August 9, 2016
By Rianna Lee

OLY-2016-RIO-OPENING
Lea T, a transgender Brazilian model, biking out to introduce the host team during the Olympic opening ceremony

This past Friday, the 2016 Summer Olympics kicked off in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, marking the beginning of the 30th Summer Olympic event since the international multi-sport event first began in 1896. The event has already made history for hosting the most lesbian, gay, and bisexual athletes in Olympic history. This event will also go down in history as one of the most trans-inclusive sporting events to date, although it is being hosted in a country that is less-than-accepting of LGBT folks.

Introducing the Brazilian team at the opening ceremony was transgender Brazilian supermodel, Leandra Medeidros Cereza. Known as Lea T to the fashion and modeling industry, she’s the first transgender woman to take part in any Olympic ceremony. According to Huffington Post, Cerezo spoke about her involvement in the ceremony to BBC Brazil, “We are all human beings and we are part of society,” Cerezo told BBC Brazil. “At this time, in which Rio de Janeiro and Brazil will be presented to the world, it’s essential that diversity is present. Brazil is a vast country and all its diversity should be somehow represented in this event.”

Additionally, following new guidelines adopted by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the 2016 Games also marks the first Olympic event where transgender people are allowed to compete in the games without sex reassignment surgery. Previously, athletes had to undergo sexual reassignment surgery or have undergone at least two years of hormone therapy. Now, female athletes are only required to maintain testosterone levels below a certain level. While there are no openly transgender athletes at the games, two transgender athletes are reportedly competing in this year’s games, but their identities are not known.

Brazil has an unfortunate reputation for being one of the most dangerous places for LGBT people, particularly transgender women. On average, one LGBT Brazilian is murdered every day, according to Grupo Gay de Bahia, Brazil’s oldest and most prominent LGBTQ organization founded in 1989. According to Dr. Toni Reis of the Brazilian National LGBT Association, the high incidence of hate-related attacks stems from the Brazilian culture of “machismo” which is intolerant of gender nonconformity and frequently responds to it with acts of violence. As a result, Brazilian transsexuals, which is what they are called and identify as in South America, experience poor employment prospects and a drastically shortened life span due to the rampant violence against them.

LGBT inclusion in this year’s games is unprecedented, and it would be a huge step forward in any context. However, given that the host city of this year’s games is in a country with some of the highest rates of LGBT violence reported in the industrialized world, it is more of a symbol of freedom, strength, and perseverance among the international LGBT community than anything. After all, LGBT people just want to do more of what makes them happy and to experience less discrimination and hate while they do it.

To learn more about transgender athletes, watch this video. To learn more about LGBT discrimination in Brazil, read the Human Rights Campaign’s report here.


Rianna is a summer intern for the Thomas Merton Center and a senior at Duquesne University, studying international relations and sociology. She is interested in law and public policy surrounding gender and women’s rights.