The 2012 London Summer Olympics begin July 27th. While we all know that homophobia in sports is the other â€œDonâ€™t Ask, Donâ€™t Tellâ€, twenty-one openly LGBTQ athletes, two coaches and two gay paralympians will compete for the gold. Three LGBTQ olympians will represent the U.S.â€”Seimone Augustus (basketball), Megan Rapinoe (soccer), and Lisa Raymond (doubles tennis). (Lesbian U.S. wrestler Stephany Lee qualified for London but was kicked off the team after testing positive for marijuana.)
Of the 12,602 Olympians in this yearâ€™s games, less than 10 percent (126) are openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ). Londonâ€™s numbers, however, are twice those of Beijingâ€™s in 2008.
Being an LGBTQ Olympian doesnâ€™t elicit as much homophobic shock and awe as it did when four times American Olympic gold medalist Greg Louganis competed in the 80â€™s. Homophobia finds a way to surface, and in todayâ€™s environment itâ€™s not so much about an athleteâ€™s sexual orientation as it is gender suspicionâ€”suspecting that a LGBTQ athlete is perpetrating â€œgender fraud.â€
Will these London games have their â€œgender fraudâ€ squad trolling the stadium looking for impostors?
The Beijing Olympics did.
In 2008 Time Magazine listed 100 Olympic athletes to watch out for. Dara Torres, nine times Olympic medalist, was one of them. At 41 Torres was swimming faster then than in her 20â€™s, revealing a more muscular and tone physique. While the question of steroid use could be asked, questions concerning her gender and sexual orientation should not.
The Beijing Olympic organizers devised a â€œgender-determination laboratoryâ€ for â€œsuspectedâ€ athletes like Torres, to catch â€œgender frauds,â€ men masquerading as women.
Their experts at Peking Union Medical College Hospital evaluated each â€suspectedâ€ female for â€œgender verificationâ€ based onÂ Â blood samples to test their genes, hormones, chromosomes and, first and foremost, their external appearance. According to these experts, Torres, with her washboard abs, on appearance alone, should fail.
While we know reducing female athletes to their sex chromosomes is absurd, America has a different test to verify the authenticity of its â€œgender fraudsâ€â€”culture markers of beauty and femininity. And Torres, on appearance alone, failed.
The question of womenâ€™s physiques has always suggested a norm of beauty and femininity that â€œsupposedlyâ€ many female athletes donâ€™t meet. And their image as strong women has always created fear about a deluge of lesbians, intersexuals and transwomen titling the level playing field in our favor from â€œrealâ€ women.
With the passage of Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972 prohibiting discrimination based on gender in education programs and activities receiving federal funding, womenâ€™s participation in high school and collegiate sports increased. But with womenâ€™s increased participation in sports, the damaging stereotype of the lesbian athlete became prominent as a way to police unfeminine behavior. And many women who chose to participate in sports often went to great lengths to display traditional heterosexual cultural markers through their clothing, hairstyles and mannerisms.
LGBTQ athletes must constantly monitor how they are being perceived by teammates, coaches, endorsers and the media in order to avoid suspicion. They are expected to maintain a public silence and decorum so that their identity does not tarnish the rest of the team.
For example, tennis great Martina Navratilova, who is a lesbian, was publicly taunted for not bringing femininity and beauty to her game. Her muscular physique and supposedly masculine appearance killed not only sponsor endorsements but also attempted to kill her spirit in playing the game.
â€œAs a professional tennis player, when I came out, my focus wasnâ€™t on things like losing endorsements or handling the press or even sacrificing personal privacy.Â The biggest thing on my mind was being true to myself: I realized that I couldnâ€™t go on being a champion on the court if I was leaving half of myself off the court,â€ Navratilova wrote in the upcoming book Crisis: 40 Stories Revealing The Personal, Social, and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing up Gay in America to be out in September 2008.
The question of whoâ€™s a â€œrealâ€ female and who isnâ€™t will persist as long as lesbian-baiting continues to be part and parcel of the world of sports.
For example, Olympic basketball player Lisa Leslie was perceived to be a â€œgirly- girly;â€ therefore, not a lesbian, but certainly a weak and non-aggressive player. Tennis phenoms the William Sisters are aggressive players but too muscular, especially Serena, to be seen as feminine.
Sports programs are a particular challenge when attempting to make schools, playgrounds, and locker rooms safe of our LGBTQ children.Â And as long as young women will be stigmatized as lesbian it will control womenâ€™s participation.
But sports can also provide innumerable opportunities to teach valuable life lessons and can be a powerful influence in addressing myriad social issues. Eliminating LGBTQ- baiting can be one of them.
Hopefully, the London Olympics will model an example of i