Pride rainbow flag at the Pan American Games opening ceremony Friday.
The basketball player produced the flag at the National Stadium as the Team Chile athletes delegation completed the Parade of Nations at their home National Stadium in Santiago.
Cheered on by his friends and fellow competitors, the 29-year-old also received applause from the crowd of around 40,000 who were celebrating the start of the 19th staging of the Games and the first in Chile.
It is the biggest-ever sporting event for the country, which hosted the men’s soccer World Cup back in 1962.
Arcos, who came out publicly via Instagram in June 2020, posted a video of the special moment on his social accounts, writing: “My heart cannot be prouder.”
In his coming out post three years ago, Arcos wrote of how he considered quitting his career with club side Castro in Chile’s elite basketball league due to his fear and discomfort at the thought of being known to be gay.
However, he said the warm reception he got from friends and family convinced him to go public.
“I’m convinced that sport can include us all,” Arcos concluded in the post. “But as long as issues like this are not made visible and natural, it will be difficult to advance.”
Since then, Arcos has switched clubs and is now playing for Santiago Morning Quilicura. In an interview with ADN Radio in June of this year, he explained how he felt accepted at the club, which has professional soccer and basketball teams for both men and women.
“They have treated me well, the soccer players are super cool,” said Arcos.
“They are activists too and they always fight to level the playing field, as they say. They had the LGBT+ flag on their shirts and for me, in spaces where we see the flag, I think it’s always a little safer and that inspired me.”
Now Arcos has done the same for others with his own symbolic lifting of the flag at these Pan Am Games.
Nearly 7,000 athletes from 40 nations are taking part in Santiago, and its sporting importance is reflected in the fact that there are over 100 quota spots for next year’s Paris Olympics up for grabs. The ParaPan American Games will follow in November.
In six of those competing nations — Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St Lucia, and St Vincent and the Grenadines — homosexuality is still illegal.
Meanwhile, several more have limited or no anti-discrimination protection in law for LGBTQ citizens, including the Bahamas, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago, the Dominican Republic, and Paraguay. The latter is one of 15 nations to have over 100 athletes competing.
As for Chile itself, the country has been making rapid advances on LGBTQ human rights compared to where it was at the end of the 20th century.
Since the decriminalization of homosexuality there in 1999, change benefiting LGBTQ Chileans has been relatively swift, with anti-discrimination and hate crimes legislation passing in 2012, same-sex civil unions recognized in 2015, and same-sex marriage and joint adoption rights granted last year.
With a population of around 19.5m, representation in sports has been limited, however. At the most recent Olympic Games, there were only three Chilean athletes who were LGBTQ and out — all were players in the women’s soccer tournament.
Arcos is competing in the men’s 3x3 tournament in Santiago, and his team began its challenge on Saturday night with a 22-13 group-stage win over Uruguay.