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Celebrating influential LGBTQ+ athletes

Pride Month 2023 Pride Month 2023

June is celebrated as Pride Month to commemorate the Stonewall Uprising, a series of protests by LGBTQ+ individuals in response to a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City. The raid occurred in the early hours on June 28, 1969, and the protests lasted several days. Ultimately, the protests sparked widespread activism within the LGBTQ+ community, and the Stonewall Uprising marks an important moment in the LGBTQ+ rights movement. 

While there has been much progress in LGBTQ+ rights, much work still needs to be done, specifically in the sports world. Recently, there has been an abundance of bans on transgender youth in sports in the United States and more laws banning gender-affirming care. While sports are supposed to be a safe space for everyone, the reality is that LGBTQ+ athletes continue to face discrimination. However, many LGBTQ+ athletes have broken stereotypes and led the way for future generations to follow in their footsteps. Here are some athletes that have impacted the sports world and beyond.


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Billie Jean King

Known as one of the greatest female tennis players of all time, Billie Jean King monumentally improved women’s tennis. King founded the Women’s Tennis Association in 1973 and was instrumental in fighting for equal prize money for female tennis players. On top of her fight for gender equality, King also advocates for the LGBTQ+ community in sports.

King was publicly outed in 1981 after a lawsuit from her former personal assistant Marilyn Barnett. The lawsuit revealed the women previously had an affair. King’s lawyers were quick to deny that fact without consulting King. On May 1, 1981, King held a press conference in Los Angeles where she revealed her truth–she did have an affair with Barnett. King became the first prominent female athlete to come out, but in the ultra-conservative era of the ’80s, King lost all of her endorsements.

King has since founded the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative, which advocates for equality in sports regardless of race, gender, religion or sexuality. She was a board member of the Elton John AIDS Foundation and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama in 2009 for her ongoing activism. King leaves a lasting impact on the tennis world and the sports world as a whole in her fight for equality.

Tom Waddell 

As the founder of the Gay Games, Tom Waddell had an enormous impact on LGBTQ+ athletes. Originally named the Gay Olympics Games, Waddell’s goal was to create a space where athletes could compete regardless of their sexual orientation or skill.

Waddell attended Springfield College in Massachusetts on a track scholarship and competed on the football and gymnastics teams. After the death of his best friend, Waddell switched to pre-medicine. He was drafted into the American Army in 1966 as a preventive-medicine officer and paratrooper. Waddell was shipped to Vietnam two years later to train as a decathlete for the 1968 Mexico Olympics, much to his surprise. In the decathlon event, Waddell placed sixth.

In the 1970s, Waddell called San Francisco home, largely due to the emerging gay culture in the city. Waddell participated in a Bay Area gay bowling competition, inspiring him to create the Gay Games. Waddell only saw the success of the 1982 and ’86 Games in San Francisco before his untimely death of AIDS in 1987. 

Waddell’s legacy will continue to live on as the 11th Gay Games will take place from November 3 to 11 in Hong Kong and Guadalajara, Mexico.


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Megan Rapinoe

Known for both her skills on the field and her activism off of it, Megan Rapinoe continues to make her mark in the sports world. Rapinoe has seen much success as a professional soccer player for the United States women’s national soccer team (USWNT) and the OL Reign of the National Women’s Soccer League.

Rapinoe won a gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics, where she became the first player to score an Olimpico–a goal from a corner kick–at the Olympic Games. She would score another Olimpico nine years later at the Tokyo Olympics. Rapinoe has also won two golds and one silver medal at the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Off the field, Rapinoe is leaving her mark. She was one of the athletes to show solidarity with Colin Kaepernick when she knelt during the United States national anthem in September 2016. She is an ambassador for Athlete Ally, an organization dedicated to ending homophobia and transphobia in sports. She has worked with the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network and the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee.

Since 2016, Rapinoe and her teammates have fought for equal pay between the United States women’s and men’s national soccer teams. In May 2022, U.S. Soccer announced a collective bargaining agreement to achieve equal pay. Rapinoe has not only established herself a legacy on the field, but she is also establishing one off of it.


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Greg Louganis

Known as one of the greatest American divers, Greg Louganis is a four-time Olympic gold medallist. He is the only man to sweep diving events in consecutive Olympic Games, where he cumulatively won four gold medals during the 1984 and 1988 Summer Olympics. Besides his Olympic medals, Louganis won five gold medals at the World Aquatics Championships and six gold medals at the Pan American Games.

However, his journey as an Olympic diver came with some bumps. Six months before the 1988 Olympics, Louganis was diagnosed with HIV. During the 1988 Olympic preliminary rounds, he hit his head on the diving board, causing a gash and concussion. Nevertheless, Louganis finished two more dives showcasing his resilience.

Louganis came out as gay during the 1994 Gay Games and, in 1995, revealed he was HIV positive. In an ESPN interview, Louganis revealed his diving team would have meetings without him to see who would share a room with him. He said while many people knew he was gay, “very few people” knew about his HIV. 

Since his retirement from diving, Louganis participated in dog agility competitions and has become an advocate for HIV awareness. From his exceptional diving career to his triumph over adversary, Louganis leaves a lasting legacy.


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Jason Collins

Former NBA player Jason Collins became the first publicly gay athlete to play in any of the four major North American pro sports leagues when he came out in 2013. An NBA center for 13 years, Collins was drafted 18th overall by the Houston Rockets in 2001. Collins would go on to play for the then-New Jersey Nets, along with the Memphis Grizzlies, Minnesota Timberwolves, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Washington Wizards and Brooklyn Nets.

In his early years, Collins was crucial in helping the Nets advance to back-to-back NBA Finals. In the 2010-11 season, he helped his Atlanta Hawks defeat the Orlando Magic by limiting Dwight Howard. After the 2013 season, Collins came out as gay in a Sports Illustrated cover story.

At the same time, Collins became a free agent hoping to sign another NBA contract. In February 2014, Collins signed a 10-day contract with the Brooklyn Nets. With the Nets, Collins wore no. 98 to honour Matthew Shepard, a gay university student murdered in a suspected hate crime. Collins’ jersey became the NBA’s best-selling jersey online. The NBA announced all proceeds from the sales would be donated to the Matthew Shepard Foundation and the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network.

Collins signed with the Nets for the rest of the 2014 season before announcing his retirement in November of the same year. Collins was inducted into the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame in 2013. Collins’ bravery cannot be forgotten in a sport dominated by masculinity.


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Renée Richards

As one of the first transgender professional athletes, Renée Richards paved the way for transgender rights in sports. A former tennis player, Richards is most known for fighting to compete as a woman during the 1976 US Open.

Richards attended Yale University, where she was the men’s tennis team captain and was considered one of the best college tennis players at the time. Following her graduation, Richards studied ophthalmology eventually becoming an ophthalmologist in the ’70s.

At the same time, Richards was pursuing a professional tennis career. However, when she was outed for having gender reassignment surgery, the United States Tennis Association (USTA), the Women’s Tennis Association and the United States Open Committee required female athletes to take Barr Body testing. Richards refused the test and could not play in any major tennis tournaments in 1976.

She sued the USTA in New York, alleging gender discrimination and violating New York’s human rights law. In 1977, the judge ruled in Richards’ favour stating she was a woman and the Barr Body testing was “grossly unfair, discriminatory and inequitable.” Richards competed in the 1977 US Open, where she lost in the first round of the singles competition but made the finals in the doubles competition.

Richards retired at age 47 with her highest ranking of 20th in 1979. After retirement, she coached Martina Navratilova to two Wimbledon titles. In 2013 she was inducted into the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame. Richards’ story highlights the complexities surrounding the inclusion of transgender athletes in sports, a conversation that is as vital today as it was in 1976.


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Adam Rippon

Due to his exceptional skating ability, Adam Rippon captured the hearts of millions with his performance, technique and personality. The now-retired American figure skater is most known for competing on the Olympic stage with Team USA at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics.

Rippon captured a bronze medal in the figure skating team event, but he made history off the ice as the first openly gay male athlete from the United States to secure a Winter Olympics medal. The 2018 Winter Olympics was the last time Rippon competed as he announced his retirement from figure skating in November 2018.

Besides his talent, Rippon remains an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ+ rights. Rippon questioned why the United States sent then-Vice President Mike Pence to lead the US delegation at the 2018 Olympics opening ceremony when Pence supported anti-gay policies.

Rippon remains active in the spotlight, having won season 26 of Dancing with the Stars, appearing in two music videos and numerous television shows. Rippon’s unapologetic self makes him an inspiration to many.


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Orlando Cruz

Puerto Rican boxer Orlando Cruz became the first openly gay professional boxer when he came out in 2012. His historic announcement challenged the heteronormative standards in boxing, and he inspired many people in the process.

Cruz competed in the 2000 Australian Olympics, where he represented Puerto Rico at 19 years old, but his career further progressed after his sole Olympic debut. Over his 18-year career, Cruz achieved a 25-7-2 record.

When Cruz first came out, he exclaimed he was “a proud gay man,” and throughout his career, he showcased that. One month after the Pulse nightclub shooting, where dozens of gay patrons were killed and wounded, Cruz dedicated his match to those who had lost their lives. Prior to the start of the fight, the boxing bell rang 49 times for the 49 victims in the shooting. Cruz won the fight in the seventh round by a knockout.

Cruz was inducted into the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame in 2013. He participated in a Lululemon campaign challenging traditional masculinity and was a Grand Marshall at Chicago’s Pride Parade in 2018. Cruz’s legacy extends beyond his boxing ability; he is a trailblazer in every aspect.


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Layshia Clarendon

Current Los Angeles Sparks guard Layshia Clarendon is known for their leadership skills and high basketball IQ. However, Clarendon is also known as the first openly non-binary WNBA player.

Clarendon was drafted ninth overall by the Indiana Fever in the 2013 WNBA Draft. They have played for the Fever, Atlanta Dream, Connecticut Sun, New York Liberty, Minnesota Lynx, and the Sparks. Clarendon has also represented Team USA at the 2018 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup, where they won a gold medal and at the 2009 FIBA U19 World Championship, where they won a gold medal.

In 2015, Clarendon publicly came out in an article from The Players Tribune, stating, “I identify as Black, gay, female, non-cisgender and Christian.” Five years later, Clarendon came out as non-binary, a person who does not identify as simply male or female.

Since they first came out, Clarendon has been a vocal advocate supporting the LGBTQ+ community in sports. They won Outsports’ Female Hero of the Year award in 2015 for their advocacy. Clarendon has also supported the social justice movement, most notably during the protest surrounding the shooting of Breonna Taylor. In 2020, Clarendon was named to the WNBA’s Social Justice Council for their activism. Clarendon is a role model both on and off the court.