Most of the media-induced conversations and gossips have always focused on male athletes and their ‘desirable’ quotient – even the ‘coming out’ stories of sportsmen from queer communities are somehow acknowledged (although with some dramatic resistance). While talking about LGBT people is a huge welcome in sports, the far more complicated experiences of lesbian female athletes have been massively tamed. So, ‘homophobia’ in women’s sports was, for a long time, always the elephant in the room.
But there have been many female athletes who had the courage to risk everything, right from their fans, endorsements to livelihoods and come out as gay.
And what better occasion than Women’s Day to celebrate lesbian athletes who made the walls come tumbling down and stood up for gay rights by choosing to live openly?
Billie Jean King (Tennis)
One of the greatest women’s tennis players of all time, Billie Jean King openly accepted she was gay in 1981 after revealing a relationship with her secretary, Marilyn Barnett. Interestingly, the legend called the affair a mistake and went back into the closet because of losing all her endorsements in a single day post the revelation. But once she made things official with her life partner Ilana Kloss in 1987, she eventually became a strong advocate for LGBT rights and was also selected by President Obama to serve on the U.S. delegation to the Olympics.
Martina Navratilova (Tennis)
Soon after the declaration of her on-court rival Billie Jean King, Martina bared her sexual orientation in a column in the Dallas Morning News. But unlike King’s calculated words, Martina came out unabashedly, setting an example for many LGBT athletes. She eventually got married to her longtime girlfriend, Julia Lemigova in 2014, after popping the question to her at the U.S. Open.
Megan Rapinoe, Soccer
Megan has been one helluva female athlete of modern times to have come right out of the closet unapologetically; just the way it’s supposed to be. She declared her sexual orientation post the 2012 Olympics in an interview and spoke about her not-so-secret relationship with a fellow female soccer player. Rapinoe’s courage and backing for gay rights even earned her a board of directors’ award from the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center in 2012.
Brittney Griner, Basketball
Griner has been quite vocal about the struggles she faced during her growing up years and how she was bullied due to her sexuality. Known for her dominant statistics and extraordinary ability to dunk in the women’s game, she is now one of the top supporters of anti-bullying in schools, particularly when it is directed towards the LGBT community.
Diana Nyad, Swimming
“If I have to totally closet that whole gay life and be out about town with a nice-looking guy, I’d say, ‘Not in a million years, never’.” These were the blunt words of Diana Nyad, the first person in sports history to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage at the age of 64. She was always clear about never wanting to date men and thought that the trauma of staying in the closet was pointless.
Sheryl Swoopes, Basketball
Sheryl was one of the first openly-queer African-American female athletes to proudly accept her sexual identity in 2005. This three-time recipient of the WNBA MVP award publicly came out by confirming her relationship with the then-Comets assistant coach Alisa Scott. Her sexual fluidity surprised the sports world because she is one of the few famous lesbian athletes who tied the knot with her male partner, Chris Unclesho. She was also judged for her personal choices and labeled as “lie-sexual” by cynics but that didn’t deter her from being ‘herself’.