|Ji Wallace, Emy Ritt, Karen Hultzer, Shamey Cramer|
Belinda Goldsmith from Reuters interviews Gay Games Ambassador Ji Wallace and co-president Emy Ritt for her feature on newly out archer Karen Hultzer:
Aug 5 (Reuters) - South African archer Karen Hultzer hopes coming out as a lesbian at the London Olympics will help people struggling with their sexuality and add to the fight against homophobia in sport.
One of 23 openly gay and lesbian athletes at the London Games, Hultzer waited until after her event to go public.
After finishing 46th out of 64 in the women's archery, she said most athletes were so focused on their performance that they could not fight other battles while competing.
"I hope this gives people some courage. The more we come out and talk about it, the more people should realise that being gay is a non-issue and we can progress," Hultzer, 46, who has only been shooting for five years, told Reuters.
Ji Wallace, who won a silver medal in the men's trampoline at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and came out in 2005, said there were two key reasons for athletes staying in the closet during their career.
Firstly, most athletes were young, still coming to terms with their sexuality, and often too busy for relationships. Bullying on school sports fields was the start of gay athletes hiding their sexuality as they wanted support from team mates.
Second, it came down to money. Athletes feared losing sponsorship or endorsements if they came out.
"Athletes need to focus totally on themselves and their game so they can chase their dreams and goals," Australian Wallace told Reuters. "It is those of us who have finished competing to fight for future generations."
At London, gay rights campaigners have called on the IOC to uphold the Olympic charter on equality and take a firm stand against homophobia, much as the Olympic movement has tackled racism and sexism.
Emy Ritt, co-president of the Federation of Gay Games, said the campaign had notched up a small victory by successfully lobbying London organisers to sanction the first official gay and lesbian pin featuring a rainbow, the symbol of gay pride.
"In the professional sports world we are seeing more and more athletes coming out because the younger generation sees this as far less of a stigma," Ritt told Reuters.
"But we need to make sure that organisations like the IOC encourage equal rights for gay, lesbian and transgender athletes so they feel safe coming out."
Jonathan Cooper, a barrister and chief executive of human rights organisation Human Dignity Trust, said the Olympics were a good opportunity to highlight the 78 countries around the world where homosexuality was illegal.
"Criminalisation is a major systemic human rights problem. With criminalisation comes HIV, violence and exploitation," said Cooper.
Hultzer, who juggles her six-hour-a-day training with running a landscaping business, hoped athletes coming out as gay would help teenagers who are struggling with their sexuality and found themselves bullied online.
"We need to stand up as role models to show that it is not bad to be gay and it is normal," she told Reuters. (editing by Michael Holden)
Read in full HERE.