On this blog I educate on different queer identities, but I think folks need to remember that LGBTQ+ people can hold intersecting identities. Some may put them in a double minority like people of color and (dis)abled folks. Another identity folks can take on is being an athlete. While I don’t think athletics is commonly looked at in the marginalized way LGBTQ+ identities are, I do think LGBTQ+ athletes face struggles that non-LGBTQ+ athletes don’t. Here, I’ll talk about the history of LGBTQ+ athletes, stereotypes, gay games, and some challenges of LGBTQ+ athletes.
I think the easiest way to talk about the athletes in the LGBTQ+ Community is to list folks who have come out over the years. Check it out:
Billie Jean King (1973)– first lesbian tennis player that won a tennis match called “Battle of the Sexes”
David Kopay (1975)– National Football League; first professional team sport athlete to come out as gay
Renée Richards (1977)– trans tennis player denied to play in the 1976 US Open and sued for gender discrimination and won the case to play in the 1977 tournament. She is also the first transgender athlete to undergo gender confirmation surgery.
Martina Navratilova (1981)– tennis champion, came out as lesbian in the NY Daily News
David Slattery (1993)– ’70s manager of the Washington Redskins who came out as gay
Mianne Bagger (1995)– Danish golfer; Second professional transgender athlete to be accepted into a professional sporting competition after Richards (Bailey).
Muffin Spencer-Devlin (1996)– professional golfer whose lesbian identity was mentioned in Sports Illustrated
Rudy Galindo and Doug Mattis (1996)– professional figure skaters came out as gay, Galindo in his book and Mattis soon after
Sheryl Swoops (2005)– professional basketball player and now coach; one of the first African-American women to come out as gay, but is now married to a man. She received bad coverage about her sexuality being a lie, and didn’t come out as bisexual.
Keelin Godsey (2012)– first transgender athletes to represent the US at the Olympics. Keelin is a trans man, but was pre-transition so he had to compete on the Women’s team.
Jaiyah Saeula (2011)– first transgender athlete to play in a FIFA World Cup qualifier of the American Samoan team, which constantly did poorly. Check out the team’s success story in the film Next Goal Wins.
Megan Rapinoe (2012)– U.S. National Soccer Team player, identity revealed in Out magazine about her relationship with another soccer player on a women’s team
Fallon Fox (2013)– Successful MMA fighter who came out publicly in an interview with The Guardian. Other players made allegations that she had an unfair advantage (Bailey).
Conner Mertens (2014)– The first active college football player to come out publicly as bisexual, now a resource and inspiration for young LGBT athletes
Caitlyn Jenner (2015)– 1976 Olympian, Caitlyn came out as transgender after being seen for years in the popular reality show Keeping Up With the Kardashians
Chris Mosier (2016)- first openly trans man to make a Men’s US National Team of Sprint Duathon team in 2015 and in 2016 “he made his second and third US National Teams in Long-Course Duathlon and Sprint Triathlon” (transathlete). His ability to compete in 2016 in the World Dual Championships was due to new laws on transgender athletes that you can read about here.
Stereotypes and Myths
Sports are a place where LGBTQ+ stereotypes are very present in the way masculinity and femininity get placed on sports. As explained in Gender Relations in Sport:
“…boys who show an interest in figure skating or gymnastics often are called ‘sissy’ or ‘faggot‘ because they are not ascribing to masculine gender ideology. Girls and women who develop attributes for success in sports, such as muscularity, assertiveness, and competitiveness often are labeled ‘butch,’ ‘dyke,’ or ‘lesbian‘ (Rober).
Speaking of the gender binary, some sports that are categorized are stereotyped as popular for the queer community are gymnastics, figure skating, and swimming for gay men and tennis, rugby, and softball for women.
As we can see, athletes who identify within the LGBTQ+ Community are embracing their passions whether it is stereotypical of them or not.
Homophobia and Biphobia in Sports
In 2013, a bisexual woman from the UK wrote a dissertation that you can read here on biphobia in sport, where conclusions came mainly from football culture. Some of her main findings included:
“In mainstream football culture, non-heterosexual identities are stigmatized because practices of inclusion require new players to outwardly identify as heterosexual in order to be accepted at their club’s initiation stage.”
“The overall feeling from the participants was that football is not yet ready for gay or bisexual players to ‘come out’ in the game, but that in future, this will become possible.”
“Many of the female footballers interviewed gave examples of times when they had
experienced homophobic bullying from males on their counterpart teams when traveling to away matches.”
“Interestingly, the interviewees hailing from the male LGBT leagues also indicated that bisexuality and queer/fluid/non-labelled identities were not taken as seriously because they did not satisfy the normative criteria for sexual identity in those spaces which was to identify as exclusively gay.”
“The bisexual identifying athletes…felt compelled to hide away their ‘straight side’ to the point where they would actively refrain from bringing female partners along to matches or club-based social events.”
More and more I think we see new organizations and events being started to include the LGBTQ+ Community or marginalized communities in general because not all of the more popular ones are not safe or welcoming. In the sports world, an example of this is the Gay Games. Started in 1982 in San Francisco, California, the Gay Games “enable people from all walks of life to compete against each other regardless of skill level, age or physical challenge” (Frequently). You can find out more here.
A survey was done by Out on the Fields on homophobia in sports, where of the participants identities are as followed:
1048 (55%) Gay; 385 (13%) lesbian; 1316 Straight/heterosexual (44%); 220 Bisexual + Other (please specify) + Choose not to disclose (7%)
I hope this gets you thinking about how LGBTQ+ people are all around us, from the Olympics to the pool to the street. Be sure to check out the sources below and additional resources I’ve added below.
Acosta, G. Don’t Forget These 8 Lesbian Athletes Who Stood Up for Gay Rights. Mic. https://mic.com/articles/81859/don-t-forget-these-8-lesbian-athletes-who-stood-up-for-gay-rights#.O5Dx5HVty
Bailey, A. (2015). Five trans athletes who made their mark before Caitlyn Jenner. Public Radio International. https://www.pri.org/stories/2015-07-17/five-trans-athletes-who-made-their-mark-caitlyn-jenner
Borden, S. Transgender Athlete Fails to Qualify. (2012). New York Times. https://london2012.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/21/transgender-athlete-fails-to-qualify/
Denison E, Kitchen A. (2015). Out on the Fields: The first international study on homophobia in sport. Nielsen, Bingham Cup Sydney 2014, Australian Sports Commission, Federation of Gay Games. Accessed through: www.outonthefields.com
Frequently Asked Questions about the Gay Games and the FGG. Federation of Gay Games. https://web.archive.org/web/20101020125852/http://gaygames.com/index.php?id=24
Gallagher, J. (1998). Gay athletes through history. Advocate, (766), 13-16.
Green, M. (2007). THE WORLD’S ‘MOST FAMOUS TRANSSEXUAL’ LOOKS BACK. People, 67(9), 124-128.
Hainey, M. (2015). The Women Who Paved the Way for Men to Become Women. http://www.gq.com/story/renee-richards-interview
Rober, E. (2013). Gender relations in sport (Teaching gender). Rotterdam: Sense.
Lamport, J. (2014). Meet the First Transgender Person to Play in a World Cup Qualifier. Vice. https://news.vice.com/article/meet-the-first-transgender-person-to-play-in-a-world-cup-qualifier
Layden, T. (2016). AN AMERICAN HERO. (cover story). Sports Illustrated, 125(1), 30-41.
Maddocks, K. (2013). Biphobia in Sport- Sexual Identity and Exclusionary Practices. School of Sports and Education.
Next Goal Wins Movie. (2017) http://nextgoalwinsmovie.com/
Rober, E. (2013). Gender relations in sport (Teaching gender). Rotterdam: Sense.
TORRE, P. S., & Epstein, D. (2012). THE TRANSGENDER ATHLETE. Sports Illustrated, 116(22), 66-73.
About Chris. Transathlete. https://www.transathlete.com/about-chris
Famous Bisexuals. American Institute of Bisexuality. https://bisexual.org/famous/
Rio 2016: Olympic body changes transgender guidelines. (2016). CNN.
Zeigler, C. Trans Athlete Keelin Godsey places fifth in hammer throw at Pan American Games. http://www.outsports.com/2011/10/24/4052024/trans-athlete-keelin-godsey-places-fifth-in-hammer-throw-at-pan
More Stories and Resources:
The Story of Paul Priore http://abusedbytheyankees.com/
Outsports: A Voice for LGBT Athletes http://www.outsports.com/
LGBT SportsSafe Inclusion Program http://lgbtsportsafe.com/
You Can Play Project http://www.youcanplayproject.org/