Following the 2018 BMX World Championships, Stefany Hernández discusses her position as a gay sportsperson, and her desire to see the world of sport become more LGBTQ-friendly.
With the 23rd UCI BMX World Championships taking place in Baku, Azerbaijan this month, it is worth taking note of one Venezuelan in particular who competed in the elite women’s event – and not just because of her wild and distinctive frizzy hair.
As well as being one of the world’s foremost female BMX racers – having won the World Championship for the first time in 2015 and a bronze medal at the Olympic Games Rio 2016, during which she was also the Venezuelan flag bearer at the closing ceremony – Stefany Hernández is a gay woman, and has passionately supported LGBTQ rights throughout her sporting career.
June is an important time of the year for the community, with Pride Month being celebrated all over the world to advance the cause of the LGBTQ movement. Hernández argues that through promoting the values of sport, society can be changed for the better – using her own country as an example.
“I have a feeling that I have a mission in life,” she reveals. “I want to dedicate my life to that, and unite society to the values of sport. In my country of Venezuela, there has been a lot of division over the past 20 years due to political tensions.
“But when the Olympic Games come about, or the Venezuelan football team are playing, everyone in the country unites. Sport has the power to unite people and societies. And what makes sport special is the athletes, and the athletes’ values.”
Love is love
Hernández is engaged to Marina, a Swiss woman with whom she lives in the country. An avid user of social media sites such as Instagram, the Venezuelan regularly posts images of the two together, often accompanied by pro-LGBTQ hashtags such as #loveislove and #queer.
Her message is clear: being yourself and loving openly should never be a barrier to happiness in life. However, Hernández admits that coming out as gay and her sense of pride in who she is has been a long and sometimes difficult process.
“In the past, I used to struggle a lot with being open about my sexuality and about the things I was feeling, because I always told myself that athletes should just be athletes, and nothing else,” the 26-year-old says.
“But actually, when you show yourself as you truly are, tell your story and start being yourself, you can make things happen and lead your life by doing whatever you’re passionate about.”
The power of the Games
Hernández is well aware of the Olympic Movement’s capacity to inspire, having been chosen as an official Athlete Role Model (ARM) at the upcoming Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Buenos Aires 2018.
And one spectacle from earlier this year stands out for the Venezuelan as an example of the unifying power of the Games.
“There was something so beautiful about the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, when the teams from Republic of Korea and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea got together as one,” she says.
“I got goosebumps watching that. I’m getting very emotional just talking about it. Sport has the power to reveal our human side. It allows us to be comfortable being human, to show ourselves, to talk to people openly about who we are and what we do.
“I think that is the best example to give to a healthy and empathetic society.”
Making a difference
In terms of her short-term goals, Hernández is hoping to win a second World Championship title in Baku this month, before a tilt at the gold medal when the Olympic Games head to Tokyo in 2020.
But her ambitions do not end on the BMX track. Eventually, she envisages a return to her homeland, where her advocacy of the social causes that are so dear to her will continue in earnest.
“I love my country; even though I live in Switzerland and the IOC and all the International Federations are here, I still see myself working in Venezuela in the future,” she reveals.
“I want to unite Venezuelan society, champion the core human values that can be found at the heart of sport, and educate people about everything beautiful that comes with the Olympic Movement.”