Athletes consider winning the Olympic Gold the pinnacle of success. It confirms that they are at the very top of their sport and the best in the world. The global publicity surrounding this achievement is unmatched by any other sporting endeavor.
For LGBTQ athletes, an Olympic gold medal can mean even more. It can represent the fact that achieving the very best in their pursuit is not dependent on sexual orientation, but rather athletic ability and prowess.
There is no shortage of evidence of this fact throughout history. The earliest LGBTQ athletes to have won Olympic gold was in 1936, with lesbians Stanisława Walasiewicz of Poland in the 100m sprint, and Babe Didrikson Zaharias of the United States in javelin and hurdles. Of particular note, Didrikson Zaharias went on to be declared the Female Athlete of the Twentieth Century by the Associated Press. As well, Walasiewicz was determined to be intersex after an autopsy at her death.
The best performance has come from Great Britain’s Lee Pearson, who has won an astounding eleven gold medals in equestrian events. This is followed by Australia’s Ian Thorpe, who won 5 golds in swimming events. Four medals have been won by Americans, Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, and by Canadians, Jayna Hefford, Charline Labonte and Caroline Ouellette.
The Queerbio.com survey has found that the significant majority of LGBTQ Olympic gold winning athletes consists of 74 per cent lesbians (51) and 26 per cent gay (18) at the time of winning their medals. The vast majority of LGBTQ athletes were out at the time of winning their medals, though several revealed their sexual orientation later in life. History has yet to be made with a transgender athlete, though Caitlyn Jenner‘s life story should be noted for winning gold prior to transitioning.
Queerbio have identified LGBTQ athletes who have won Olympic Gold from Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Puerto Rico, Slovakia, Sweden, The Netherlands, and the United States.