It’s been less than one week since the start of the London 2012 Olympics, yet records have already been broken in and outside of the Olympic arena. This year’s games has the highest number of openly gay and lesbian athletes – 22 to be an exact – almost double the number that participated in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
However, with over 12,000 athletes participating from 204 countries, still less than 0.1% of Olympians are gay. Considering that about 5% of the world’s population is gay, you might expect the percentage of gay Olympians to mirror this figure. Thus, it does make one wonder why there are still so few gay athletes out of the closet.
The fact that there aren't more openly gay athletes may be indicative of the hostility that exists in many countries against homosexuals. Of the 22 openly gay athletes, 15 are from European countries like Sweden, France, and Germany. These countries are already known for their acceptance of homosexuality; many of them have legal unions for same-sex couples.
By contrast, many countries in Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Asia condemn any homosexual activity as illegal. Therefore, gay athletes may fear repercussions at home if they come out.
Yet there are only 3 openly gay athletes from the U.S., and all three are women. What does that say? America may be more tolerant than many places, but has a lot more work to go until gay rights become widely accepted. Especially when it comes to testosterone-fueled sports in American culture, there is still a stigma attached to being gay in sports. The number of openly gay male athletes is almost nonexistent – most don’t come out until after they retire – and when compared to the number lesbian athletes, women far surpass the men. This is suggestive of how our misogynistic culture isn’t supportive of gay athletes at home or abroad.
Nonetheless, the 22 athletes competing in the London 2012 games do show the world it is possible to love someone of the same sex and their country. If Mayssa Pesoa, a lesbian athlete representing her home country Brazil, which has been dealing with a surge of violent acts towards homosexuals, can be out and proud, than then there is hope that future athletes can do it, too.