There was a lot of chatter about openly gay athletes—or the lack thereof—at the Summer Olympics this year. But now the stage is set for another championship athletic competition, the 2012 International Paralympics, which start August 29 in London.
If out competitors are scarce at the Olympics, they’re practically invisible at the Paralympics. We discovered two—if you know of others, please share with us in the comments.
Lee Pearson, Equestrian
Pearson, 38, is a nine-time gold medalist in dressage, freestyle dressage and team dressage who has represented Britain in the last three Paralympic Games and against non-disabled equestrians at international competitions.
Born with arthrogryposis multiplex congenita, he was awarded a Child of Courage Award by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1980 and made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2009.
“My great grandfather had been the neighbourhood ‘horse whisperer’ so I’ve probably loved horses since I was an embryo,” Pearson told the Daily Telegraph. “Whenever I watched cowboy films as a small child I wasn’t watching the hunky cowboys—which I’d probably do now—I was watching the horses. Even now I love sitting in the field just watching the way they move.”
Pearson admits he may occasionally fantasize about having a “gorgeous, muscled body,” but says he loves who he is and accepts his disability as something, like his sexuality, he doesn’t have a choice about. And besides, he jokes, “I’d already come out of the closet once before, hadn’t I?”
Claire Harvey, Sitting Volleyball
Harvey, 38, is the captain of the British women’s sitting volleyball team—pretty amazing since she only took up the sport in 2008.
With lesbian tennis player Billie Jean King and odds-defying Olympic javelin thrower Fatima Whitbread as her own heroes, Harvey told Gay Sports Blog it was “sad” that more athletes don’t act as role models to young people. “I remember watching [King and Whitbread] as a child and just thinking how very amazing they were, how they were like superheroes to me. As I got older I realised how much they had achieved against a backdrop of ‘not fitting in’ and being different, but how they allowed their performance to do the talking.”
As an out Paralympian Harvey is guaranteed free entry in the 2014 Gay Games in Cleveland. (All LGBT participants in both the Olympics and Paralympics will have their entry fees waived as part of a new campaign called “From Games to Games.”) “I’m a big fan of LGBT sport and have been involved here in the UK for several years. I’m told that the Gay Games are for everyone, and I hope that my presence will highlight the principle of inclusion that is part of the Gay Games and of LGBT sport in general.”
Photo: Chris Brown