Jumping for joy

Queer US athlete wears rainbow sneaker at Qatar championships

 

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A US heptathlete wore her trademark sneakers with a rainbow strap during her appearance last night at the IAAF World Championships in Doha, Qatar.

Qatar has a poor record for LGBTQ rights and same-sex sexual activity is punishable with prison.

It’s just one of the reasons – besides the sweltering hot temperatures – why some advocates and athletes have criticized the decision to allow the event to take place in the Middle East country.

Related: Journalist writes about using hook-up apps in Qatar, where gay sex is punishable by death

Yesterday, US athlete Erica Bougard, 26, took part in the heptathlon. During the High Jump part of the event, she wore sneakers with a rainbow strap across the top of one shoe. She has been wearing the same strap for most of this year.

 

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Bougard, who has competed for Mississipi State, has been with her girlfriend for the past year.

Following her appearance, Bougard spoke about her decision to wear the shoes with the pride flag.

“I only did it to show everybody love is love, and whether you’re against it or not, I’m still for it,” she told a Swedish reporter. “And then for all the young people out there, if you’re ever frightened, don’t ever feel sad, don’t ever have suicidal thoughts, because it’s normal to me, so it should be to you, so don’t be afraid to come out.”

Related: Newly out Ryan Russell has something to tell the NFL about LGBTQ athletes

Asked if she’d had any second thoughts about wearing the pride flag in a country like Qatar, she responded: “I didn’t have second thoughts because I didn’t know it was illegal.

“I pretty much forgot what was on my shoe because I’ve been doing it all year. When I pulled my shoes out, nobody said anything upfront when I got checked, so I just wore my shoes, I just went for it.”

The same reporter told Bougard she was probably the first to make a stand in Doha for gay rights. He pointed out she had been applauded for doing so on social media, prompting an embarrassed Bougard to respond, “I love all the praise, and if somebody hates it, then what can you do, what can you say, it’s social media.

“I can cut my phone off and not see what anyone says about me … but sometimes you have to take a stand and that’s what I did.”

Asked by Associated Press if she had concerns about getting into trouble, she said, “I’m not afraid of the consequences. I feel like I’m well protected,” and if anything were to happen, “I’ll be on the first flight out.”

At the end of day one of the heptathlon, Bougard was in fourth place, with Katarina Johnson-Thompson (Great Britain), Nafi Thiam (Belgium) and Kendell Williams (US) taking first, second and third place.

Bougard continues in the heptathlon today, with the long jump, javelin, and 800-meter run.

Good luck, Erica!