On LGBTQ+ Athletes

By Jessica Mahmoud on June 20, 2017

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 sports athlete to come out as gay

Renée Richards (1977) — Trans tennis player denied to play in the 1976 U.S. 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 athlete to represent the U.S. 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 U.S. National Team of Sprint Duathlon team in 2015 and in 2016, “he made his second and third U.S. 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 categorized sports 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 sports, 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.”

Gay Games

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 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 were as follows:

1048 (55 percent) gay; 385 (13 percent) lesbian; 1316 straight/heterosexual (44 percent); 220 bisexual + other (please specify) + choose not to disclose (7 percent)


Originally published on Color it Queer

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