Sir Lee Pearson said he hopes his status as one of the world’s leading Paralympians can inspire greater tolerance of homosexuality and disability as he scorned bigoted communities stuck in the “stone ages”.
Equestrian star Pearson – one of Great Britain’s most high-profile gay sportsmen – cantered to the 12th Paralympic gold of his distinguished career by winning the grade two individual dressage on day two of Tokyo 2020.
For the sixth time in his life, the 47-year-old is competing at a global Games which has inclusivity at its heart, yet features many athletes who hail from nations where homophobia is commonplace.
Staffordshire-born Pearson insisted he is just a “horse rider from the middle of Britain” but also gave an impassioned speech regarding the ongoing fight against discrimination, declaring “love has to prevail”.
“I am not political, I have made change just by being,” said Pearson, who has arthrogryposis multiplex congenita, meaning he cannot move his ankles or knees.
“There are people out there who have chained themselves to gates and do fight, I wouldn’t be here if those people hadn’t fought.
“Sometimes society changes government. But also sometimes government have to be brave and help change society.
“I am a horse rider from the middle of Britain. I just ride horses, but if me riding horses can help one person in a sticky situation or they cannot accept themselves, or their family is struggling, then I hope it does help somebody. Love has to prevail. Whatever shape or form of love.
“Love has to prevail with disability, if you are born with one, a child of disability, if you are born with the same-sex attraction, if your daughter or son comes out; just love them.
“Nobody wants to be different but we have to embrace different people, that is society, that is the world, those people they are not going away.
“Somewhere in the world another gay boy will be born, somewhere else in the world they will be born with no limbs. Life goes on.
“It is silly in this day and age where people are still in the stone ages, as we say – 100 years behind.”
Glory for Pearson came as part of a trio of GB dressage medals on Thursday, with debutant Georgia Wilson taking bronze in the same event before Sophie Wells added a grade five silver.
A score of 76.265 on homebred horse Breezer – named after sire Bacardi – brought tears of joy, as well as moving him third on GB’s list of all-time Paralympic gold medallists, behind only Mike Kenny and Dame Sarah Storey.
However, ahead of two more medal opportunities in Japan, he was eager to play down that achievement.
“I don’t like the numbers game. This is not against Sarah by the way at all – Dame Sarah – but it’s because every sport has the number of medals that you can win,” he said.
“If you’re in the wheelchair rugby team and you get a gold medal, that’s phenomenal, but you don’t get a second chance, you don’t get a freestyle to music to do and you don’t get an individual like we’ve done today.
“I understand why the numbers are significant but it’s not really fair, do you know what I mean?
“Some people come here to win one gold medal and some have the opportunity to win seven. And don’t.”