VOTE: 55 Inspiring LGBT Athletes for Pride
BY Advocate.com Editors
June 21 2013 9:45 AM ET
Fallon Fox was in the Navy and married to a woman before feeling a true calling: to be a female MMA fighter. Fox left the military, eventually underwent transition surgery in 2006, and began her career in MMA. After two pro fights, she was forced to come out after a reporter attempted to confirm a rumor that she is transgender. Her status as a fighter was contested, but now the featherweight has been sanctioned to keep defending her 3-0 record.
Nicknamed "Alfie," Welsh rugby player Gareth Thomas came out in 2009, making him the first openly gay professional rugby union player. Now retired from professional rugby, Thomas remains active with the British charity ChildLine, a telephone counseling service for children and young people. "I don't know if my life is going to be easier because I'm out," Thomas said in an interview with The Guardian, "but if it helps someone else ... then it will have been worth it."
Even with a short career, center fielder Glenn Burke was known as the Los Angeles Dodgers' heart and soul during his playing days in the mid-1970s. He was undoubtedly out to his teammates, was largely credited with inventing the high-five with Dusty Baker, and even played in the World Series for the Dodgers before being traded for a tumultuous tenure with the Oakland A's. After only four years in professional baseball, Burke's career stopped short after a car accident. In 1995, Burke died, essentially homeless, due to complications from AIDS.
University of California gymnast Graham Ackerman won three NCAA Men's Gymnastics national titles during his college career, and was named a six-time All-American. He was later slowed by injury, hindering his chances at an Olympic career, but said it was important that he was out while on his college team. "I think a lot of straight gymnasts are guarded," he told Out in 2005. "It's been good for my team to be exposed to someone who is gay, because they've had to adjust. It's been a learning experience for so many of us: for teammates, myself, my coaches, my parents."
Two-time Olympic Gold medal diver Greg Louganis is the only male in Olympic history to sweep the springboard and platform diving events in consecutive Olympic Games. His gold in 1988 did not come easy; he hit his head on the board during the preliminary rounds of the springboard event in front of millions around the globe, suffering a concussion. He later disclosed that he was gay and HIV-positive and was subsequently dropped by most of his corporate sponsors, with the exception of swimwear manufacturer Speedo. Louganis is an outspoken HIV/AIDS activist and a New York Times best-selling author with his autobiography, Breaking the Surface. He served as the diving announcer in the 1994 Gay Games and, more recently, announced his engagement to Johnny Chaillot this month.
Hulking Australian rugby player Ian Roberts came out in 1995, making him one of the highest-profile openly gay active pro athletes at the time. "When I came out officially it was probably by that stage one of the worst kept secrets, you know, in rugby league," he told Australian radio. "Anyone who knew me within rugby league, within the fraternity, knew that I was gay." While his decision to stop attempting to pass as straight was largely heralded, he said he had been called antigay slurs on the field. After continuing in the league for two more years, Roberts retired.
NBA center Jason Collins became the first active male professional gay athlete on the cover of Sports Illustrated in April. After the news hit, Martina Navratilova called Collins “a game changer” for team sports, one of the last areas where inherent homophobia persists. In the article, Collins said that he chose 98 as his jersey number while with the Boston Celtics (and later, the Washington Wizards) in honor of Matthew Shepard, the victim of a horrifying gay hate crime in Laramie, Wyo., who died in 1998. “It’s a statement to myself, my family, and my friends,” Collins said. In college, he was an All-American with NCAA powerhouse Stanford, and he went to the Houston Rockets during the first round (18th overall) of the 2001 NBA draft. He's currently a free agent but has played for the Celtics, Wizards, New Jersey Nets, Memphis Grizzlies, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Atlanta Hawks. Collins marched through the streets of Boston in the city's 2013 Gay Pride parade.
MMA fighter Jessica Aguilar packs a lot of punch despite her fighting weight of 115 pounds. Aguilar, who is bisexual, was born in Mexico and raised in Texas. She joined a gym in 2005 and was pulled into boxing and Brazilian jiu jitsu classes. After placing at the top of her division at the North American Grappling Association, she fell into MMA, and is now 15-4. She said that being out doesn't affect her performance or cause any problems for her in the league. "This is who I am. I’m not hiding anything. For me, it doesn’t affect me a bit. It doesn’t affect my girlfriend, and it shouldn’t affect anybody else."
Now 36, Ji Wallace is an Australian Olympic trampoline champion who came out as gay in 2005 and as HIV-positive in 2012. He’s won several Australian national titles, and he set a world record for doing a triple-triple in the hugh jump at the World Championships. In the 2000 Olympics he received a silver medal in the trampoline. He told HIV Plus magazine that a gold Olympic medal is 93% silver, a thin exterior plating is the only physical difference between the gold and silver medals. “So really, everybody comes second, don’t they?” the Australian Olympian jokes. “It’s just a pretty paint job.”
The Boston Breakers' Joanna Lohman grew up playing soccer, eventually playing for Penn State, where she received accolades in the Big 10 conference and was named an All-American. Later she joined the U.S. National Team and played on club teams before going professional. Now she and her partner and teammate, Lianne Sanderson, are helping underprivileged children in the U.S. and abroad. The JoLi Academy provides sports training and team building for young people, especially girls.
John Amaechi is one of the world's most high-profile gay athletes. American born and English raised, Amaechi made history with his 2007 New York Times best-selling memoir, in which he came out as gay, becoming the first former NBA player to do so. Post-retirement, Amaechi continues to do charitable work, for which he's been recognized by the British government and appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire by the queen in 2011.