How many LGBT Olympians are there?

With the Gay Games starting next week, and five-time Olympic Champion Ian Thorpe coming out in an interview, we were curious how many LGBT Olympians there are.  While about 2-3% of people identify themselves as homosexual (per this study), Olympic athletes who have are publicly declared this – either before or after their Olympic career – are much rarer than that.

With over 10,000 athletes competing at the Summer Olympics every four years, one could expect around 250 athletes to be lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender (LGBT), assuming the figures of the general population also hold for Olympic athletes.  However, at this point we have only identified 170 LGBT Olympians in total competing since 1896.

Approach

Of course, we are quite certain this number is wrong. Unlike, for example, birth dates or an athlete’s height, sexual preferences are not recorded for any of the competitors. That means that for our figures, we are dependent on athletes publicly “coming out” about their sexuality. And of course, many LGBT athletes will not come out in public, for various good reasons. First of all, disclosing information about your personal life is something many people avoid, homosexual or not.  Furthermore, many athletes compete as youngsters, who may still be discovering their sexuality, or may focus on their sport as they train to achieve their Olympic goals. 

On a darker note, many LGBT athletes may decide to keep their sexual orientation a secret. In many countries, homosexuality is still taboo – or even considered a criminal offense. Even if it has been accepted by the general public, the athlete in question may not feel comfortable coming out to their families or friends. And, finally, the sports world does have a reputation for being “anti-gay”. Especially in male-dominated sports, competitors may be afraid for homophobia or awkward situations in the locker room. Fortunately, this is slowly changing, as evidenced by coming-outs in male sports like basketball, rugby and football (both kinds).

So, how did we compose our list? We’ve used two main sources for this:

Our criteria for inclusion are simple:

  • The athlete needs to have actually competed in the Olympics (excluding alternates, non-starters and Paralympians)
  • Given the sensitivity of the topic, there needs to be clear evidence the athlete was LGBT, such as an interview with the athlete, a known partner, etc.

A number of athletes from the above sources have been excluded for not meeting one of the two inclusion criteria, notably several athletes who were often rumored to be gay without any form of confirmation. Of course, we have almost certainly made errors here (either by including or excluding people), and we apologize upfront for those.

Analysis

The first known LGBT Olympian, who competed in the 1928 Olympics, was German track athlete Otto Peltzer,  later convicted for homosexual acts on several occasions. Since then, the numbers have gradually risen, with 47 known LGBT competitors at the Sydney 2000 Olympics as the highest number to date. Do note that the numbers for more recent Olympics are most likely to rise, as many athletes – like Thorpe – still come out after their competitive career.

Number of LGBT Summer Olympians
Number of LGBT Summer Olympians

The rise in LGBT participation started in the 1980s, which coincides with the organization of the first Gay Games. Initiated by Olympic decathlete Tom Waddell, the Gay Games were founded as the Gay Olympic Games, but the USOC, in protection of the “Olympic” trademark, forced Waddell to change the name shortly before the first edition in 1982, held in San Francisco. The 9th edition is due to open on August 9, in Cleveland, with an estimated 10,000 athletes competing. Waddell, who himself won a gold medal at the 1986 Gay Games, sadly died of AIDS in 1987.

The first LGBT Winter Olympian was U.S. figure skater Ronnie Robertson, known for his relationship with actor Tab Hunter. Like at the Summer Olympics, the number has steadily risen, with a peak of 14 in 2006 and 2010.

Number of LGBT Winter Olympians
Number of LGBT Winter Olympians

One finding worth noting is that almost two thirds of the known LGBT Olympians are women (110 out of 170), which is remarkable given the fact that more men than women compete in the Olympics (certainly historically speaking). We do not know why this is. Homosexuality might be more accepted among women (or women athletes) then among men. Or maybe the stereotypical, more masculine, lesbian woman is more likely to to be drawn to sports than the stereotypical more feminine gay man? Or perhaps our sources were more likely to include lesbian athletes?

So, which sports have drawn the most LGBT athletes? Perhaps surprisingly, this is football (that’s soccer to you Americans) with 23 – of which only two men. Two major participant sports, athletics and swimming both have 14 LGBT athletes, while figure skating (perhaps not a surprise) is the most popular winter sport with 13.

It may not be a shock to anybody that virtually all of the LGBT competitors come from Western Europe, North America or Oceania. With 41, the US has the most known LGBT competitors, which is in line with the fact that the United States have by far the largest collection of Olympians within its borders (9000+). Canada has 19, followed by Germany and Netherlands (both 16). Outside of the earlier mentioned zones, there are three Brazilians, one Dominican, one Israeli, a Puerto Rican, five South Africans and a Tongan.

Olympic Successes

Out of the 170 LGBT athletes, 43 have won one or more gold medals. Most successful is the earlier mentioned Ian Thorpe, who claimed five golds, three silvers and a bronze. He is followed by Dutch speed skater Ireen Wüst, who has almost the same tally, but with 4 golds. Famed US diver Greg Louganis also earned four golds, as did Canadian hockey player Jayna Hefford. In total, 93 of the 170 athletes on our list have medaled at least once.

Transgender/Intersexual athletes

A small group of athletes deserves special mention here. These are athletes that were either born with both male and female characteristics (intersexual) or who chose to change their gender through surgery (transgender).

High jumper Dora Ratjen, an intersexual, was (incorrectly) exposed as a man and stripped of her titles. Contemporary sprinter Stanisława Walasiewicz was shot by muggers, revealing her intersexual characteristics decades after her athletic successes. She had coached fellow Polish sprinter Ewa Kłobukowska, who in 1966 failed the then new “sex test”. These tests were always controversial (later editions of the test would have accepted Kłobukowska, for example), and were eventually abolished. This paved the way for Brazilian judoka Edinanci da Silva to compete in women’s judo at four consecutive Olympics.

Sydney 2000 participant Yvonne Buschbaum is the only transgender Olympian known thusfar. After her participation, the pole vaulter underwent surgery, and is now known as Balian Buschbaum.

The full list

Below is a year-by-year list of competitors, starting in 1928 and ending in 2014. As noted before, we do apologize for any incorrect information in this table – please leave a comment if you have a correction. We have tried to be very careful to be certain the athletes are out, as we do not wish to cause any problems for athletes related to their sexuality, and fully respect their privacy.

Athlete Gender NOC Sport Year Season Gold Silver Bronze
Otto Peltzer M GER ATH 1928 S
Otto Peltzer M GER ATH 1932 S
Stanisława Walasiewicz F POL ATH 1932 S 1
Dora Ratjen F GER ATH 1936 S
Stanisława Walasiewicz F POL ATH 1936 S 1
Ernst Van Heerden M RSA ART 1948 S 1
Kin Hoitsma M USA FEN 1956 S
Susan Gray F USA SWI 1956 S
Ronnie Robertson M USA FSK 1956 W 1
Norman Elder M CAN EQU 1960 S
Ewa Kłobukowska F POL ATH 1964 S 1 1
Marion Lay F CAN SWI 1964 S
Ondrej Nepela M TCH FSK 1964 W
Tom Waddell M USA ATH 1968 S
Norman Elder M CAN EQU 1968 S
Karin Janz F GDR GYM 1968 S 1 1
Marion Lay F CAN SWI 1968 S 1
Ondrej Nepela M TCH FSK 1968 W
Scott Cranham M CAN DIV 1972 S
Karin Janz F GDR GYM 1972 S 2 2 1
Peter Prijdekker M NED SWI 1972 S
Mark Chatfield M USA SWI 1972 S
Toller Cranston M CAN FSK 1972 W
John Curry M GBR FSK 1972 W
Ondrej Nepela M TCH FSK 1972 W 1
Gail Marquis F USA BAS 1976 S 1
Scott Cranham M CAN DIV 1976 S
Greg Louganis M USA DIV 1976 S 1
Olivier Rouyer M FRA FTB 1976 S
Betty Baxter F CAN VOL 1976 S
Toller Cranston M CAN FSK 1976 W 1
John Curry M GBR FSK 1976 W 1
Randy Gardner M USA FSK 1976 W
Brian Pockar M CAN FSK 1980 W
Sabine Braun F FRG ATH 1984 S
Beate Peters F FRG ATH 1984 S
Greg Louganis M USA DIV 1984 S 2
Robert Dover M USA EQU 1984 S
Holly Metcalf F USA ROW 1984 S 1
Bruce Hayes M USA SWI 1984 S 1
Rob McCall M CAN FSK 1984 W
Brian Orser M CAN FSK 1984 W 1
Brian Boitano M USA FSK 1984 W
Edel Therese Høiseth F NOR SSK 1984 W
Brian Marshall M CAN ATH 1988 S
Sabine Braun F FRG ATH 1988 S
Beate Peters F FRG ATH 1988 S
Petra Rossner F GDR CYC 1988 S
Craig Rogerson M AUS DIV 1988 S
Patrick Jeffrey M USA DIV 1988 S
Greg Louganis M USA DIV 1988 S 2
Robert Dover M USA EQU 1988 S
Sherry Cassuto F USA ROW 1988 S
Mark Tewksbury M CAN SWI 1988 S 1
Dan Veatch M USA SWI 1988 S
Tine Scheuer-Larsen F DEN TEN 1988 S
Rob McCall M CAN FSK 1988 W 1
Brian Orser M CAN FSK 1988 W 1
Brian Boitano M USA FSK 1988 W 1
Edel Therese Høiseth F NOR SSK 1988 W
Sabine Braun F GER ATH 1992 S 1
Mark Leduc M CAN BOX 1992 S 1
Petra Rossner F GER CYC 1992 S 1
Craig Rogerson M AUS DIV 1992 S
Carl Hester M GBR EQU 1992 S
Blyth Tait M NZL EQU 1992 S 1 1
Robert Dover M USA EQU 1992 S 1
Alyson Annan F AUS HOK 1992 S
Carole Thate F NED HOK 1992 S
Irene de Kok F NED JUD 1992 S 1
Mark Tewksbury M CAN SWI 1992 S 1 1
Conchita Martínez F ESP TEN 1992 S 1
Gigi Fernandez F USA TEN 1992 S 1
Joan Guetschow F USA BIA 1992 W
Edel Therese Høiseth F NOR SSK 1992 W
Geert Blanchart M BEL STK 1992 W
Joan Guetschow F USA BIA 1994 W
Brian Boitano M USA FSK 1994 W
Edel Therese Høiseth F NOR SSK 1994 W
Chris Witty F USA SSK 1994 W
Geert Blanchart M BEL STK 1994 W
Lisa-Marie Vizaniari F AUS ATH 1996 S
Sabine Braun F GER ATH 1996 S
Kajsa Bergqvist F SWE ATH 1996 S
Sheryl Swoopes F USA BAS 1996 S 1
Natalie Cook F AUS BVO 1996 S 1
Michelle Ferris F AUS CYC 1996 S 1
Graeme Obree M GBR CYC 1996 S
Judith Arndt F GER CYC 1996 S 1
Patrick Jeffrey M USA DIV 1996 S
David Pichler M USA DIV 1996 S
Blyth Tait M NZL EQU 1996 S 1 1
Robert Dover M USA EQU 1996 S 1
Guenter Seidel M USA EQU 1996 S 1
Linda Medalen F NOR FTB 1996 S 1
Bente Nordby F NOR FTB 1996 S 1
Pia Sundhage F SWE FTB 1996 S
Lena Videkull F SWE FTB 1996 S
Kris Burley M CAN GYM 1996 S
Camilla Andersen F DEN HAN 1996 S 1
Alyson Annan F AUS HOK 1996 S 1
Carole Thate F NED HOK 1996 S 1
Edinanci da Silva F BRA JUD 1996 S
Daniel Kowalski M AUS SWI 1996 S 1 2
Rennae Stubbs F AUS TEN 1996 S
Conchita Martínez F ESP TEN 1996 S 1
Gigi Fernandez F USA TEN 1996 S 1
Nancy Drolet F CAN ICH 1998 W 1
Jayna Hefford F CAN ICH 1998 W 1
Erika Holst F SWE ICH 1998 W
Ylva Lindberg F SWE ICH 1998 W
Stine Brun Kjeldaas F NOR SNB 1998 W 1
Marieke Wijsman F NED SSK 1998 W
Edel Therese Høiseth F NOR SSK 1998 W
Chris Witty F USA SSK 1998 W 1 1
Lisa-Marie Vizaniari F AUS ATH 2000 S
Sabine Braun F GER ATH 2000 S
Yvonne Buschbaum F GER ATH 2000 S
Kajsa Bergqvist F SWE ATH 2000 S 1
Peter Häggström M SWE ATH 2000 S
Sheryl Swoopes F USA BAS 2000 S 1
Orlando Cruz M PUR BOX 2000 S
Natalie Cook F AUS BVO 2000 S 1
Michelle Ferris F AUS CYC 2000 S 1
Judith Arndt F GER CYC 2000 S
Petra Rossner F GER CYC 2000 S
Ina-Yoko Teutenberg F GER CYC 2000 S
Chris Witty F USA CYC 2000 S
Mathew Helm M AUS DIV 2000 S
David Pichler M USA DIV 2000 S
Carl Hester M GBR EQU 2000 S
Arjen Teeuwissen M NED EQU 2000 S 1
Blyth Tait M NZL EQU 2000 S
Paul O'Brien M NZL EQU 2000 S
Robert Dover M USA EQU 2000 S 1
Guenter Seidel M USA EQU 2000 S 1
Robert Costello M USA EQU 2000 S
Imke Duplitzer F GER FEN 2000 S
Inka Grings F GER FTB 2000 S 1
Steffi Jones F GER FTB 2000 S 1
Bente Nordby F NOR FTB 2000 S 1
Victoria Svensson F SWE FTB 2000 S
Camilla Andersen F DEN HAN 2000 S 1
Lotte Kiærskou F DEN HAN 2000 S 1
Mia Hundvin F NOR HAN 2000 S 1
Alyson Annan F AUS HOK 2000 S 1
Helen Richardson F GBR HOK 2000 S
Kate Walsh F GBR HOK 2000 S
Carole Thate F NED HOK 2000 S 1
Marilyn Agliotti F RSA HOK 2000 S
Edinanci da Silva F BRA JUD 2000 S
Lauren Meece F USA JUD 2000 S
Daniel Kowalski M AUS SWI 2000 S 1
Ian Thorpe M AUS SWI 2000 S 3 2
Francilla Agar F DMA SWI 2000 S
Johan Kenkhuis M NED SWI 2000 S 1
Rennae Stubbs F AUS TEN 2000 S
Conchita Martínez F ESP TEN 2000 S
Amélie Mauresmo F FRA TEN 2000 S
Eleni Daniilidou F GRE TEN 2000 S
Ji Wallace M AUS TMP 2000 S 1
Stacy Sykora F USA VOL 2000 S
Anja Pärson F SWE ASK 2002 W 1 1
Vibeke Skofterud F NOR CCS 2002 W
Jayna Hefford F CAN ICH 2002 W 1
Erika Holst F SWE ICH 2002 W 1
Ylva Lindberg F SWE ICH 2002 W 1
Stine Brun Kjeldaas F NOR SNB 2002 W
Marieke Wijsman F NED SSK 2002 W
Chris Witty F USA SSK 2002 W 1
Rob Newton M GBR ATH 2004 S
Sheryl Swoopes F USA BAS 2004 S 1
Natalie Cook F AUS BVO 2004 S
Leigh-Ann Naidoo F RSA BVO 2004 S
Judith Arndt F GER CYC 2004 S 1
Mathew Helm M AUS DIV 2004 S 1 1
Carl Hester M GBR EQU 2004 S
Blyth Tait M NZL EQU 2004 S
Robert Dover M USA EQU 2004 S 1
Guenter Seidel M USA EQU 2004 S 1
Darren Chiacchia M USA EQU 2004 S 1
Imke Duplitzer F GER FEN 2004 S 1
Sarah Walsh F AUS FTB 2004 S
Steffi Jones F GER FTB 2004 S 1
Victoria Svensson F SWE FTB 2004 S
Abby Wambach F USA FTB 2004 S 1
Angela Hucles F USA FTB 2004 S 1
Lotte Kiærskou F DEN HAN 2004 S 1
Rikke Skov F DEN HAN 2004 S 1
Chantal de Bruijn F NED HOK 2004 S 1
Edinanci da Silva F BRA JUD 2004 S
Ian Thorpe M AUS SWI 2004 S 2 1 1
Dominik Koll M AUT SWI 2004 S
Johan Kenkhuis M NED SWI 2004 S 1
Rennae Stubbs F AUS TEN 2004 S
Conchita Martínez F ESP TEN 2004 S 1
Amélie Mauresmo F FRA TEN 2004 S 1
Eleni Daniilidou F GRE TEN 2004 S
Lisa Raymond F USA TEN 2004 S
Martina Navratilova F USA TEN 2004 S
Stacy Sykora F USA VOL 2004 S
Anja Pärson F SWE ASK 2006 W 1 2
Jeff Buttle M CAN FSK 2006 W 1
Johnny Weir M USA FSK 2006 W
Matt Savoie M USA FSK 2006 W
Ryan O'Meara M USA FSK 2006 W
Jayna Hefford F CAN ICH 2006 W 1
Charlie Labonté F CAN ICH 2006 W 1
Erika Holst F SWE ICH 2006 W 1
Ylva Lindberg F SWE ICH 2006 W 1
Kathleen Kauth F USA ICH 2006 W 1
Caitlin Cahow F USA ICH 2006 W 1
Cheryl Maas F NED SNB 2006 W
Ireen Wüst F NED SSK 2006 W 1 1
Chris Witty F USA SSK 2006 W
Seimone Augustus F USA BAS 2008 S 1
Natalie Cook F AUS BVO 2008 S
Larissa F BRA BVO 2008 S
Judith Arndt F GER CYC 2008 S
Mathew Helm M AUS DIV 2008 S
Matt Mitcham M AUS DIV 2008 S 1
Tom Daley M GBR DIV 2008 S
Hans Peter Minderhoud M NED EQU 2008 S 1
Imke Duplitzer F GER FEN 2008 S
Nadine Angerer F GER FTB 2008 S 1
Linda Bresonik F GER FTB 2008 S 1
Isabell Herlovsen F NOR FTB 2008 S
Victoria Svensson F SWE FTB 2008 S
Hedvig Lindahl F SWE FTB 2008 S
Caroline Seger F SWE FTB 2008 S
Nilla Fischer F SWE FTB 2008 S
Jessica Landström F SWE FTB 2008 S
Robbie Rogers M USA FTB 2008 S
Angela Hucles F USA FTB 2008 S 1
Tasha Kai F USA FTB 2008 S 1
Alexandra Lacrabère F FRA HAN 2008 S
Nina Wörz F GER HAN 2008 S
Katja Nyberg F NOR HAN 2008 S 1
Gro Hammerseng F NOR HAN 2008 S 1
Helen Richardson F GBR HOK 2008 S
Kate Walsh F GBR HOK 2008 S
Beth Storry F GBR HOK 2008 S
Marilyn Agliotti F NED HOK 2008 S 1
Maartje Paumen F NED HOK 2008 S 1
Edinanci da Silva F BRA JUD 2008 S
Vicky Galindo F USA SOF 2008 S 1
Lauren Lappin F USA SOF 2008 S 1
Dominik Koll M AUT SWI 2008 S
Rennae Stubbs F AUS TEN 2008 S
Casey Dellacqua F AUS TEN 2008 S
Eleni Daniilidou F GRE TEN 2008 S
Tzipora Obziler F ISR TEN 2008 S
Jess Harrison F FRA TRI 2008 S
Carole Péon F FRA TRI 2008 S
Stacy Sykora F USA VOL 2008 S 1
Anja Pärson F SWE ASK 2010 W 1
Vibeke Skofterud F NOR CCS 2010 W 1
Barbara Jezeršek F SLO CCS 2010 W
Johnny Weir M USA FSK 2010 W
Jayna Hefford F CAN ICH 2010 W 1
Sarah Vaillancourt F CAN ICH 2010 W 1
Charlie Labonté F CAN ICH 2010 W 1
Erika Holst F SWE ICH 2010 W
Caitlin Cahow F USA ICH 2010 W 1
Callan Chythlook-Sifsof F USA SNB 2010 W
Anastasia Bucsis F CAN SSK 2010 W
Ireen Wüst F NED SSK 2010 W 1
Sanne van Kerkhof F NED STK 2010 W
Blake Skjellerup M NZL STK 2010 W
Karen Hultzer F RSA ARC 2012 S
Nadine Müller F GER ATH 2012 S
Seimone Augustus F USA BAS 2012 S 1
Nicola Adams F GBR BOX 2012 S 1
Natalie Cook F AUS BVO 2012 S
Larissa F BRA BVO 2012 S 1
Judith Arndt F GER CYC 2012 S 1
Ina-Yoko Teutenberg F GER CYC 2012 S
Matt Mitcham M AUS DIV 2012 S
Tom Daley M GBR DIV 2012 S 1
Carl Hester M GBR EQU 2012 S 1
Edward Gal M NED EQU 2012 S 1
Imke Duplitzer F GER FEN 2012 S
Casey Stoney F GBR FTB 2012 S
Portia Modise F RSA FTB 2012 S
Hedvig Lindahl F SWE FTB 2012 S
Caroline Seger F SWE FTB 2012 S
Nilla Fischer F SWE FTB 2012 S
Abby Wambach F USA FTB 2012 S 1
Megan Rapinoe F USA FTB 2012 S 1
Mayssa Pessoa F BRA HAN 2012 S
Rikke Skov F DEN HAN 2012 S
Alexandra Lacrabère F FRA HAN 2012 S
Helen Richardson F GBR HOK 2012 S 1
Kate Walsh F GBR HOK 2012 S 1
Beth Storry F GBR HOK 2012 S 1
Marilyn Agliotti F NED HOK 2012 S 1
Maartje Paumen F NED HOK 2012 S 1
Carlien Dirkse van den Heuvel F NED HOK 2012 S 1
Kim Lammers F NED HOK 2012 S 1
Ari-Pekka Liukkonen M FIN SWI 2012 S
Amini Fonua M TGA SWI 2012 S
Casey Dellacqua F AUS TEN 2012 S
Lisa Raymond F USA TEN 2012 S 1
Jess Harrison F FRA TRI 2012 S
Carole Péon F FRA TRI 2012 S
Barbara Jezeršek F SLO CCS 2014 W
Jayna Hefford F CAN ICH 2014 W 1
Sarah Vaillancourt F CAN ICH 2014 W 1
Charlie Labonté F CAN ICH 2014 W 1
John Fennell M CAN LUG 2014 W
Daniela Iraschko-Stolz F AUT SKJ 2014 W 1
Belle Brockhoff F AUS SNB 2014 W
Cheryl Maas F NED SNB 2014 W
Anastasia Bucsis F CAN SSK 2014 W
Ireen Wüst F NED SSK 2014 W 2 3
Sanne van Kerkhof F NED STK 2014 W

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *