I was having dinner with a friend recently who’s seen far more episodes of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” than NFL games. But there is one sporting event he follows closely: the Olympics.
When I relayed this anecdote to Outsports co-founders Cyd Zeigler and Jim Buzinski, they weren’t surprised. Without giving away too many state secrets, Outsports traffic usually explodes around the Olympics, and this year is no different. Despite all the controversy surrounding this year’s Games, LGBTQ people still dig them.
Like any millennial-aged journalist worth their Starbucks mobile order, I posed the question on Twitter. I received many thoughtful and poignant replies, including some personal stories. While every answer was unique, there were common themes in the responses.
I tried my best to represent them on this list. Here are five reasons LGBTQ people love the Olympics (with the understanding there are many more):
This is the big one. There are at least 168 out athletes competing in the Olympic Games, triple the number in Rio.
Meanwhile, there has been one active openly gay player in NFL history, and he just came out last month.
There is a dearth of out athletes in elite-level male team sports, which dominate mainstream American culture.
Sue Bird and Megan Rapinoe boast more championships than any other sports power couple.
For the first time, out transgender and non-binary Olympians are competing as well. And their representation comes at a pivotal time. Legislators across the country are trying to ban transgender kids from playing sports — sometimes successfully.
Transgender and non-binary kids are shamefully told every day they don’t belong in athletics. And yet, they can see Laurel Hubbard compete with the best weightlifters in the world, Alana Smith shred it on their skateboard, and Team Canada’s Quinn make Olympic history.
In a recent conversation with Outsports, Canadian speed skater Anastasia Buscis, who publicly came out as gay prior to the 2014 Sochi Olympics, said the number of out LGBTQ athletes would’ve had a profound impact on her growing up.
“When I realized my sexual orientation, I felt so alone because I had no one, honestly, to look up to or identify with,” she said. “To just see this exponential number, it makes my hair stand up on my arm.”
Young LGBTQ kids watching the Tokyo Games have plenty of role models to choose from. That’s for sure.
With all that representation in mind, it’s important to note that out LGBTQ women outnumber out LGBTQ men 8 to 1 at the Olympics. The women are leading this groundbreaking wave.
They receive the kind of coverage they deserve over these two weeks.
“Accessible women’s sports. It’s not often there’s actual air time for women’s events,” said one respondent.
“I can actually see women’s sports easily,” added another.
Out women are already displaying their power in Tokyo. Six have medaled so far in Tokyo (Judo star Amandine Buchard; USA Softball’s Ally Carda, Amanda Chidester, Haylie McCleney; Team Canada’s Larissa Franklin and Joey Lye in softball).
Overall, LGBTQ Olympians have accrued eight medals.
Here in the U.S., we’re also blessed to watch the excellence of the women’s national soccer and basketball teams, both of which are led by out LGBTQ stars. There are four out athletes on the soccer team, and five on the basketball team.
Unsurprisingly, both clubs are still in contention for gold. As Megan Rapinoe says, you can’t win a championship without gays.
As mentioned, the Olympics are full of obscure games and events, such as archery, taekwondo, canoe and dressage.
As a result, most viewers aren’t very familiar with what they’re watching. There isn’t an intimidating barrier to entry.
“Maybe there’s something about not having to be a real fan of all the sports,” said culture writer Louis Staples. “Most people are sort of learning as they go.”
LGBTQ people can also identify with being out of the mainstream. Every four years, these individuals, many of whom aren’t professional athletes, get celebrated for their unique talents.
LGBTQ people can relate to their stories.
“There’s so many weird and wonderful sports that I’ve never even heard of, getting their time to shine at the Olympics over the traditional and more famous sports,” Staples said. “I think that speaks to the experience of LGBTQ+ people who maybe weren’t into traditional things, including more mainstream sports, or wanted to do things differently, so they enjoy seeing the wide variety of skills and talents being celebrated.”
For others, watching diving and swimming is more comfortable than football or baseball (and no, I’m not just talking about the Speedos).
“The reason I love the Olympics is that they aren’t hypermasculine and throwing masculinity in your face,” said Larry Nearhood. “There’s polite competition between the best in the world.”
Olympic athletes train excruciatingly long hours and encounter a lot of resistance on their way to the Games. In other words, they are resilient.
Just like LGBTQ people.
“For many LGBTQ people, we see our story in the LGBTQ athletes at the Olympics,” said Amazin LêThị, a queer Vietnamese athlete.
On that note, the Olympics are also full of stunning triumphs. Athletes defy the odds and pull off upset victories all of the time.
While most people love an underdog, the concept is especially personal to LGBTQ folks.
“LGBTQs have always been the underdogs in society,” said a respondent. “We love to see the underdog win!”
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the No. 1 reason why I like the Olympics. I am the writer, after all, and I present to you ...
Tom Daley in trunks
Pita Taufatofua in body oil
And my new favorite ... Turkish gymnast İbrahim Çolak
I rest my case.