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LGBTQ2SI+ Canadian Sport History

In 1998, legendary Canadian swimmer Mark Tewksbury became the first openly gay Canadian Olympian.

By coming out, the three-time Olympic medallist and holder of seven world records, helped start a national conversation for LGBTQ2SI+ athletes inclusion in sport. Since, he has become an advocate for inclusive and safe sport spaces and inspired other Canadian athletes to openly talk about sexuality and be themselves.

Tewksbury recently hosted 10 panels titled In Your Corner: Connecting LGBTQI2S Sport Communities for Egale.  In Your Corner included panelists and fire-side chats with Canadian athletes and coaches from across the country discussing inclusion, human rights, mental health, history in sport and coaching.

“It was a big decision,” he said of coming out in an In Your Corner video. “I was part of the sport leadership at the time and no longer an athlete. The world was still a pretty different place – it was pre-Ellen, pre-Will & Grace, pre-George Michael coming out – and it was just at a time in my life where I really felt I had to be authentic or I wasn’t just going to be able to make it.

“For a long time after the Olympics in Barcelona in 1992, I wondered why I couldn’t come out then. Why didn’t I use that platform at the press conference after winning a gold medal at the Olympics to say ‘hey, I’m gay’ I was really frustrated with myself for not being brave enough or bold enough to make that statement … it wasn’t until I saw Eric Radford win in 2018 as the first openly gay gold medallist that I realized maybe I was just 26 years too early and I don’t think the world was ready.”

In panel five, Tewksbury discusses LGBTQ2SI+ History In Sport with three-time Olympic medallist figure skater Eric Radford in a fire side chat. Radford became the first openly gay Canadian gold medallist in world and Olympic figure skating in 2018.

“When I was young, I needed somebody to look up to,” said Radford in the video of why he came out after the 2014 Sochi Games. “And now I have the opportunity to be that for somebody else.”

The two talk candidly on the importance of support for LGBTQ2SI+ athletes in the sport community, Radford’s decision to wait until after the Olympic Games in Russia to come out and other LGBTQ2SI+ athletes and coaches who have been inspirational to the community including Billie Jean King and Brian Orser.

“LGBT movement is gaining momentum,” said Radford of the future. “I hope that we get to the point whether you are gay is just not a question.  That athletes can just discuss life and be themselves with no repercussions.”

Watch all the In Your Corner panels at Egale.ca.  Egale works to improve lives through research, education, awareness and advocacy for the LGBTQ2SI+ community.