Profiles of LGBT people, from the past and today – and celebrating their birthdays! All Birthdays →

Tom Waddell

Olympic Athlete Tom Waddell was born to working-class parents in Paterson, New Jersey. His dad drove a bus and his mom worked in a delicatessen. After they divorced, Tom was taken in and adopted by Hazel and Gene Waddell, a neighbor couple who performed as acrobats. They encouraged his athletic talents as a gymnast in high school and college. After getting his medical degree in 1965, Waddell joined the Army, but refused an assignment to Vietnam. Rather than courts martial him, the Army sent him to train for the US Olympic decathlon team. Waddell took sixth place at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. In the 1970s he moved to San Francisco, and he and his partner were the first gay couple featured in People Magazine. In 1982, Waddell founded the Gay Olympic Games so that gay and lesbian athletes could compete in a welcoming environment. The US Olympic Commission sued to deny him use of the term “Olympics.” Renamed the Gay Games, the event has become a major international gathering of LGBT athletes and continues today. Through the Gay Games, Waddell met Sarah Lewinstein, with whom he fathered a child in 1983. Diagnosed with AIDS in 1985, he died two years later on July 11, 1987.