As The Student focuses on and celebrates the LGBT+ community this week, we take a look at some famous LGBT+ sportspeople and recognise the issues that still remain in the world of professional sport.
Heteronormativity and homophobia has plagued sport, with many professionals across all disciplines hiding their sexual identities from their peers and the public due to potential backlash.
Fortunately, an increased acceptance of the LGBT+ community throughout society has allowed more sportspeople to feel confident in declaring their sexual identities. Nonetheless, there is still a long way to go before the LGBT+ community is fully accepted as part of the sporting world.
The tragic case of Justin Fashanu highlights this. Whilst playing in English top-flight football in 1990, Fashanu became the first professional footballer in Britain to come out as gay. He committed suicide eight years later due to issues regarding his sexuality. The English Premier League has not had any openly LGBT+ professionals since Fashanu.
Despite the societal pressures that have prevented many LGBT+ sportspeople from coming out to the public, some of the greatest sportspeople ever have come from the open LGBT+ community.
One of the most famous cases is Welsh Rugby player Gareth Thomas. Thomas is a former professional rugby player who made 100 appearances and recorded 200 points for Wales. He also captained the British and Irish Lions in two tests against New Zealand in 2005.
In 2009, Thomas confirmed that he was gay. He said: “I don’t want to be known as a gay rugby player […] first and foremost I am a man”. Thomas is one of Wales’s greatest ever players and an inspiration for aspiring sportspeople of all sexualities.
In tennis, Billie Jean King has been regarded as one of the greatest players of all time and became one of the first professional female athletes to openly identify as a lesbian in 1981.
King, who won 39 Grand Slams in her career, has been part of the Tennis Hall of Fame since 1987 and was one of the Time Persons of the Year in 1975.
As well as being one of the greatest tennis players ever, King has been an influential advocate of LGBT rights and gender equality. She championed gender equality by famously beating male tennis player Bobby Riggs in the 1973 match dubbed the ‘Battle of the Sexes’.
Boxer and two-time Olympic gold-medallist Nicola Adams is one of the most influential sportspeople in Britain and is openly bisexual. At the 2012 London Olympics, Adams became the first ever winner of an Olympic Women’s boxing gold medal. This victory also made her the first openly LGBT athlete to ever win a boxing gold medal.
Adams remains one of the best boxers in the world, as she retained her Olympic title in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics and, in the same year, held the Olympic, World, Commonwealth and European titles for women’s flyweight boxing.
Chris Mosier was part of the USA Men’s 2016 World Championship duathlon team and is one of the most influential transgender figures in sporting history.Mosier was a leading female triathlete until 2009 when he revealed his identity as a man and began campaigning against Olympic regulations that prevented the competition of transgender athletes. In 2015, a campaign led by Mosier resulted in the creation and adoption of IOC guidelines that allowed the participation of transgender athletes.
He continues to be an advocate of transgender rights in sport and is recognised as one of the pioneering openly transgender athletes.
Each case is inspiring in its own way and emphasises the vast importance of the LGBT community to the world of sport.
Whilst the status of the LGBT community in areas such as English professional football remains unsatisfactory, sportspeople, such as the those mentioned, show how the LGBT+ community should and does make up an invaluable part of the world of sport.
Image courtesy of Mitchell Weinstock