Now more than ever, LGBT athletes are coming out to play at the Olympics. But Rio may not present the most welcoming experience, as women’s soccer players came to learn on Wednesday during match-ups.
People in the stands hurled slurs at players from the U.S., Australian, and Canadian teams, respectively, according to the Los Angeles Times. At Estadio Mineirao, the anti-gay slur “bicha” was shouted during women’s games for the first time, most often during the U.S.-New Zealand matchup. For the six lesbian players on the field, including Canadian goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé, it was a definitive low point.
“I don’t think most of those fans would have said that directly to my face. I don’t think they mean it in that way,” Rapinoe said. “But they need to understand that that’s how it’s taken. They need to understand if all of you are willing to do that, what does that say to a gay player? Especially in the men’s game.”
“What does that say to players who are struggling to come out?” she said. Rapinoe offered the anti-gay experience up as a rare opportunity to confront homophobic sentiments head on, starting with the impact slurs have on out athletes.
“I don’t think that all Brazilians fans or everyone that was there last night is homophobic,” she continued. “But I think that they are complicit in it as long as they’re doing it. FIFA can crack down as much as they want but it’s up to individuals in the stands to not participate in that kind of behavior.”
The Olympics still has a long way to go for the gold when it comes to LGBT inclusion. Of the eight out competitors on Team USA, not one is a man. It speaks volumes to the machismo atmosphere of professional sports, and how it keeps players from showing their pride. To the 42 out LGBT Olympians competing in the Games, we salute you.