At the intersection of race and sexuality
The Tokyo 2020 Olympics was one of the most progressive Games held to date, with more representation by minority communities than ever before. 49% of the athletes competing were women, and there were at least 185 out LGBTQ athletes participating.
Yet, looking at these figures closely, we see that most of the athletes are from the Global North, with very little representation from countries of the Global South, especially Asia. Indeed, only 3 of the out athletes were Asians, from the Philippines and India.
A double minority
Amazin LeThi, a former Vietnamese competitive bodybuilder and currently training to compete in shooting spoke to sportanddev about her experiences of being a queer and Asian athlete.
“When you’re already under-represented in sport, and are already receiving so much hatred, do you want to add another layer of hate?” Amazin asks. She notes that it is already difficult to find Asian representation in many sports, especially as an Asian growing up in the West.
Growing up as the only Asian in an all-white background, Amazin often struggled with her identity. And as an Asian, she was pigeonholed into stereotypes, which made it even more difficult to get into sports.
- Related article: Being an Asian athlete
As Amazin says, when you’re the only Asian athlete in a given sport, growing up in a country where you’re a minority already because of your race, you don’t want to give more reasons to stick out, to be different. Hence, many Asian athletes in the West may be hesitant to come out.
On the other hand, for Asian athletes from Asia, it is a different context altogether. As Amazin notes, many Asian countries do not have anti-discrimination laws which protect LGBTQ people – indeed, often these countries will have anti-LGBTQ policies and laws in place, actively working to push people and athletes to stay in the closet.
While sport is often used as a tool to sensitise people on developmental issues, especially relating to gender and sexuality, elite sport has traditionally been a space which does not allow for much gender and sexual diversity.
But things have been changing slowly, for the better. And these Games were a testament to the change. In the 2012 Olympics, there were only 23 out athletes, and this number went up to 56 in the 2016 Games. Thus, this year saw more than triple the number of out athletes as the previous Games.
This is the power of representation, Amazin notes. She says it is revolutionary to see someone like yourself represented at such a large platform – “you don’t know who you can become until you see yourself.”
Giving the example of Schuyler Bailar, an American swimmer, and the first openly transgender NCAA Division I swimmer, Amazin says that it is amazing to see people celebrate LGBTQ people and athletes, because often many do not see such a celebration in their daily lives.
And even though queer representation of Asians may not be as great at the Olympics, it is a start. “[We saw] out Asian athletes at the Olympics, [showing] that we can be Asian, we can be LGBTQ, and we can be at the top of our game,” Amazin says.