VOTE: 55 Inspiring LGBT Athletes for Pride
BY Advocate.com Editors
June 21 2013 8:45 AM ET
Mark Bingham’s job was running the public relations firm he founded, but his passion was rugby. He played the sport at Los Gatos High School in California and the University of California, Berkeley, where he was a member of the 1991 national championship team. He went on to play with amateur rugby clubs in San Francisco, including the predominantly gay but inclusive San Francisco Fog, which he helped found in 2000. He became more than a sports hero, however, on September 11, 2001. A passenger that day on United Airlines Flight 93, bound from Newark for San Francisco, Bingham is believed to be among those who wrested control of the plane from terrorist hijackers and caused it to crash in rural Pennsylvania instead of its intended target of the White House or U.S. Capitol, sacrificing his life in the process. The Bingham Cup tournament, “the World Cup of gay rugby,” is named for him.
Martina Navratilova is arguably one of the greatest tennis players to ever grace the court. This Czech-American won 18 Grand Slam singles titles, 31 major women's doubles titles (an all-time record), and 10 major mixed doubles titles in a storied career that spanned 32 years (1974-2006). On a personal level, she was also one of the first world-class athletes (along with Billie Jean King) to come out, when she was featured in a column back in 1981. In 1981 she also was sworn in as a U.S. citizen, having escaped communist Czechoslovakia a few years earlier. She reached the Wimbledon singles final 12 times, including nine consecutive years from 1982 through 1990, and won the women's singles title at Wimbledon a record nine times. She recorded the longest winning streak in history, winning 74 consecutive matches.
Matthew Mitcham, now 25, came out two months before he made history as the first openly gay man to win an Olympic gold medal. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the Australian diver took home the gold for the 10-meter platform, beating out a tenacious Chinese diving team. After his big win, Mitcham was named the chief of parade for the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in 2009, and he took part in the 2010 Gay Games in Cologne, Germany.
Megan Rapinoe is known to soccer fans worldwide. She is currently playing for Olympique Lyonnais in the women’s professional league in France but plans to rejoin the U.S. Women’s National Team when her contract is up. During the U.S. team’s run for Olympic gold in London 2012, she scored three goals, including a game winner against Colombia and an equalizer against Canada in the semis, and she contributed a team high four assists. Her numerous accolades include being named to the short list for the 2012 FIFA Ballon d’Or (Women’s World Player of the Year), a finalist for Sports Illustrated’s Most Inspiring Performers of 2012, and the 2013 Algarve (Portugal) Cup Player of the Tournament. Rapinoe came out publicly in The Advocate’s sister publication Out last July. Since then she has been outspoken about combating homophobia in sports. In a November interview with SheWired, Rapinoe said, “Honestly, until people start coming out regularly, then it’s gonna be more difficult for all of these barriers to be broken down, and hopefully we can get to the point where people don’t have to. I think that’s the goal, and I think that’s where everybody wants it to go. But until that point, I think it is still important to come out.”
Mianne Bagger is a Danish-born Australian who made headlines in 2004 after challenging the European and Australian women's golf tours to change their "female by birth" qualification criteria, and that triggered a reexamination for many sports. Bagger is the first trans woman to play in a professional women's tournament.
Australian Natalie Cook, who retired from beach volleyball after the London Olympics, first medaled with a bronze in Atlanta in 1996. Then she won gold in Sydney in 2000.
A regular on the U.S. Women’s National Team from 2006 to 2009, striker Natasha Kai scored an impressive 24 goals in 64 games during her tenure. The tatted-up Hawaii native was also part of the 2008 Olympic team in Beijing that beat out Brazil to take home gold. Prior to Beijing, Kai came out in an interview with NBC.Olympics.com, saying that she’d missed important training due in part to bronchitis and a breakup with her girlfriend. Kai has suffered from shoulder and knee injuries in recent years, but the National Women’s Soccer League’s Washington Spirit picked her as part of its supplemental draft this past February. She’s expected to hit the field shortly after the start of the season.
Orlando Cruz is a human stereotype-buster. Small-framed and openly gay, Cruz packs a powerful punch as a rising featherweight boxer. He has 20 knockouts under his belt since starting to knock heads in his native Puerto Rico. He wears his outness on his sleeve, proclaiming last year that "I have always been and always will be a proud gay man." In an interview with The Advocate he said his homeland is not homophobic: “It’s a myth.”
Pia Sundhage was the head coach of the Swedish women’s national team, and then the head coach of the U.S. Women’s team from 2008 to 2012. She led the team to two Olympic gold medals and a second-place finish in a close one against Japan the 2011 World Cup. She was named the 2012 FIFA World Coach of the Year for her efforts, and she boasts a .897 win percentage in 107 (91-6-10) matches for the U.S. side. Before becoming a coach, she was a player for her home country, Sweden. She played in 146 international matches and contributed 71 goals. In 2000 she finished sixth in the FIFA Women’s Player of the Century voting. In January 2010 she outed herself during an interview with a Swedish television show by saying that she has never felt homophobia while serving as head coach of the U,S. team.
Martina Navratilova was a pioneer for women in sports, and her onetime coach, Renee Richards, also broke glass ceilings. Richards, born in New York as Richard Raskind, transitioned in 1975 and continued to pursue her dream to play tennis professionally. After winning a landmark case in New York State’s Supreme Court in 1977, Richard swerved and lobbied on the pro female circuit for four years. She would ascend to the top 20, play doubles against Navratilova, and later coach the legend.
Australian doubles champion Rennae Stubbs represented her home country in four Olympic games (1996, 2000, 2004, and 2008). She’s the winner of 60 Grand Slam matches, including taking the top spot in the Australian Open in 2000, the U.S. Open and Wimbledon in 2001, and Wimbledon again in 2004. She is the longest serving member of the Australia Fed Cup team, for which she played 17 years. Stubbs came out publicly in a 2006 article in The Sydney Morning Herald. "I was like, 'I have to get over this, this is not a phase, this is not something to be embarrassed about, this is who I am and I'm not going to deny who I am', and I think this is the point you get to … I'd just like to be a little bit more open about it now because I want some 16-year-old girl out there to think it's OK. All it is is somebody loving somebody."