LGBT issues can be particularly important in sports because sports are areas that have explicit gender separation. If you’re a trans woman or a trans man, transphobia could keep you out of the leagues that match up with your gender. Too many people in sports care more about your birth-assigned gender than your real one. With lesbian, gay, or bisexual athletes, they’re mainly challenging the homophobia and biphobia of a lot of their potential fans and existing fans.
Some people will still be surprised to find out that certain athletes are LGBT, or that certain celebrities in general are LGBT. You really shouldn’t. LGBT people don’t come in a box. We really could be anyone. Since we could be anyone, there shouldn’t be any surprise when a random person comes out as LGBT. Hopefully, I can help people be a little less surprised by listing some of the athletes that are LGBT.
If you’re looking for a lesson on the history of coming out as a professional athlete, then pro-tennis player Martina Navratilova should definitely be on your list. She’s been out as a bisexual since 1981, and she got the conversation going at that time. Martina Navratilova helped pave the way for a lot of LGBT athletes since then. 1981 was a scary year to be LGBT, so the people who came out during this time period deserve even more credit for bravery.
Matthew Mitcham, Olympic diver extraordinaire, is LGBT as well as a person who has struggled with mental illness. Now there’s another civil rights issue in modern athletics that merits some serious discussion: professional athletes who are struggling with mental illness or who have struggled with it. We know that there’s no shortage of athletes that are like that today, and many of them dare not admit it. Being mentally ill means you’re weak to a lot of fans who are riddled with toxic masculinity. At least Matthew Mitcham had his long-term partner to fall back on when he was horribly depressed and burned out in his earlier years.
Figure skater Johnny Weir probably didn’t shock anyone when he finally came out when he published his memoirs. He did make a lot of people impatient before then, and he pointed out to the gay community that they weren’t exactly encouraging him to come out that way. I do think that straight people should remember how emotionally difficult coming out can be, and that it’s even more difficult to do so on a massive scale. It’s a personal thing and no one should be forced into it.
Sheryl Swoopes, WNBA star, is one of the most high-profile professional athletes to come out in recent years. She seems to have taken it in stride. The WNBA has been a source of empowerment for oppressed people for a long time now. Sheryl Swoopes is black, LGBT, and a woman, and would know a thing or two about oppression.
Gus Johnston, hockey champion, came out on YouTube, which should solidify just how twenty-first century his experience really was. He regrets not coming out sooner, and he managed to share some pretty heartfelt feelings about the emotional difficulties of his current situation and situations he has been in as an athlete.
The history of professional athletes coming out is older than a lot of people think and older than a lot of other people remember. Many of them came out when it was scarier to do so, and some of them were outed by different circumstances. They paved the way for the rest of us, like we’re paving the way for the LGBT folks of the future.