On June 28th, 1969, police raided a local bar in Manhattan that served as a safe place for the queer and trans community. The protests that came after that, also known as the Stonewall protests, transformed the gay and trans liberation movement and helped shape it into what we know today. Every June, allies and members of the LGBTQ+ community come together to remember and honor the protests that changed LGBTQ+ history forever.
During Pride month, queer history is taught, memorials are held for one we have lost to HIV/AIDS, and pride parades are held to celebrate inclusion and diversity. According to Britannica.com, it is estimated that more than two million individuals attended the 2007 Europride event in Madrid. As we come together to celebrate our sexual orientations and gender expressions, we must take time to appreciate athletes that have been and are fighting against oppression in their sports.
In the past few years, we’ve seen many queer and trans athletes come out and provide representation in their respective sports. ResilientHer has another article about LGBTQ+ representation, and the link to view the article will be attached here. However, this article will focus on past and present individual athletes and the changes they are making in their respective sports.
Although many athletes in the past were pressured to conform to heteronormative standards, a few were open about their sexuality and gender identities. One of these athletes was Tom Waddell. A decathlete for the 1968 Olympics, Waddell placed 6th in his event and broke 5 of his own records throughout his ten events.
Heavily immersed in the gay culture in San Francisco in the ’70s, Waddell decided to create the Gay Olympics, and the first one was supposed to take place in 1982. After being sued by the United States Olympic Committee (for using the word “gay” in front of the word “Olympic” was considered “injurious”), the now Gay Games took place.
It became instantly popular, for its focus on diversity and inclusivity. In 1987, Waddell lost his life to HIV, but his legacy lives on in the continuation of the Gay Games.
Another LGBTQ+ historical athlete is Renée Richards. After undergoing gender reassignment surgery (mtf) in 1975, Richards was excited to get back to playing tennis. However, in 1976 she was banned from competing in the U.S Open unless she completed a chromosomal test.
After suing the United States Tennis Organization, Richards won the right to play again after a Supreme Court ruling. In 1981, Richards retired from tennis.
The last historic LGBTQ+ athlete is María José Martínez-Patiño. Martínez-Patiño was raised and socially conditioned as a woman. As a track runner, she planned to compete for Spain in the World University Games in Kobe, Japan.
After forgetting her gender certificate, she was forced to take a new exam. This exam revealed that Martínez-Patiño had XY chromosomes, making her intersex. In 1986, she was told to fake injury to stop her from competing in events, but she went on and won her event.
When the press found out about her chromosome test, she was kicked off her team, her sports scholarship was taken away, and her running times and score were erased from the athletics records. Martínez-Patiño has still not received an apology from her sporting team or organization.
Although being part of the LGBTQ+ community still harbors discrimination in the sports world, many more athletes today feel safe to come out and express themselves freely. One of these athletes is Megan Rapinoe.
Another athlete is Matthew Mitcham. Mitcham used diving as an escape, having presented as straight to his teammates for years. After coming out as gay in 2008, right before his first Olympics. During his final routine, Mitcham set an Olympic record score for a single dive – 112. This made him the first openly gay individual champion at the Olympics.
Kye Allums came out as transgender when he was playing on the women’s basketball team at George Washington University in 2010. This makes him the first openly transgender NCAA Division I athlete. Today, he travels the country talking to students about what it means to be transgender.
While speaking on trans people’s role in sport, Allums says, “Everyone’s attitude towards trans people is not going to change overnight, and for some, they may never change, but I think as long as us trans folks continue to be our true selves, and fight for what we believe in, change will continue to happen whether people are ready for it or not” (Steinmetz, Katy. “Kye Allums Q&A: The First Openly Transgender NCAA Athlete.” Time, Time, 30 Oct. 2014).
The final current LGBTQ+ athlete in this article is Quinn. Quinn came out as Non-Binary in 2020. After winning the bronze medal for soccer with the Canadian team at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, they took home gold in the 2021 Olympics as well. They became the first-ever openly transgender and nonbinary athlete not only to win gold but to medal at all in the Olympic Games.
On another end note, in 2021, Las Vegas Raiders defensive lineman Carl Nassib became the first current NFL player to announce they are gay. No currently playing NHL or Major League Baseball Player has come out as gay.
In the modern world, members of the LGBTQ+ community are still fighting for justice and equality. Even as times change and LGBTQ+ rights progress, many athletes are still forced to hide their identity or sexuality. Honoring those who fought before us and are currently fighting now for LGBTQ+ rights in athletics opens the discussion and normalizes questioning the institutions that allowed for this discrimination.
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