Last week, when Rafaela Silva won the first gold for the hosts in the ongoing Games, she broke many barriers. Born in a black family in a notorious slum, Rafaela had everything going against her in the initial years of her life. Even after she became an international athlete, her race continued to haunt her. So when Rafaela stood on the podium last week with gold around her knack, she became a symbol of poor, black people who live in the impoverished ghettos of the country. But has Rafaela broke one more important barrier. She is also an openly gay Brazilian athlete to compete and win a gold medal at the Olympics.
Rafaela is one of the six gay athletes in the Brazilian squad. In international sports, which often get reduced to power display and jingoism, it’s a huge step by the likes of Rafaela to compete as a LGBT athlete. Though Brazil is seen as a country with a liberal society, the picture is a bit complicated when it comes to homosexuality. While the country is known for organising the world’s biggest gay parade – in Sao Paulo – and same-sex marriage is legal here, it’s also known for violent attacks on members of the LGBT community.
This challenge is continuing at the Games. At the Flamengo beach area, an LGBT rights groups has set up a Rio Pride House, modelled after Olympic venues hosted by countries for players to mingle, for gay athletes and their fans. The house has organised a lot of sports activities, games, lectures, talk shows, craft fairs and cultural events during the period of Games. But the house could not get any official help for their effort.
While the city officials say that they failed to offer any kind of support to the Pride House because those responsible for the initiative only contacted them as late as on July 1 this year and there was no time for any partnership. LGBT Brazil, which has set up the house, has refuted the claim, saying they negotiated with the city government as well as with the Organising Committee but in vain.
Though this Olympics features 44 LGBT athletes, a new record, they continue to face extra challenges. In a bizarre development this week, a reporter from Daily Beast used Grindr to meet some of the gay athletes from different countries. In a story, published on the site, the reporter “outed” several such athletes without their knowledge or permission. It’s only after the site came under attack on the social media for causing danger to the athletes’ professional and personal lives that the story was taken down on Monday.