Out Olympians represent countries that persecute and criminalize LGBTQ people

Sixty-nine countries criminalise private, consensual, same-sex sexual activity. The wording of the laws may include language like ‘sodomy’, ‘buggery’ and ‘unnatural offenses’. Regardless of their specific wording, these laws essentially criminalize being LGBTQ. 

Additionally, several other countries don’t provide adequate legal protections for LGBTQ people, leaving them vulnerable to government persecution and attacks from their fellow citizens. 

A global event like the Olympics and Paralympics, provide a moment to cheer on indivudal athletes, but also examine the country and laws they represent. Nineteen out LGBTQ Olympians competing in the 2021 Tokyo Summer Olympic Games and 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games represent countries with criminalization laws or LGBTQ persecution. These Olympians and Paralympians may represent their country, but that representation is being reciprocated at home. 

Let's take a look at a few:

In 2019 the Prosperous Armenian Party (BHK) introduced a bill “propaganda of non-traditional sexual orientation” among people under 16. The bill was thrown out. LGBTQ+ people are, as is, not allowed to get married, adopt or join the military. Armenia is home to Olympian Simon Proulx Sénécal who lives and was born in Canada, but qualified for an Olympic ice dance spot for Armenia after coming in fourth at the Olympic qualifying event Nebelhorn Trophy 2021. 

Russia’s 2013 “Gay Propaganda Law” made headlines when the 2014 Winter Games were held in Sochi. The law has been linked to a rise in violence against LGBTQ people in Russia along with prosecution. The federal law was enacted to diminish valuable conversation, education and issues regarding LGBTQ rights, considered “gay propaganda.” The law has had an endangering effect on children’s access to education regarding gender and sexuality. This law supports what Russia calls “traditional family values,” and attempts to eradicate what is considered “promoting the denial of traditional family values'' in particular to children. There were not and there are currently no out Olympians from Russia in the 2021 Summer Olympics and 2022 Winter Olympics, likely because of these laws. 

Similar to Russia, Poland had started the process of creating what they call “LGBT-free zones” in 2020. However, three Polish regional councils voted to repeal these zones in 2021 in fear of losing EU funding late last September. However, the tension for/against anti-LGBTQ politics remains high. 

Aleksandra Jarmolińska is an Olympic shooter and Katarzyna Zillman is an Olympic rower are both out LGBTQ athletes from Poland. Jarmolińska is known for being outspoken about LGBTQ rights, in particular, marriage equality. Outsports used Google translate to translate her message to English, it said: 

“Hello, my name is Aleksandra Jarmolińska and I will represent Poland in shooting at the Olympic Games in Tokyo. I’m showing love because I’m getting married soon. I love my future wife both privately and officially - at home, at work, at competitions, during the Olympics and I represent Poland and I want to have equal rights in it, including the right to have my marriage recognized, the right to safe family life, simply to equality

“I want to be able to compete in the white and red colors, knowing that my country treats me properly with dignity. I support equality in marriage for everyone, because ... Love does not exclude.”

Zillman has spoken out against Poland’s laws against LGBTQ people, specifically the LGBT-free zones. Her silver-medal win in the 2021 Summer Olympics was overshadowed by the lack of support from her own country. 

“I know that in this way I will help others,” Zillmann said to Sportowe Fakty. “It was enough that I showed up in a T-shirt with the words ‘Sport against homophobia’ and I got a few messages from young girls practicing rowing,” she said.  

The silver-medalist said that she had come out to news outlets before, but that it was never published.


A post shared by Kasia Zillmann (@kzillmann)

Brazil is home to 14 out Olympians who played in the 2021 Tokyo Games. Brazil has legal protections for LGBTQ peoples as well as equal legal status to adopt, transition, serve in the military, and marry. However, Brazil has an epidemic of violence on their LGBTQ population, and Jair Balsonaro, far-right President of Brazil, has only encouraged further persecution. 

From October 2019 to September 2020 over 152 transgender and genderqueer people were killed in Brazil, the most in the world, according to a 2020 report conducted by Trans Murder Monitoring (TMM) of Transrespect versus Transphobia (TvT), an ongoing, comparative qualitative-quantitative research project initiated by Transgender Europe (TGEU). Of the 152 people murdered, 98% were transgender and 62% were sex workers.

Marta Da Silva, 2021 Summer Olympian, and 2004 and 2008 Olympic silver-medalist for Brazil’s national soccer team is inspirational to her fans. Openly gay the football star married her partner Toni Deion Pressley in January of 2021. She is considered a model for Brazil’s LGBTQ community in the fight against homophobia, said i news.

Douglas Souza, volleyball gold medalist of his home Games at the 2016 Rio Olympics, spoke out about his journey coming out with ESPN in 2021:

“Take your time. Don't rush, don't follow other people's pace, and don't pressure yourself to do something you don't want to do,” said Brazil’s volleyball superstar.

“When you feel comfortable with yourself, when you are sure and happy with yourself, everything will be easier. Then you come out to whoever you feel you have to come out to. Or if you think you don't have to, that's fine too.”


A post shared by Douglas Souza (@douglasouza)

Countries like Venezuela have some laws protecting LGBTQ people, but in some cases criminalize the community in state duties such as the military. In 2013 a soldier was arrested for entering a red car of a man who “looked gay.” He was later convicted for abandonment of service and “sexual acts against nature,” according to a Washington Post article published late January. The draconian provision of Venezuela’s Military Code of Justice legalizes the criminalization of LGBTQ people in the military for one to three years. Despite that law, Yulimar Rojas, 26-year-old track and field triple jump Olympic gold medalist from Venezuela is openly gay. She is the first woman to win an Olympic gold for Venezuela. 

GLAAD celebrates the historic 35 out LGBTQ athletes competing in the 2022 Winter Olympics. Alongside Athlete Ally, a national nonprofit working to elevate and advocate for LGBTQ athletes, and OutChina, GLAAD is proud to release a “Guide to Covering LGBTQ Athletes at the 2022 Olympics and Paralympics” as a resource to journalists and media professionals. You can access the guide here or use the QR code below: 

"Covering LGBTQ Athletes" QR code accented by the Olympic rings