Pride Month is about LGBTQ visibility. The more we see out individuals in the world, the more we are able to recognize the important contributions that queer people are making to society. In recent days, three notable LGBTQ athletes have made history, and the hopes are that there are more to come.
One of the most covered June Pride stories was the coming out of Las Vegas Raiders defensive lineman Carl Nassib. The 28-year-old took to his Instagram to announce to followers and the world that he is gay. In doing so, he became the first active player in NFL history to identify publicly as a gay man. He also announced a $100,000 donation to The Trevor Project, an L.A.-based organization that focuses on suicide-prevention efforts among LGBTQ youth.
“Right now, I am sitting in a moment of gratitude and relief. Sadly, I have agonized over this moment for the last 15 years. Only until recently, thanks to my family and friends… did it seem possible for me to say publicly and proudly that I’m gay,” said Nassib on his Instagram.
Sha’Carri Richardson, 21, also made headlines when she trounced the competition during her Olympic track and field trials by delivering an astonishing 10.86 in the 100-meter dash, falling just shy of Florence Griffith Joyner’s world record by 0.24. If Richardson were to take gold at the Tokyo Olympics, she would become the first American female to do so in that event in 25 years.
The Dallas native and former LSU student is so fast that you could easily miss her if not for her signature fiery-orange hair. Although her athletic prowess is so much more important than her hair color, she used that styling detail to allow the world into her personal life by crediting her girlfriend for the idea.
“My girlfriend actually picked my [hair] color. She said it spoke to her—the fact that it was just so loud and vibrant, and that’s who I am.” Richardson told NBC News after setting the internet afire with her outstanding performance.
Richardson, who has not otherwise come out as LGBTQ identifying, tweeted a rainbow emoji after her big moment, which is being interpreted as her acknowledgement of Pride Month. However, she is more focused on the job she has to do at the Olympics.
“I just want the world to know I’m that girl,” she said. “If you’ve been doing this and I step on the scene, I’m letting you know I respect you for putting on for our sport, but at the end of the day, when we get on this line, what you’ve been doing, you have to do that against me.”
New Zealand is home to another notable new Olympian. Laurel Hubbard, 43, became the first openly transgender woman to qualify for the Olympics. The weight lifter qualified to compete in the over-87 kg (192 lbs) category.
“I am grateful and humbled by the kindness and support that has been given to me by so many New Zealanders,” Hubbard said in a statement on June 21. “When I broke my arm at the Commonwealth Games three years ago, I was advised that my sporting career had likely reached its end. But your support, your encouragement, and your aroha [love] carried me through the darkness.”
Hubbard’s accomplishment, though history-making, is not without controversy. A debate is taking place around the world regarding the participation of trans athletes (and women, in particular) in sports. In the U.S., many states (including Texas) have passed or tried to pass legislation that would bar trans athletes from participating in the sport category that coordinates with their gender. The argument against the inclusion of trans women athletes is that going through male puberty gives them a particular athletic advantage.
The International Olympic Committee created guidelines for trans athletes in 2004. Trans men may compete without any restrictions, whereas trans women must identify as female (for sports purposes) for at least four years and have a testosterone level below 10 nanomoles per liter. Hubbard, having transitioned eight years ago, has met all of these requirements.
As Pride Month rolls along, it’s possible that even more Olympians (or other athletes) will make LGBTQ history. What these three outstanding athletes have shown us is that representation is important. They stand on the shoulders of others who took the brave step to live authentically. Nassib mentioned in his statement that he hopes coming out won’t have to be as stressful in the future as it was for him.
If the community continues to live “out and proud,” that day may come.