If the fear of dealing with discrimination has driven many lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and the transgendered (LGBT) to hide their true selves, the apprehension is even greater in the sporting world. In athletics, men are unreasonably stereotyped to be “macho”, while females are wrongly considered to have an unfair advantage when they’re deemed too masculine. The issue becomes even more thorny in sports like rugby and wrestling that inherently involve lots of physical contact between participants. The point of contention with transgendered athletes, on the other hand, is whether they should be made to compete as males or females, if at all.
The presence of discrimination in sports cannot be denied as several athletes have been documented to have made homophobic remarks. Former Oxford City striker Lee Steele, for example, posted this now infamous tweet about former rugby star Gareth Thomas, who had previously come out as gay:
Lee Steele has since deleted his Twitter account, but he was nevertheless sacked by his team for the post “which is considered seriously contrary to the ethos of the club.”
Nevertheless, several brave retired and active athletes have chosen to come out despite the backlash that they risked facing. In 2013, NBA player Jason Collins came out stating, “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay,” making him the first openly gay active athlete playing in a major American team sport. Unfortunately, a team has yet to sign Collins since he opened up about his sexuality.
With LGBT issues at the forefront of the coming 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, here’s a look at the top ten highest-earning active LGBT athletes today. The list includes only one person of each gender for each sport. Furthermore, the rankings are based on the athletes’ latest listed annual salaries or prize money, excluding sponsorship deals and other sources of income.
10. Fallon Fox / Women’s MMA / Prize Money: $10,000
If it’s difficult for lesbian, gay, and bisexual athletes to come out and reveal their true selves, imagine the inner struggle that a transgender Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter has to go through to come out. That was exactly what the first openly transgender athlete in MMA history, Fallon Fox, had to undergo when she came out in March of 2013.
Fallon began struggling with issues related to gender as early as five or six years old, and as a teenager, she actually believed she might have been a gay male. However, due to pressure from her religiously conservative background, Fox continued to live as a heterosexual male, even marrying her then-girlfriend when the latter became pregnant with their daughter. After college, however, Fox worked as a trucker to gain money for her gender reassignment surgery. She afterwards lived life as a woman and later found herself engaged in MMA.
After winning two fights, Fallon revealed her gender history, and in the process, raised controversy about whether or not she should be allowed to continue competing as a female. In April of 2013, MMA fighter and former NFL football player Matt Mitrione expressed his dislike for Fox by saying, Fox was “still a man” and called her an “embarrassment” and a “lying, sick, sociopathic, disgusting freak.” The UFC fined him and called itself “a friend and ally of the LGBT community,” while the CFA declared it would not turn its back on Fox as long as she was licensed.
Fallon currently has a 3-1 win-loss record in MMA.
9. Liz Carmouche / Women’s MMA / Prize Money: $25,000
Another female MMA fighter? That’s because gender-wise, while Fallon Fox is classified as transgendered, Liz Carmouche is the first openly lesbian fighter in the UFC. In fact, Liz starred in the first ever women’s MMA match in the UFC, where she submitted to an armbar by Ronda Rousey.
Carmouche decided to come out after bearing the burden of being trapped in the closet by the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in place at that time in the military. There, Liz served five years as a helicopter electrician in the Marine Corps with which she did three tours of duty in the Middle East.
As of January 17, 2014, Liz Carmouche is ranked #7 in the official UFC women’s bantamweight rankings.
8. Carl Hester / Men’s Equestrian / Prize Money: $45,000
Carl Hester is an Olympic gold medalist (2012, Team – Dressage) who, as of August 9, 2012, is the 12th-ranked dressage rider in the world. He got started on the sport when, at nineteen years old, he applied for a job tending to horses. He tried riding, and just eighteen months after he began training for the sport, Hester won the National Young Rider Championship in 1985. He soon landed a spot on the British Young Rider team in 1988, and he’s been winning hearts and honors ever since.
Carl was previously in a relationship with fellow-international dressage rider Spencer Wilton.
7. Megan Rapinoe / Women’s Football / Salary: $60,000
Unlike other athletes who kept their sexual preference from the public before finally coming out, Olympic gold medal-winning footballer Megan Rapinoe of the United States never really kept that she was a lesbian from the public. In fact, she was just waiting to be asked about it directly. But the people around her instead tried to be respectful and waited for Megan to speak publicly about being gay. Speak publicly about it Rapinoe finally did in 2012 as she admitted that was in a committed relationship with Australian soccer player Sarah Walsh.
Megan is currently a midfielder for Seattle Reign FC in the National Women’s Soccer League and is a member of the United States women’s national soccer team.
6. Orlando Cruz / Men’s Boxing / Prize Money: $85,000
Because boxing is thought by many to be a sport that epitomizes manly toughness, the case of Puerto Rican boxer Orlando Cruz serves as compelling evidence that there are practically no limitations on the sports that the LGBT community can participate in. In fact, Orlando has done much more than just participate in the sport. Cruz is a former IBA Featherweight Champion and has fought for world titles a total of four times in his career. His record currently stands at 24-10-3-1, with ten victories coming by way of knockout.
Having begun his career in 2000, “El Fenómeno” was already deep into his boxing conquests when he became the first active boxer to come out as a gay man on October 4, 2012. In November of 2013, he married his boyfriend, José Manuel Colón, in a ceremony in New York City.
5. Robbie Rogers / Men’s Football / Salary: $90,000
When NBA player Jason Collins came out as a gay man, he consulted someone who had successfully handled the media circus that came along with such a revelation. The man Collins sought advise from was Robbie Rogers, a Major League Soccer winger/second striker who revealed his sexual preference in February of 2013, making him the first openly gay man to compete in a top North American professional sports league. Robbie currently plays with the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Since he came out, Rogers has been speaking with college students and fellow members of the LGBT community about his experience. In November of 2013, he was reported to be dating director-producer Greg Berlanti.
4. Lisa Raymond / Women’s Tennis / Prize Money: $166,000
Lisa Raymond is arguably the most accomplished active LGBT athlete today. As a tennis player, she has accomplished the rare career grand slam in doubles by winning the doubles titles during the 2000 Australian Open, the 2006 French Open, the 2001 Wimbledon Championships, and the 2001, 2005, and 2011 US Opens. Raymond has also won the year-ending Doubles Championship four times (2001, 2005, 2006, 2011) and the 2012 Olympic bronze medal in mixed doubles (with Mike Bryan).
Lisa accomplished her doubles success with various partners, including Lindsay Davenport, Martina Navrátilová, and Rennae Stubbs. Stubbs was previously in a relationship with Raymond.
3. Tom Daley / Men’s Diving / Prize Money: $300,000
Olympic bronze medalist and World Champion diver Tom Daley came out in December of 2013 through a YouTube video, but not all of the LGBT community was very happy about his revelation. That’s because while Daley admitted to be dating Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, who is two decades Tom’s senior, Tom also claimed to still be interested in women. “Of course I still fancy girls,” Daley shared.
The discomfort with Tom’s revelation has to do with the “B” in “LGBT”; bisexaulity is still considered by many to be a transitional stage before full homosexuality, another form of being in the closet. Daley, however, has largely ignored the criticism by saying, “Right now, I’m dating a guy, and I couldn’t be happier.”
2. Darren Young / Men’s Professional Wrestling / Salary: $600,000
Many LGBT athletes who came out did so with dramatic blogs, interviews, or videos. But not WWE superstar Darren Young. In August of 2013, when a TMZ representative ran into Darren at the Los Angeles International Airport, the reporter cluelessly asked Darren whether or not he thought a gay wrestler could be successful in the WWE. Young shyly responded, “Absolutely. Look at me. I’m a WWE superstar, and to be honest with you, I’ll tell you right now, I’m gay. And I’m happy. I’m very happy.”
The WWE has supported Darren. John Cena has even encouraged other gay wrestlers to come out like Young has.
1. Brittney Griner / Women’s Basketball / Salary: $1.2 Million
In an interview with Sports Illustrated on April 17, 2013, Brittney Griner acknowledged that she was a lesbian. It was big news in the WNBA as Griner was the first overall pick in the WNBA Rookie Draft, and before that was an NCAA standout named AP Player of the Year in 2012.
In the WNBA, it took the 6-foot, 8-inch Brittney just one game, her first, to shatter the league’s dunk record. She effortlessly slammed in two field goals and became only the third WNBA player to dunk and the first to do it twice in one game.
Of her coming out, Brittney says, “I’ve heard people say, ‘Why do you need to say you’re gay?’ I say to them, ‘What about the kids who need someone to look up to?’ Just knowing that you can help somebody out, that’s a feeling you can’t express.”