A record number of openly LGBTQ athletes are competing in the Tokyo Paralympic Games, making it one of the most inclusive sports events ever.
According to sports site Outsports, there are at least 28 out-and-proud Paralympians participating in the Games, which began on Tuesday – more than double the number of openly LGBTQ athletes who participated in the last Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
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At least eight countries are represented by a member of team LGBTQ. The nations bringing more than one Paralympian to Tokyo are the United States and Great Britain with nine athletes each, Canada with three, and Australia, Germany and Brazil, with two athletes representing each country.
The record number of openly LGBTQ athletes in the Paralympics comes after another record-breaking number of out athletes in the Olympics: at least 185 of them competed in Tokyo.
That was more than three times the number of the Olympians who went to Rio in 2016 and more than all of the out Olympians who participated in all of the previous Summer and Winter Games combined.
On Monday, LGBTQ media advocacy group GLAAD hosted an Instagram live interview with sitting volleyball champion Monique Matthews.
The 32 year old, who won a gold medal in Rio and a silver in London in 2012, said that she hopes to use the visibility of the event to help raise funds for her husband Landon’s gender transition.
“Most people see us as an inspiration because we are disabled, so they usually look past if you’re LGBTQ … but we want them to see the whole us. Which is why I’m happy that so many [athletes] are out this year compared to last Paralympics,” Matthews said.
“Hopefully it just continues to grow, and they know that they have support and there are people there for them,” she added.
Rich Ferraro, GLAAD’s chief communications officer, told the New York Daily News in a statement that the Paralympic Games “by nature are a celebration of inclusion and equality, and the historic number of out LGBTQ athletes participating this year is something to celebrate”.
The increased visibility the games will bring to the athletes will help to fight systemic discrimination and stigma, Ferraro said.
“Every athlete, regardless of ability, gender, race, or sexual orientation, deserves a chance to participate in sports and to represent their communities with pride,” he added.
The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, which were delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, will run through September 5.
The Games were declared open on Tuesday night by Japan’s Emperor Naruhito, with International Paralympic Committee chief Andrew Parsons paying tribute to the grit of the athletes who made it to Tokyo.
“Many doubted this day would happen, many thought it impossible, but thanks to the efforts of many, the most transformative sports event on Earth is about to begin,” he said.
The ceremony was themed around the story of a one-winged plane trying to fly, and featured high-octane musical and acrobatic sequences in a departure from the more sombre Olympics opening ceremony.
Notably missing from proceedings was Afghanistan’s team, which had been trapped in the country after the Taliban takeover.
The IPC confirmed on Wednesday that the team, composed of two athletes, was now out of Afghanistan, but declined to say where they had gone.
Australia’s Greco grabs first gold
Australian cyclist Paige Greco scooped the first gold medal of the Tokyo Paralympics on Wednesday as records began falling almost immediately in both cycling and swimming as the competition heated up.
Greco took gold in record-breaking fashion in track cycling’s C1-C3 class 3,000 metre individual pursuit, beating China’s Wang Xiaomei.
The Australian had smashed her own world record by nearly eight seconds to qualify fastest from the morning heats. She then lowered that time by another second and a half to 3 minutes 50.815 seconds in the final just over two hours later.
Silver medallist Wang, who had also beaten Greco’s old world record in the heats, had no answer to the Australian’s power, finishing more than four seconds adrift.
In the wheelchair rugby pool stage, defending gold medallists Australia suffered a shock setback in their bid to become the first team to top the podium at three consecutive Games, losing 54-53 to Denmark.
Meanwhile, British swimmer Reece Dunn set a new Paralympic record in the men’s 100m butterfly S14 category.