Although the Paralympic Games are now organised by the same committee as the Olympics and hosted in the same city they are very much separate events. They have very different origins and their own international governing body.
The first official Paralympic Games were held in Rome in 1960 just after the Olympics. Before this they were known as the Stoke Mandeville Games, named after the hospital where the games’ founder Sir Ludwig Guttman worked. Those first games were more akin to the modern Invictus Games where injured ex-service personnel competed. Sir Ludwig hoped his Stoke Mandeville games would become the “Olympics for the disabled”. In 1960 that hope came true.
Not every Paralympic Games has been held in Olympic host cities, so here’s a list of where they have been held.
1968 Tel Aviv
1984 Stoke Mandeville and New York
Since 1988 the Paralympics have shared host city and organising committee with the Olympic Games.
There have been relatively few identified lgbt Paralympic athletes compared to their Olympic counterparts, even as a percentage of total athletes. Here’s the full list in alphabetical order as of today’s date. There have been no known lgbt athletes at the Winter Paralympic Games.
Jen Armbruster (USA)
Goalball: 1992 Barcelona, 1996 Atlanta, 2000 Sydney, 2004 Athens, 2008 Beijing, 2012 London
Claire Harvey (GB)
Sitting volleyball: 2012 London
David Hill (GB)
Swimming: 2004 Athens
Hope Lewellen (USA)
Wheelchair tennis: 1996 Atlanta, 2000 Sydney
Sitting volleyball: 2004 Athens, 2008 Beijing
Asya Miller (USA)
Discus: 2000 Sydney
Goalball: 2000 Sydney, 2004 Athens, 2008 Beijing 2012 London
Lee Pearson (GB)
Equestrianism: 2000 Sydney, 2004 Athens, 2008 Beijing, 2012 London
Danielle Peers (Canada)
Wheelchair basketball: 2004 Athens, 2010 Vancouver Olympic torch relay
Stephanie Wheeler (USA)
Wheelchair basketball: 2004 Athens, 2008 Beijing
Kathleen Rose Winter (1956-2008) (USA)
Athletics: 1992 Barcelona
Fencing: 1996 Atlanta
Powerlifting: 2000 Sydney
There has been a continuous lgbt presence at the Paralympics since 1992 with only Jen Armbruster competing at all 6 games since then. She equals Robert Dover’s 6 Olympic appearances.
Robert Dover, the equestrian rider, brings me on to Lee Pearson, one of the most well-known Paralympians in the UK. He has appeared at 5 Paralympics since 2000 and has won at least 1 gold medal at each. Lee holds the record for the most Paralympic/Olympic medals for an lgbt athlete – 10 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze.
The Paralympic Games in which lgbt athletes won more medals than they did in the others was in Athens 2004. Lee Pearson won his second haul of 3 gold medals, Stephanie Wheeler won 1 gold, Jen Armbruster and Asya Miller won 1 silver apiece, and Hope Lewellen and Danielle Peers both won a bronze. The following games in Beijing 2008 provided the only 100% medal haul by the 5 lgbt Paralympians who were competing.
Several athletes have competed in more than one sport, even at the same Paralympics, as you can see from the above list. Kathleen Rose Winter competed in 3 events at 3 successive game. For more information about Kathleen see my article here.
As with the Olympics there is also a group of lgbt coaches, officials, volunteers and ceremony performers. Among the coaches have been former Olympian Rafael Polinario and Gay Games swimming medallist Michelle Weltman who have both coached swimmers, with Michelle’s swimmers winning 2 golds, 1 silver and 1 bronze over 3 Paralympic Games.
Among the officials has been Darren Stolz. He was the Senior Co-ordinator of the Canadian Paralympic teams at the 2008 Beijing games and in the run-up to the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter games.
Among the lgbt performers are Sir Ian McKellen, Miro Civin, Daryl Beeton and the London Gay Men’s Chorus who all performed at the London 2012 Paralympic opening ceremony.
Finally, the Paralympic torch relay has always been on a smaller scale than its Olympic counterpart. To date I’ve identified only one lgbt Paralympic torch relay runner. Canadian broadcaster and comedian Rick Mercer ran with the torch through Ottawa on 3rd March 2010 for the Vancouver games. Only one of the lgbt Paralympians has carried the Olympic torch. Danielle Peers carried the torch through the University of Alberta campus on 13th January 2010, again prior to the Vancouver Olympics.
Next time I change tack slightly and offer a quiz to help you celebrate the Rio Olympics and Paralympics with your own Pride party.