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Some Olympians are ‘intentionally vague’ about being LGBTQ. We should all respect that choice

It’s not always crystal clear if an athlete is LGBTQ and out. In those cases, let’s give them space to walk their journey.

1984 Olympics - Men’s 3000 Meter Steeplechase
Every LGBTQ athlete is on their own journey, and Outsports is here to support each athlete no matter where they are.
Photo by David Madison/Getty Images

As Outsports worked with LGBTQ Olympics historian Tony Scupham-Bilton to build the most comprehensive list of publicly out LGBTQ athletes at the Tokyo Summer Olympics, we were pressed with a question Outsports has grappled with for years:

What does it mean to be “publicly out”?

Ever since the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics, Outsports has had a strict policy: The athlete has to have clearly come out publicly in a media interview.

That policy stemmed from our list of out Olympians at the 2016 Rio Olympics, when we included two female athletes whom we felt had clearly come out; Yet their managers contacted us to tell us they wanted to be removed from the list.

We agreed, and ever since we’ve been extremely conservative in approaching the claim that anyone is “publicly out.” As David Artavia just wrote today for Yahoo, there are still issues with pushing or forcing anyone out of the closet before they’re ready.

Yet over the last few months, our definition of “publicly out” has had to change. Fans from around the world have pointed to athletes — usually, but not always, women in sports — who are clearly living their lives very openly as LGBTQ people on Instagram or other social media, yet they’ve never given the “Yep I’m gay” interview.

Some of them post photos of their girlfriend expressing love, “Happy Valentine’s Day,” or call them their “girlfriend” or “wife.”

Because of the obvious shift in how some athletes today live their lives openly, Outsports’ definition of “publicly out” now includes “clearly living life openly as an LGBTQ person on social media.”

While we can’t find an interview with, for example, Dutch sprinter Ramsey Angela or Canadian soccer player Kadeisha Buchanan, it’s clear from social media they are both LGBTQ and out.

This has been the case for dozens of people on our list.

Yet on the flip side, we have also gotten about two dozen suggestions from readers of athletes at the Tokyo Olympics who don’t quite qualify for our standard of being “publicly out.”

The vast majority of them are women. I’ve written previously about the reasons there are so many more out LGBTQ women in Tokyo on our list than men, and it’s in part because women in sports are finding more comfort than the men in casually living life openly.

Yet there are also many athletes we’ve seen who are very likely LGBTQ, yet on social media they are what seems to be “intentionally vague.”

They post images of themselves with the same woman multiple times, with hearts or words of support. They express affection and admiration over and over. It seems to be clear they are in a same-sex relationship. Yet for our purposes, they haven’t made it “clear and obvious” that they are out and are choosing to live life openly.

Heck, German diver Timo Barthel flat-out says he isn’t gay or straight and simply identifies as “human.” We respect that too.

Some people want to share with the public, in some way, their affection for their partner, yet they don’t want to be fully out. There are still fears and trepidations about being known as lesbian, gay, bi, trans or queer. While we at Outsports know the power of being out — courage is contagious — we respect these athletes’ need to express themselves in “intentionally vague” ways.

And if it seems they’re being “intentionally vague,” that pretty much tells you they don’t want to be “publicly out.”

Some fans have gotten a bit frustrated with our standard that it needs to be “clear and obvious” on social media that they are LGBTQ and/or in a same-sex relationship. Still, it’s a standard we at Outsports feel strongly about.

We’ve heard the name of one Olympic athlete in Tokyo from about 20 people. We’ve had one athlete on the list share the name of one of their teammates with us. Yet in each case, unless we get “clear and obvious” confirmation from the athlete in a DM or on their Instagram or TikTok, we just can’t include them as an out athlete.

The worst-case scenario is that, like in 2016, we have to remove athletes from our list and apologize for adding them in the first place. Trust us, it’s not a good feeling.

If we could add everyone we believe to be an LGBTQ athlete at the Tokyo Olympics, our list would be well over 200.

Yet we’re very happy with where it’s at. And if anyone who isn’t on the list wants to be added, they can DM us on social media or email us at outsports@gmail.com.

We’ve had a bunch of athletes at the Olympics make that very request, and we want to add every name we can while respecting everyone’s personal journey.