Ah, the Olympics.
Some of my earliest childhood fumblings were spent obsessing over what Mark Spitz looked like wet and naked. To this day I still get hard picturing Bruce Jenner's junk flopping around in his li'l pair of blue shorts at the '76 Montreal Olympics. He didn't help his case any when he showed up in an ever shorter pair of shorts in the Village People's disco flick, Can't Stop the Music.
But being—or, in Spitz's and Jenner's case, looking—gay has always been the big lesbo weightlifter tucked away in the belt of these games. It used to be that nobody talked about it—at least not until the endorsement deals had all dried up. In fact, it took '80s-era four-time Olympic gold medalist Greg Louganis until 1994 to come out publicly. In his 1995 autobiography, Breaking the Surface, he tells how he could not afford to come out because he feared his endorsements would disappear.
Fast-forward more than a decade, and being openly gay doesn't seem to be hurting Matthew Mitcham. He's a 20-year-old Aussie diver who is making his Olympic debut on the 10-meter platform and 3-meter springboard. In a recent interview for The Advocate, he said of his teammates: "They don't seem to mind that I'm a big homo. I haven't made an issue of it, so they just reciprocate that attitude." The other nine out Beijing-bound Olympians are all lesbians, according to Outsports.com, including U.S. soccer's Natasha Kai and U.S. softball's Lauren Lappin. That's on par with the number of out summer Olympic athletes in 2004. Thank God we are still in the double digits.
One organization might become obsolete thanks to the new queer visibility at the Olympics—a sporting event called the Gay Games. Every four years a cluster of queer folk gathers for the world's largest LGBT-inclusive sporting event. According to its website: "The purpose of the…Gay Games is to foster…the self-respect of lesbians and gay men throughout the world and to engender respect and understanding from the nongay world." Started in 1982 by former Olympian Tom Waddell, the Gay Games has seen its share of false starts, including not being allowed to use the word "Olympics" in its name (even though the Special Olympics gets to) and getting into a fight over finances that ended with a splinter group going off on its own. The World Outgames kicked off in 2006.
But if athletes were allowed to express their sexuality openly at this summer's and future Olympics, do we really even need to express ourselves at the Gay Games VIII in Cologne, Germany, in 2010, or for that matter at the smaller World Outgames in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2009 (the gay Eurogames just capped its run in Barcelona, Spain)?
I'm all for gay-pride parades and other events that celebrate our diversity, but I think it's time we let the Gay Games go. Not because it's not worthy of our efforts, but because it's time we started winning our victories on every sports field, gay or not.
Isn't it time we all cheered for our gay sports heroes?