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Gay historian on why and how he compiles his list of LGBTQ Olympians

Tony Scupham-Bilton has been building his list of LGBTQ Olympians for a decade.

John Curry
John Curry was an Olympic champion in 1976 and was outed as gay by a German tabloid shortly after those Winter Games.

Note: Scupham-Bilton will be releasing his updated list of LGBTQ Olympians the week of Aug. 9, 2021. Outsports will report on the updated list and share links. You can see his lists from 2020 here.

I’ve never really been sporty, but the Olympics have been around since the day I was born, two months before the Rome 1960 Summer Games.

There has never been a Summer or Winter Olympic Games in my lifetime where there has not been an LGBTQ athlete, even if they were not out. In fact, there hasn’t been an Olympics without an athlete who has subsequently been identified as LGBTQ since the 1952 summer games in Helsinki, almost 70 years ago.

Whenever the Olympic Games were taking place, my parents and family watched. I don’t really remember much of the Games as a child; There wasn’t a lot of coverage on the television in those days, though I remember the terror attack on the Israeli team in the Olympic village in 1972.

As a teenager my enthusiasm was kindled by the popularity of John Curry, who had taken the UK and world figure skating by storm in the mid 1970s. Figure skating is one of my favourite sports, and by the start of the 1976 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck I was hooked. I even began a scrapbook of newspaper clippings, the first of several I made over successive Games.

One of my treasured items in my Olympic collection is a page from a British newspaper the day after John Curry became Olympic champion, which addressed the question of his “outing.” The writer wondered why someone’s private life should be used to judge a person’s athletic skills and speculated if there’ll be a time when it wouldn’t matter.

It’s a question which is still being asked today, 45 years later.

So, what started me compiling lists of LGBTQ Olympians? Probably the 2004 Athens Olympics. The UK’s leading LGBTQ magazine and newspaper at the time (Gay Times, and Pink Paper, respectively) mentioned there were 11 of them. I was only mildly interested, but my interest grew steadily over the next few years.

As London 2012 approached I thought it would be a good idea to write an LGBTQ history of the Olympic Games on my blog, The Queerstory Files, which I had just started. Of course, a lot has happened since then and that original history is very much out of date. Given time I’d like to update it.

One of the most significant finds during my early research was the Outsports website. They had a list of publicly out LGBTQ athletes. Not all of them were Olympians, but it formed the basis of my first list. I cannot emphasize how much Outsports was instrumental in convincing me a list of LGBTQ Olympians was possible.

When I published the first list on my blog it became very popular. One person who took great interest was the late Marc Naimark. He was a member of the Federation of Gay Games and often put some of my sporting history blog entries on the Gay Games blog. Since his passing, no-one at the Gay Games has shown any interest.

The original list has grown steadily over the years, and every time I reach a milestone number I am amazed. By the time I reached 400 last autumn I had a feeling that was more of disbelief than anything. I never believed there would be that many.

After placing the 400th name to the list I contacted Cyd Zeigler at Outsports, because he has helped enormously in reaching that milestone. He invited me to join him on his podcast to talk about my work last November. At that time I hoped that the full list of LGBTQ Olympians would be 450 by Tokyo 2020.

When I release the most updated list next week, it will be far beyond that.

Every Olympic year I have requests for interviews, and I have been contacted by several LGBTQ Olympians who had asked to be put their names on the list. A couple of LGBTQ athletes have also requested to not to be named. My research led to me becoming a member of the International Society of Olympic Historians, the only historical society approved by the International Olympic Committee.

In August 2018 my research was used at the Pride House in Glasgow during the European Athletic Championships. It was turned into a pathway leading through the entrance, like a Yellow Brick Road with each brick containing the name and details about each LGBTQ Olympian.

I hope to produce a new exhibition for the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham next year (time and funds permitting, and if a venue can be found).

Originally I also compiled lists of LGBTQ Paralympians, but the Olympic list is getting so long that I find it difficult keeping up with both. This is why I have currently stopped my research into the Paralympians, so I can concentrate on the Olympians. I hope there is someone out there who will carry on the Paralympic side of sport. If you’re interested in taking this on, you can reach out to me on Facebook.

What is certain is that the list will never be complete. There will always be athletes who come out as members of the LGBTQ community, but there will also be others whose sexuality will have gone with them to their graves.