RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) – Isadora Cerullo got no medal at these Olympics. A ring will have to suffice.
Cerullo is a rugby player for Brazil and her team finished ninth at the Rio Games out of a 12-team field, well out of medal contention. When the competition was over, a volunteer walked onto the pitch and eventually got around to asking her a question.
The volunteer was her girlfriend, Marjorie Enya. The question was “will you marry me?” And as others surrounded them and held red heart-shaped balloons, Cerullo said yes.
Unlike the Sochi Games two years ago, where gay rights were called into question over anti-gay laws enacted by Russia’s government, the Rio Games seem to be increasingly tolerant by comparison. It hasn’t been flawless – for example, homophobic slurs were shouted by some in the stands at a U.S. women’s soccer match as the games opened – but there’s certain signs of progress on the inclusion front.
“That’s what I hope for and I feel like our society is going in the right direction,” said U.S. women’s basketball star Elena Delle Donne, who came out and announced her engagement last week. “That’s not a story. It’s normal.”
The new normal, perhaps.
Gay marriage is legal in Brazil, though tolerance seems far from universal. One gay rights group says that on average since 2013, about one LGBT person each day has been killed in Brazil. The organization called Grupo Gay da Bahia calls Brazil “the world champion of crimes motivated by homophobia and-or transphobia.”
“I know all the prejudice that exists in society against homosexuals,” said 2012 Olympic beach volleyball bronze medalist Larissa Franca of Brazil, who is competing again in Rio. “We don’t choose our feelings, let alone control them.”
So far in these Olympics, there seems to be far more cheering than prejudice.
Whether it was a transgender model appearing in the athletes’ parade at the opening ceremony, two men kissing during their leg of the torch relay along Copacabana Beach or the British women’s field hockey team including two teammates who are married – an Olympic first – it has already been a games unlike any other for the LGBTQ community.
“A lot of support,” Delle Donne said.
That’s as the International Olympic Committee intended, too. After Sochi, the IOC required future Olympic host cities to abide by rules that forbid any kind of discrimination, including with regard to sexual orientation.
“It’s in the charter that we don’t accept any discrimination on grounds of race or religion and sexuality is now included in that. But this kind of takes it even further,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams said Tuesday. “It’s a celebration of that and certainly made me feel good this morning when I heard about the story. So it’s excellent, excellent news.”
Cerullo’s engagement quickly made global headlines given the stage on which it occurred. Enya appeared, gave a rather impassioned and emotional speech about how Cerullo is the love of her life, and the couple sealed the moment with a kiss.
“That certainly made her very happy,” said Brazil rugby player Rachel Kochhann, one of Cerullo’s teammates. “We felt this joy in our group.”
Outsports.com reported that there are at least 46 publicly known LGBT athletes in the Rio Games, the highest number of any Olympics. British diver Tom Daley won a bronze medal in the synchronized competition, with his fiance in the stands to cheer him on – and whatever buzz that created didn’t seem to overshadow the medal accomplishment whatsoever.
Daley came out in 2013 and said he’s never been happier.
“I’m at my most consistent,” Daley said. “I feel ready physically, psychologically, everything, so I’m really excited.”
Daley said the support he’s gotten has been empowering, and British racewalker Tom Bosworth can relate. When Bosworth revealed his sexuality publicly last year, he said he was blown away by the support from those who already knew and people he never met.
“It’s actually spurred me on,” Bosworth said. “It’s actually given me more motivation. … Now I feel like I’m doing it for even more people than before.”
For Cerullo and Enya, it was an Olympic moment they’ll never forget.
The stadium was largely empty when Enya walked onto the grass with a microphone, volunteers gathered around as she spoke about what Cerullo means to her. The “ring” that Enya gave Cerullo was a simple piece of ribbon.
Gold ribbon, that is. After all, it was at an Olympics.
“I wanted to show people,” Enya said, “that love wins.”