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Greg Louganis is the Rose Parade’s First Out Gay, HIV-Positive Grand Marshal


America's Olympic champion winning diver is breaking new boundaries at an American institution.

When the Grand Marshals were announced this week for the 128th Rose Parade in Pasadena, California, they included  Janet Evans, Allyson Felix, and  Greg Louganis as the stars of this year’s parade known as the “Tournament of Roses." This would make Louganis the first openly gay Grand Marshall to ever headline the event in its one hundred and twenty-eight year history.

Even though reps from the Rose Parade haven’t issued an official statement to this historic milestone, San Jose's Mercury News reports, it’s evident that Louganis is definitely the first openly gay man. He’s also the first out HIV-positive person to do so.

“I hope it inspires people,” Louganis said, “and that they know they are loved.”

Known as the greatest American male Olympic diver of all time, Louganis competed in the 1976 games in Montreal, the 1984 games in Los Angeles and the 1988 games in Seoul. After learning he was HIV-positive, he famously hit his head on the diving board while competing in Seoul, jumpstarting a worldwide conversation about HIV.

In an exclusive interview with Plus, Louganis went into detail about his experiences at the Olympics and his documentary Back on Board. Upon release of the film, a petition called for him to be on the cover of the coveted Wheaties box — an opportunity he wasn’t granted, many believe, because of homophobia.

Three years ago, in the 2014 Rose Parade, many people were outraged at a float featuring a same-sex wedding, sponsored by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the Advocate reported. In fact, several extreme Christian groups called for Christians to boycott the celebrations, holding anti-gay signs. At the time, Pastor Kevin Swanson even considered building his own float depicting LGBT people being stoned to death. Two years later, the organization's efforts to increase LGBTQ visibility has strengthened. 

Local activists are taking notice of this historical moment. Aaron Sauenz, board president of the San Gabriel Valley LGBTQ Center in Arcadia said the choice of Louganis as Grand Marshal has a much wider effect than we realize.

“It’s really forward thinking,” said Saenz. “It’s adding to the conversation that a respected Olympian, who also happens to be gay and living with HIV, can receive such a great honor and is part of the community at large.”

Louganis married in husband Johnny Challiot in 2013, and in the last few years has been an activist for LGBTQ rights and HIV awareness. As a result of his courage and breavery, he has inspired other Olympians like Ji Wallace to come out publically as well, further displaying the power of LGBTQ visibility.

Louganis, Evans, and Felix will ride their floats down Colorado Boulevard on January 2, the theme being “Echoes of Success” — a title befitting a great man, and a great moment in the organization’s history. 

Watch Louganis' acceptance speech upon being bestowed the honor below.

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