The domino effect has become undeniable: More and more top gay athletes are coming out publicly, encouraged by the positive reactions to the coming out of their predecessors. This was also the case for professional basketball player Marco Lehmann: The Swiss athlete was encouraged to take this step by the outing of a countryman – schwinger Curdin Orlik came out in 2020.

“As a gay top athlete you become a good liar.”

This is the headline of the article in the Swiss daily paper Tages Anzeiger in which Lehmann had his coming out. He talks there about his two lives and their contradictions: His private life, in which he had long been out – and his life as a sportsman, in which he could never quite be himself.


No public kisses, no holding hands

At the age of 20, the now 27-year-old introduced his first boyfriend to his parents. Not a problem. On the pitch, even more so: after a victory, there was no kiss for his boyfriend, Lehmann high-fived him instead. Another taboo for Lehmann: walking through the city holding hands. The reason? A big fear was breathing down his neck:

“If no club wants me because I’m gay, my career will be over”.

He pretends for years. No one in the team knows: neither the coach, nor the club president, not even his best buddy. He takes his parents to a top scorer gala, not his boyfriend. When asked about a girlfriend, he always said he was married to the sport and had no time for anything else. Being a top gay athlete teaches you to lie well, he insists.


“They should kill themselves”


When he was finally ready to confide in his closest teammates, Lehmann had a terrible experience that set him back years in his plans. On a trip to an away game, he overheard teammates talking – one of them said gay people should kill themselves.

At the end of 2019, Lehmann’s life situation was so bad that he broke out in a cold sweat at the thought of basketball. Today he is sure: he wouldn’t have been able to play in 2020. But everything turned out differently anyway: due to the COVID pandemic the championship was cancelled, Lehmann’s love for basketball could recover. In autumn, he made the selection to the Swiss team for the shortened 3×3 championship announced by the Basketball World Federation.

Lehmann, who studied landscape architecture, has been playing in the National League A since 2016: At his club Swiss Central Basket, he was considered a top performer. The strong distance thrower was the best basket shooter in the league in the 2016/17 and 2017/18 seasons. In 2019 he moved to Fribourg Olympic, the contract expired in the same year.

The fact that Lehmann is now taking the step at the age of 27 and during his active career is due in large part to one person: Curdin Orlik, the first top athlete in Switzerland to come out publicly last year. Lehmann contacted him. He tells the Tages Anzeiger:

“He really understands me and my situation. You can only understand if you are a top athlete yourself.”


Activists hope for more outings

The Swiss organisation Pink Cross, which supports gay and bisexual men, hopes that Orlik and Lehmann have initiated a turnaround in  Swiss sport. Co-president Michel Rudin explained in the Tages Anzeiger his hope that other top athletes* will now feel encouraged:

“This is huge and could strengthen the domino effect that can be felt in Switzerland at the moment”.

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