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LGBTQ Athletes Are Killing It At Rio, But The Media Keeps Pooping All Over It

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The 2016 Olympic Games is already making waves for being the most LGBT-friendly in its entire history with a record-breaking 43 out-and-proud queer athletes competing this year. From Brazilian Judo gold medallist Rafaela Silva to multiple-medal-winning diver Tom Daley—the nationalities of these LGBTQ athletes are pretty diverse, and that’s tremendously significant. For decades upon decades, LGBTQ athletes have had to remain in the closet, fearing that making their sexuality public would adversely affect careers (which for some athletes, has actually happened). Being out meant losing sponsors, contracts, and often, the support of teammates as well. Hence, to have so much queer visibility at a sporting event that is as internationally revered as the Olympic Games means to not only challenge the heteronormativity associated with sport, but to also be a huge source of inspiration for other aspiring LGBTQ athletes.

However, while the Olympics itself has been extremely welcoming towards its LGBTQ competitors, those who have been covering, telecasting, or even talking about the event have ended up being horrifyingly problematic, on more than one occasion. Some of the mistakes might have been unintentional, but many also reek of homophobia and bigotry. So, here’s our round-up of all the ways in which people went wrong when talking about queer athletes at the Olympics, and how we can avoid making similar mistakes:

When The Broadcast Failed To Acknowledge Tom Daley’s Fiancee

Olympic broadcasts love to talk about the romantic lives of athletes. When a (straight)  athlete’s wife, or husband, or partner, is in the audience during their event, the camera almost always pans on them, and the commentators even interview these partners either before or after the event. But, when British diver Tom Daley was competing in the men’s synchronized diving event (in which he earned the bronze), the network broadcasters failed to even mention that his fiancée, Oscar winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black was in the audience to cheer Daley on. Due to their celebrity status, Black and Daley’s relationship has been a highly public one (so much that Out Magazine even did an entire profile on them), so to not even acknowledge Daley’s sexuality and relationship, while the other (straight) competitors’ partners were shown, reeks of latent homophobia.

And this is something that happens over and over—and when being called out on it, telecasters and audiences alike respond with the argument that ‘Olympics is about sport, not sexuality’. In fact, one tweet even went on to say that the Olympics was too “pure” for such politics:

But it matters. Their queerness is important, and to ignore it is to reinforce the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell policy’, which in the long run, does more harm than good.

When An Announcer Referred to Larissa Franca’s Wife As ‘Her Husband’

When you can’t ignore an athlete’s same-sex partner, impose heteronormativity on them—that seems to be the policy these Olympics telecasters have going. When Brazilian beach volleyball player Larissa Franca rushed to hug and kiss her wife Lillianne after winning a medal, this is what announcer Chris Marlowe had to say: “She gives a hug to Lili. That is her husband.”

While Marlowe apologized later, his statement remains a commonly reiterated mistake. Often, we try to slot queer relationships into straight terms by asking ‘who’s the man in the relationship, and who’s the woman?’—not realizing that stable relationships can thrive without the imposition of such binaries. So, in talking about the same-sex relationships of Olympic athletes, let’s not continue to make the same mistake and impose such heterosexual constructs.

When A Reporter Outed Athletes Without Their Consent

In an article published on popular news portal, The Daily Beast, British reporter Nico Hines had attempted to provide readers with an “inside look” into the hookup culture inside Rio’s Olympic village, where many athletes live during the Games. He documented his use of various dating apps and talked about how he had “matched” with multiple athletes on Grindr, who still hadn’t publicly come out. Though the names of athletes weren’t mentioned, certain other details were, which pointed to their identities—essentially outing them. Recieving immense backlash, The Beast has now taken down the article, apologizing for how the article went against the website’s values, but the fact remains that, once made public, the identities of these people are still out there.

Here’s the thing—outing someone without their explicit consent is never okay, and especially not when you are doing it in the name of journalism. Various people have different reasons for not wanting to make their sexuality public—and for athletes (and other public figures), it’s even more difficult because being out could affect their careers. It’s okay to want to know more about the personal lives of your favourite athletes, but to jeopardize their privacy and consent like this is a grave violation.

When A BBC Commentator Made A Casually Homophobic Remark

During a the match between tennis players Johanna Konta and Svetlana Kuznetsova, a ‘kiss cam’ feature came on in a break, to which BBC commentator Paul Hand had a disturbingly homophobic statement to make. A ‘kiss cam’ is basically a camera which zeroes in on couples in the audience and has them kiss in public. But Hand said: “Let’s hope they don’t go on to two blokes sat next to each other.”

Which basically implies that straight couples kissing is absolutely legitimate, but when two men kiss, it isn’t.

His homophobia wasn’t directed towards the athletes, yes, but even encouraging this sort of a casually homophobic remark on something with as much viewership as an Olympic broadcast is absolutely ridiculous. If you celebrate LGBTQ athletes, but can’t respect queer audiences, that’s  not being inclusive.
The Olympics this year is a huge milestone for LGBTQ inclusivity—starting from Trans model Lea T leading the Olympic opening ceremony, to the lesbian Olympic volunteer who proposed to her girlfriend during a live broadcast. Hence, it is important that we celebrate and talk about it in the right ways, and try to avoid making these kinds of mistakes (whether intentionally or not). Let’s respect (and cheer for) all the openly queer athletes who are making history by not just excelling in their respective sporting events, but by also challenging ages worth of stigma and discrimination.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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