Gay At The Games: Meet The Out Paralympians

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

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  • dazzer

    Just throwing another bouquet in Queerty’s direction.

    Other gay sites only seem to cover gay sportsmen if they’re hunky and fit a stereotype. Only Queerty holds true to the idea that if a gay man or woman is exemplary, they should be celebrated.

    I admire Lee Pearson tremendously. He’s been very openly and very obviously gay for a long time now. He tends to the ‘queeny’ end of the gay spectrum and can be incredibly funny and witty – it’s impossible to not know he’s gay because he regularly mentions it in interviews and unapologetically enjoys his sexuality.

    However, despite the camp exterior he displays the steely determination to be the best in the world – and then backs up that determination by winning. Again and again and again. And he’s not just a champion in the world of disabilities, he’s also dominated able-bodied competitions he’s been in.

    Also, he’s never regarded his sexuality as a bar to sponsorship. He has top-brand backers and the fact that he is so openly gay has never stopped any company from lining up to have their name associated with him.

    I know that dressage isn’t considered a sport by some people, but – with only five per cent of the leg muscles of an able-bodied competitor – Pearson has to control a half-ton animal using the few muscles he has in addition to minutely moving his weight and spine.

    It’s a phenomenal achievement – and even if Pearson doesn’t look like Matthew Mitcham or Michael Phelps, his muscles are just as world-beating.

    I know that the gay world is all about Mitcham at the moment – and I admire him tremendously, too. However, if I were to choose a gay sporting hero, I’d take Pearson every day of the week. He’s a consistent winner who makes no apologies for his physicality or sexuality, instead demanding respect for himself and his achievements.

    Enough gushing on my part. Thank you for giving Paralympians the same importance as Olympians.

  • Neo

    We have an advert for the Paralympics here in the UK which ends with the tagline “Make way for the super humans” these guys and girls have disabilities and perform to professional standards not just compared to none disabled people but competitively to fully able professionals and often better.

    Super human is about right. Also to echo dazzer, kudos for making it not seem that it only matter whether someone is hot and gay as opposed to just gay/bi/trans, from other sites you wouldn’t think anyone other than US basketballers, Michael Phelps, Mitcham and Daley actually competed at the Olympics.

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