If anyone deserves to rest on their laurels, it's Canadian soccer star Quinn. First, they came out as trans and nonbinary in September, opening the door for other trans and nonbinary athletes to follow in their footsteps. Then this year they helped Team Canada take home the gold medal in women's soccer at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo. It was the first gold medal for the squad, and also the first time an Olympic medal was won by an out trans athlete.
Despite the historic nature of their win, though, Quinn, 26, is quick to keep their eye on the ultimate goal. Ever the team player, they see the win as less a personal achievement and more as another step to a more just and inclusive world.
"Even at the highest level at the Olympics, there's still a lot of barriers in place for trans folks," Quinn says.
Along with New Zealand weight lifter Laurel Hubbard, Quinn brought much-needed international visibility to the cause of trans athletes during the Olympics. "Visibility is really significant, but I don't think visibility always equates to acceptance," they explain.
When asked about the greater significance of their performance in Tokyo, Quinn says it's "the message that everyone should be accepted in sports and that sports can be a place to find joy.... I think that I would love to just give the message that there's a hopeful future." -- Donald Padgett, Photo Naomi Baker/Getty
This past summer was a bittersweet experience for Raven Saunders. On August 1, the 25-year-old lesbian athlete won a silver medal for shot put at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, only to come crashing back down to Earth days later.
"I had no doubt in my mind that I would win a medal," she says. "But what I'd do on the podium after a summer filled of protest was uncertain in the moment."
That initial uncertainty ultimately gave way to a gesture of solidarity with Black people, the LGBTQ+ community, and folks like Saunders dealing with mental health issues, as she crossed her arms above her head on the podium as a symbol of intersectionality. The move recalled the famed Black Power salute by Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. Saunders's salute sparked an investigation by the International Olympic Committee, but she was unconcerned. On social media, she stood her ground and dared Olympic officials to take her medal. The issues she elevated with her gesture remain so important to her that she defines that moment, and not the medal, as her crowning personal achievement.
"This year I was most proud of my demonstration on the podium stand," she declares.
On August 3 came news that her mother, Clarissa Saunders, the woman she described as her "number one guardian angel" on social media, had died in Florida. The IOC's investigation was dropped and Saunders announced she would be tending to her family and mental health.
"The largest obstacle that I've had to overcome was facing myself and my mental health," she says. "A lot of times we all struggle with battling the outside world and we fail to realize that the real battle goes on internally."
Saunders describes her work today as "transformative in the way people are seen and accepted around the world," adding, "I try to give voice to the voiceless." She will "continue to inspire" through her motivational speaking as well as by being a visible representation of marginalized communities. --D.P., Photo Leidos
Although competitive video gaming -- or e-sports -- has been around for a while, as the years go by, the industry is becoming more and more mainstream. And it's folks like Dominique McLean -- better known to the world as SonicFox -- that are helping lead the charge.
In fact, the gay, nonbinary gaming professional, who is probably best known for donning their signature red, black, white, and blue fox fur suit whenever they compete, has used their massive platform of competing in some of the world's biggest e-sports competitions to advocate for the LGBTQ+ community -- like the time they waved the trans flag and had the announcer call them the "defender of trans rights" at this year's WePlay Ultimate Fighting League Mortal Kombat 11 tournament.
Although they humbly deny the label of "the LeBron James of gaming," it's a simple fact that SonicFox is one of this generation's best fighting game players, and to see the kind of inclusive impact they are having on the world of video games is something we absolutely need more of. -- Raffy Ermac, Photo Leon Bennett/Getty
Curt Miller, the gay general manager and head coach of the WNBA's Connecticut Sun, is a man with no peers.
"I am currently the only out gay male head coach in either pro basketball or Division I men's or women's basketball," says Miller, noting there are currently over 700 such coaching positions.
Very few straight coaches can match Miller's legacy of winning. In his 19 years as a head coach, Miller's teams have suffered only three losing seasons. This past season has been among his best, as he coached the Sun team to the best record in the league, thus earning his second WNBA Coach of the Year honor. The Sun's season ended when the team fell to the Chicago Sky in the semifinal round.
Miller took an abrupt sabbatical from coaching in 2014 for health reasons, leaving his position at Indiana University to also spend more time with his partner and their sons. He also used the time away from coaching to come out publicly. After his return to coaching, this time with the WNBA's Sun, he's intent on setting the path for future gay coaches.
"Representation and visibility are so important to the young men struggling in locker rooms around the world," he says. "I want to model that you can thrive in team sports either as an athlete, coach, or in the front office."
The 53-year-old Miller now judges his success as a coach not only by wins and losses on the court but also by the impact he's making.
"The legacy that I would like to leave during the back nine of my career is being a role model for young gay males in sport," Miller says. -- D.P., Photo Steven Freeman