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August 08, 2012

Gay Veteran Fencer Takes on Human Rights in the Olympics

By Rasika Teredesai

This blog is part of the Olympics 2012 and Human Rights series.

Imke Duplitzer: 37 years old from Germany. Events: Women’s Epee (Individual and Team). Photo by Mueller/Bongarts/Getty Images

Imke Duplitzer understands that as an Olympic-level athlete she can be a vehicle for change. The veteran German fencer works arduously to promote human rights in the Olympics, to highlight LGBT athletes worldwide, to increase accessibility of sports for people with disabilities, and, above all, to support athletes’ right to speak out against discrimination and human rights worldwide.

In 2008 Duplitzer skipped the Opening Ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics. While she recognized the importance of the opening ceremonies, she boycotted them to register her disapproval of China’s human rights record. She also signed an open letter with 40 other athletes to the Chinese president to protest China’s actions towards Tibet and Darfur as a part of an international campaign to persuade China to end its human rights violations. Though these actions did not ultimately change China’s behavior, Duplitzer is a true representative of the Olympic movement because of her willingness to stand up for the human rights standards outlined in the Olympic charter.

As an openly gay athlete, Duplitzer is contributing to the growing acceptance of LGBT athletes at the Olympic games. Activists have worked to combat the discrimination against, and in some cases the criminalization of, LGBT people in many countries participating in the Olympics. After initial reports to the contrary, UK and European organizations are repeating the successful “Pride House,” a venue to support and celebrate LGBT participants, that was first featured at the Vancouver Olympics. Duplitzer is featured in an exhibit at the Pride House, “Against the Rules.” Other athletes highlighted included Martina Navratilova and Greg Louganis.

Duplitzer discovered fencing at the young age of 11, and the London Games will mark her fifth Olympics. At 37, she is still a master of the épée, a rigid, heavier fencing sword with a blunt point. Though she did not medal in these games, Duplitzer won a team silver medal for Germany in the 2004 Athens games.

In her home country of Germany, Imke Duplitzer also teaches wheelchair fencing and promotes wheelchair fencing tournaments, encouraging participation in a new sport for people with disabilities.

Duplitzer’s contributions as a fencer and as an activist should inspire all athletes to pursue their Olympic dream, but not at the cost of their individuality. As we continue to watch this year’s games, we can only hope that more athletes will be courageous enough to stand up for their beliefs in order to fulfill all of the goals of the Olympic movement.