Gay Olympic skier Gus Kenworthy has criticised the decision to allow China to host the Winter Olympic Games (Pic: Shutterstock / Kathy Hutchins)
At least 35 openly LGBTQ+ athletes are taking part in the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games, with one calling out China for its human rights abuses.
According to Outsports, the number of LGBTQ+ competitors is more than double that of the previous Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea in 2018.
They will compete in nine different sports, dominated by ice hockey with 12 participants and figure skating with 10.
The LGBTQ+ athletes represent countries including Canada (10), the United States (six), Great Britain (four), Sweden (three), France (two), the Czech Republic (two) and an athlete each from Italy, Armenia, Finland, Belgium, Brazil, The Netherlands, Australia and Austria.
Figure skater Timothy LeDuc from the US is believed to be the first openly non-binary athlete to compete in the Winter Olympics.
The Games opened on Friday with a spectacular opening ceremony and will run until 20 February.
While this year’s event is record-breaking in terms of Winter Games LGBTQ+ representation, the 2021 Summer Games in Tokyo saw the most-ever out athletes, with 186 taking part.
The Human Rights Campaign recognised “the courage and strength of LGBTQ+ athletes who are able to compete on the world stage,” adding that “coming out as LGBTQ+ in sports can be challenging, especially in countries where openly identifying as LGBTQ+ can be life-threatening.”
One of the most high-profile LGBTQ+ Olympians this year is skier Gus Kenworthy. He won a silver medal in the Men’s Freestyle Skiing event for the US at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia and came out as gay in 2015.
In Beijing, he is representing Great Britain and has been vocal about China and its human rights record.
“I don’t think that China should be allowed to host,” Kenworthy told Sportsmail. “I don’t think that any nation should be allowed to host the Olympics, this gathering point of the world, with everyone in the world fixated on you and pouring in money and attention, if you have atrocious human rights stances.”
While homosexuality is legal in China, LGBTQ+ relationships are not recognised and there are no anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people. The government’s actions in recent years, including actively censoring LGBTQ+ media representation, indicate that it prefers that the community remains undercover and voiceless.
In 2018, the organisers of Mr Gay World were forced to withdraw the 2019 contest from Hong Kong due to a clampdown by the Chinese authorities on LGBTQ+ affirming events and campaigns.
In July 2019, China was among the countries to (unsuccessfully) oppose the renewal of the role of the UN Independent Expert against violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.