With one-half of her hair dyed green and the other purple, 25-year-old American and lesbian-identified Raven Saunders placed second in the shot put event of the Tokyo Olympics. This physically strenuous sport falls under the umbrella of track and field, requiring participants to run and throw a ball, or “shot,” as far as possible. Saunders won fifth place in shot put during the 2016 Rio Olympics and tenth in the 2017 U.K. World Championships.
During this year’s Games, Saunders has made headlines for a multitude of things, including her “Hulk” style face mask and her self-appointed moniker of “Flaming Gay.”
She posted the following statement on Twitter:
“Shout out to all my Black people, shout out to all my LGBTQ community, shout out to everybody dealing with mental health. Because at the end of the day, we understand that it’s bigger than us and it’s bigger than the powers that be.”
After achieving the Olympic silver medal, Saunders put her arms above her head, crossing them into an “X.” She says that it is meant to symbolize “the intersection of where all people who are oppressed meet.”
Saunders has never hidden her suicidal thoughts or near-attempts. When attending the University of Mississippi, she says that she felt alone as a Black, queer woman amidst a crowd of conservative and primarily white classmates. “I just felt like I was in over my head,” Saunders recalls. “I was probably about 10 or 15 minutes from trying to end my life.”
In those moments of despair, frustration and isolation, Saunders messaged her therapist and checked herself into a mental rehabilitation facility. Saunders continues to live with her depression, PTSD and anxiety every day, but says that her key to staying afloat is positivity and openness.
“All these things [were] weighing on me for 22 years,” Saunders offers. “I was finally able to process it. I was finally able to separate Raven from ‘The Hulk.’”
Saunders pointed out that people in the American Black community often fall short of support from family and friends for mental health issues and seeking treatment. Her goal is to end the stigma surrounding therapy, medication and self-care in all communities.
In the meantime, Saunders continues to send out messages of support for everyone in the world with piercings, tattoos, colorful hair dye or any other “out of the norm” physique.
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