The history of the LGBTQ movement within the world of athletics is marked by stories of individual bravery that build on all those before them.
Although there were several before him, NFL player David Kopay is generally credited with beginning a movement when he came out as gay in 1975, shortly after retiring from football.
The following year, tennis player Renee Richards was outed as a transgender female and was barred from competing in the US Open women’s division. Richards eventually won a court case that allowed her to continue competing as a woman.
Following Kopay and Richards, LGBTQ athletes began to surface more and more in the public eye, whether by personal choice or not.
From Billie Jean King to Roy Simmons to Megan Rapinoe, more athletes have gradually felt empowered to come forward openly with their sexuality.
In 2013, NBA player Jason Collins became the first male professional athlete to come out as gay while still active in the league. Collins explained that he felt an obligation to other gay athletes to come out and begin a conversation.
“I wish I wasn’t the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, ‘I’m different,’” he said. “If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I’m raising my hand.”
Sports have been a world of mixed experience for the LGBTQ community, as most sports divide competition into female and male competition and have the reputation of heteronormativity. However, athletic platforms have also been some of the most vocal and powerful in creating national and international changes in attitude and policy.
The Gay Games, formerly the Gay Olympics, were instituted in the United States in 1980, followed several years later by the European Gay and Lesbian Sport Federation. Other sporting events celebrating the LGBTQ community have since popped up. The Bingham Cup, for instance, is a “gay and inclusive” rugby world cup named after Mark Bingham, a gay rugby player credited with helping a group of passengers during the crash of United Airlines Flight 93 in an open field rather than the intended target during the 9/11 attacks.
Sporting entities have been changing policies to be more inclusive of LGBTQ athletes since the 1980s, and recently there has been significant progress. For example, in 2003, the International Olympic Committee stated that transgender athletes could only compete after undergoing reassignment surgery and a subsequent two years of hormone therapy.
In 2016, the same committee issued a new policy stating that female-to-male athletes can compete immediately and “without restriction,” while male-to-female athletes need to maintain their testosterone levels under a certain level for at least one year prior to competition. Many international and national athletic organizations have followed suit, making it easier for trans athletes to compete at the highest levels.
The 2016 Rio Olympics played host to a record number of LGBTQ athletes, with at least 41 identifying openly in the community.
While sports still pose unique barriers to the LGBTQ community, progress continues to be made at an unprecedented rate. Like racial integration before it, the transition to a sports world that fully accepts LGBTQ athletes is becoming a reality.
Gabriella Rivera is a freelance reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @gabbychlamps.