There are more than 10,000 athletes from 204 countries (technically, Olympic committees) competing in 302 events in 26 sports at the Olympics in London this summer.
Estimates of what percentage of the world population is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender range from 1% to 10%. That means that at a minimum, there should be 100 LGBT athletes at the games. Since it is generally accepted now that the LGBT population is in fact much higher than 1%, we could guess that the actual number of LGBT athletes could be 500 to 1000 or even more.
And yet, according to a recent article here in the Huffington Post by Kevin Burra, there are only 22 out athletes in the games. That's just 0.22% of the Olympic population. Clearly that's very far off from what the real number must be.
Why are so few athletes at these games out?
As Burra pointed out, yes, a number of the LGBT athletes may well be from countries where being LGBT is illegal, and perhaps even punishable by death. This may be a reason for them to claim asylum while they are over here in England.
There are over 75 countries in the world where being LGBT is illegal, which is shocking in this modern age where we have made so much progress in terms of human rights, but it shows how far we still have to go.
However, even if we subtract 75 from 204, we are still left with 129 nations that could conceivably have out Olympians. The out athletes Burra refers to are from Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, the US, the UK, Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark, and South Africa. In other words, they are from just 10 out of those 129 countries. Also, a great majority of them are lesbians, which leaves us wondering in particular about the gay males and the bisexuals.
It is obvious, then, that many LGBT athletes are afraid or unwilling to be out at the Olympics. While there is something to be said for keeping one's private life private, we also have to remember how much we still have to work for in terms of LGBT rights.
If people don't make themselves visible and don't speak up for who they are, then progress in regard to gaining equal rights and acceptance will be slow. That is why we need people to be open about their sexuality and/or gender identity and to be out and proud.
The Olympics are supposed to inspire a generation. This doesn't just mean inspiring young people to try one sport or another; it means inspiring them to be themselves, to accept themselves, and to live the best possible life they can.
We must be very grateful to those 22 Olympians who are out and who are willing to be public in order to inspire a generation.
But we also need to wonder about what is holding back all those who are not out, and we have to both encourage them to come out and also work to improve human rights around the world so that at an Olympics in the very near future, we actually will see a percentage of out athletes that matches the percentage of LGBT people in the world.
That really would inspire a generation.
Follow B.J. Epstein on Twitter: www.twitter.com/bjepstein