By Lacey Yahnke
First, Katarzyna Zillmann became an Olympic medalist. Then, she spoke her truth.
On Wednesday, Zillmann – a member of Poland’s rowing team – won a silver medal in the women’s quadruple sculls event. It marked Poland’s first medal in Tokyo in any sport. Moments later, Zillmann grabbed the microphone during the post race interview and thanked her girlfriend, identifying herself as a member of the LGBTQ community.
The 26-year-old rower told the press this was not the first time she publicly addressed her sexual orientation. In March 2019, Zillmann posted a photo on herself on Instagram wearing a T-shirt that read “Sports Against Homophobia” in Polish.
Zillmann told the Polish news site Sportowe Fakty that receiving messages of support from young women in rowing – including one from a girl who described a tough home situation – helped her realize the magnitude of her platform.
Zillmann is one of over 175 out gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and nonbinary athletes competing for their countries in Tokyo — triple the number from the Rio Olympics in 2016.
While this total number may reflect the rising acceptance of LGBTQ people throughout sports and society, Poland has recently seen an increase in homophobia. President Andrzej Duda is public about his anti-LGBTQ platform, and local governments and authorities continue to silence gay rights activists in various Polish regions.
During the Olympics, you can also catch up on all of the major storylines in women’s sports by watching “On Her Turf @ The Olympics,” a 30-minute show that streams for free on Peacock. Hosted by Lindsay Czarniak, MJ Acosta-Ruiz, and Lolo Jones, the show streams Monday-Saturday at 7pm ET and Sundays at 6pm ET. It is also available as a podcast.