Professional athletes are often identified as society's role models, who exhibit the courage, willpower, and determination to motivate us in our own lives, and for LGBTQ athletes, the ability to inspire and influence goes even one step further.
As they battle stereotypes, leap over high expectations, and raise their voices, LGBTQ athletes show that we all have the muscle to overcome adversity in life. Throughout history, there have been several athletes who have proudly stood up for their identity, amplifying the voices of their community.
Top athletes who are paving the way for LGBTQ representation
Although the world has made decent progress towards LGBTQ representation in other spheres of life, the world of sports still has much work to do. On that note, let's take a look at five LGBTQ athletes who are leading by example and fighting for equality, both on and off the field.
#5 Megan Rapinoe
Megan Rapinoe, an Olympic champion and two-time World Cup winner, leads the US women's national soccer team. As a core member of the team, Rapinoe has guided Team USA to gold at the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup as well as the 2012 London Olympics.
Rapinoe came out as an LGBTQ athlete in 2012. Known as an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ rights, she has also worked tirelessly on racial and gender equality.
“We’re gay, we’re women, we’re women of colour. We’re unfortunately constantly being oppressed in some sort of way. So I feel like us just being athletes, us just being at the pinnacle of our game is kind of a protest in a way and is sort of defiant in and of itself," Rapinoe said in an interview with Out magazine.
#4 Billie Jean King
Billie Jean King, 76, is widely regarded as one of the greatest tennis players of all time. She is equally renowned for her activism in support of gender equality and LGBTQ rights.
Since coming out as a lesbian in 1981, she has also advocated for LGBTQ rights in the male-dominated realm of sports. While she was outed as a lesbian, the 39-time Grand Slam winner learned she had nothing to fear, after her team urged her to deny the claim.
"The experience was horrible. I said: I’m going to do it. I don’t care. This is important to me to tell the truth. The one thing my mother always said, 'To thine own self be true," King told NBC News.
#3 Nikki Hiltz
Middle-distance runner Nikki Hiltz participated in the 1500m at the 2019 World Championships. She has a realistic chance of earning a spot on the US Olympic team this year.
“When I decided to be who I am, a weight was lifted. I don’t think my breakthrough season was coincidental. I was holding back this part of me, hiding it and burying it. When you’re happy and holistic off the track, it’s going to translate on the track. That was that," Hiltz told Women’s Running.
#2 Joanna Lohman
Joanna Lohman is a former member of the US women's national soccer team. She has played for Washington Freedom and Philadelphia Independence in the past.
In addition to that, Joanna has served as the general manager of the Washington Freedom Soccer Club's W-League team. As an elite professional soccer player, Joanna has tirelessly worked to amplify the struggles that LGBTQ athletes across the world face.
She is also a proud author of the book 'Raising Tomorrow's Champions: What the Women's National Soccer Team Teaches Us About Grit, Authenticity and Winning', which was released only this year.
#1 Dutee Chand
One of the finest athletes that India has ever produced, Dutee Chand turned heads as she went against the grain and admitted to being in a same-sex relationship in 2018.
The public confession marked a watershed moment in conversations around human rights and LGBTQ rights in India. Another misfortune struck Dutee when she faced objections from her family regarding her sexual orientation.
"One may fall in love anytime and with anyone. One does not decide that based on caste, religion or gender. My partner supported me every time and I have chosen her for my life. People may look at us differently or call us by any name like gay, lesbian etc. That does not matter so far as we get to spend our lives with each other,” Dutee said in an online interaction with US Consul General in Hyderabad Joel Reifman.