RIO DE JANEIRO — It’s likely to prove one of Rio 2016’s most memorable moments and it has nothing to with the winning of medals.
While rugby player Isadora Cerullo didn’t secure a bronze, silver or gold medal, she won a partner for life after girlfriend Marjorie Enya, a volunteer at the 2016 Olympics, proposed to her in front of teammates, volunteers and media. Without hesitation Cerullo said yes and the Rio Games had it’s first marriage proposal.
It was also a proposal that highlighted a rising trend for the LGBT community — Rio 2016 has a record number of out athletes.
Human Rights campaign estimates that there are at least 41 openly lesbian, gay and bisexual Olympians — up from 23 that participated in London 2012 — though Outsports.com puts that number much higher at 49.
Rio 2016 also marked the first time a transgender model has been used at an Opening Ceremony after Brazilian model Lea T rode into the Maracana stadium pedaling the bicycle that carried Brazil’s name ahead of the host team marching out.
Olympian and WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne came out to Vogue just before the Olympics, while gold medalist Rafaela Silva followed suit on Brazilian media the day after her big win on home soil.
In an interview with Brazilian outlet Globo, judoka Silva says her girlfriend Thamara Cezar was instrumental in her golden success.
“She was there day in and day out and knew what I was going through, when I was tired, when I wasn’t. Anything I needed she was there on hand to do, so she is also very important in this achievement.”
Silva also says that Cezar takes care of their three dogs and most of the house chores.
Tom Daley, British diver who came out after the London 2012 Olympic Games, won a heartfelt message from his fiance Dustin Lance Black — an American Oscar-winning scrrenwriter — after capturing the bronze medal in Rio.
“So happy for you. So proud,” said Black, who won an Oscar for “Milk,” on Instagram.
And during the torch relay through Rio de Janeiro’s Ipanema neighborhood, perhaps one of the most LGBT friendly neighborhoods in town, two of the torch bearers kissed each other as they passed the flame.
“I’ve seen a big increase in terms of [gay] athletes and spectators” says LGBT analyst Charley Walters, who has covered the last eight Olympic games and covered LGBT athletes extensively.
The majority of out athletes are women, and there are no US men who’ve come out as gay before these Olympics.
While it’s true that these Olympic games are much more progressive, there are still instances of discrimination and Walter says that it’s important to call these out.
Outsports reports that football fans at the opening matches of the Olympic women’s soccer tournament chanted homophobic slurs at some of the players.
Cerullo says while she hasn’t seen any discrimination out on the pitch, she has encountered it from people when they look at her muscular body. She says most people still see rugby as a men’s game and discriminate against the female team.
While some athletes come out before the Olympics, many others choose to come out after the Games.
Walter says the timing of when athletes come out has a lot to do with the pressure of the Olympics themselves.
Some are concerned that the extra attention may distract them from their performance, while others worry that it may cause their scores to be lower in competitions where points are awarded by judges.
While it remains a personal decision, Walter says he hopes one day LGBT athletes will be able to lose the label and just be “one more athlete.”