On Monday when Canada beat the US 1-0 to advance to the women’s football final and guarantee themselves at least a silver medal, Quinn, their midfielder, took yet another step toward history. On Friday, they will become the first out transgender, non-binary athlete to win an Olympic medal.
Quinn won bronze with Team Canada in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, but they hadn’t yet come out. In 2020, they announced they were transgender, that they use they/them pronouns and that they would take Quinn as their full name.
When they came out, Quinn told the Canadian media that they wanted to be “a visible figure for young trans folks or people questioning their gender, people exploring their gender … Unfortunately when I was growing up and even going through that process of figuring out myself in college, I didn’t have those people in the public sphere to look up to, really.”
Quinn played college soccer at Duke from 2013-17 and became the highest-drafted Canadian player in NWSL history when the Washington Spirit picked them third overall in 2018. They now play for OL Reign in Seattle alongside Megan Rapinoe, the USWNT star who has been an outspoken advocate for gender equity and trans rights, among other progressive causes. And now, taking the field at the Olympics, Quinn will have their best chance yet to be the role model for trans youth they hope to become.
In Tokyo, Quinn is one of at least three transgender and/or non-binary athletes competing. New Zealand’s Laurel Hubbard, a transgender woman, competed in the 87kg weightlifting on Monday but failed to medal. And Alana Smith, a non-binary skateboarder, competed in the women’s street competition and finished 20th at the heat stage. (Chelsea Wolfe, a trans woman, also traveled to Tokyo with Team USA to the BMX competition as an alternate.)
In the lead-up to the 2020 Games, the International Olympic Committee allowed the International Weightlifting Federation to set its standards for transgender athletes, and Hubbard met all the requirements. Still, her presence at the Games triggered pushback; the New York Times reported that a Tongan official who attended Hubbard’s event suggested the Olympics create a separate division for trans women. At the skateboarding event, where Smith competed on a board with “they/them” written on it, broadcasters still identified them using inappropriate pronouns on air. Quinn has faced a similar problem; the media on some occasions has continued to call them by their birth name.
“I feel proud seeing ‘Quinn’ up on the lineup and on my accreditation,” Quinn wrote on Instagram on 22 July, at the outset of the Games. “I feel sad knowing there were Olympians before me unable to live their truth because of the world.” They continued: “I feel optimistic for change. Change in legislature. Changes in rules, structures, and mindsets. Mostly, I feel aware of the realities. Trans girls being banned from sports. Trans women facing discrimination and bias while trying to pursue their Olympic dreams. The fight isn’t close to over … and I’ll celebrate when we’re all here.”
Quinn was the first of the trans and non-binary athletes to compete in Tokyo, and when they stepped onto the pitch before a 1-1 draw against Japan, it was into a changing world around athletes and gender identity. In July, the IOC said it plans to adopt new guidelines around transgender women competing in sports because the current set of rules is out of date.
It certainly doesn’t reflect the growing presence of out LGBTQ+ athletes at the highest level of sports. Outsports reported in July that there would be at least 180 out LGBTQ+ athletes competing in Tokyo; in Rio, that number was just 56.
Since Quinn came out last year, Team Canada has welcomed their transition and embraced their identity. In June, the team presented them with a jersey printed with a rainbow No 5 (their shirt number), which they posted a photo of to Instagram. “They have embraced change and turned into uncomfortable conversations,” Quinn wrote of their team, “and I love them for it.”