Below you are going to read about 15 of the most prominent LGBTQ Athletes of all time. While some of them have come out very recently, and done so to great public support, as you’ll read it definitely was not always that way. The first openly gay soccer player killed himself, and many of these athletes had their careers drastically altered because of their sexual orientation.
We have people from the worlds of soccer, the NBA, the WNBA, boxing, wrestling, hell there is even an alpine skier below. There is no shortage of amazing athletes in the world, some of them just happen to also be gay.
We are sure the athletes below, even the less successful ones like Michael Sam, have inspired countless people to help come to accept their own sexual identity. In doing so, these 15 people still continue to impact the world in a positive way long after their time in the spotlight is done.
15. Justin Fashanu – First Openly Gay Soccer Player
Justin Fashanu was the first openly gay professional soccer player. Fashanu played from 1978-1997 and elected to come out as gay in 1990. Fashanu’s brother, Joshua, was embarrassed by his brother’s homosexuality and admitted in an interview that he even gave Justin £75,000 to try and persuade him to not come out.
Joshua further explained “You’ve got to remember the public’s perception of homosexuality at that time was that it was an abomination. It was taboo. Street boys were beating up gays in nightclubs. I give him credit for having the courage to come out and say it. But it caused a lot of confusion and animosity towards him, me, and my family.”
Their mother was suffering from cancer at the time, and Joshua also blamed Justin’s coming out as being the stressful catalyst that caused her to pass away.
Justin’s life ended in tragedy. After being accused of sexually assaulting a 17-year-old boy, Justin fled to London where he committed suicide. In his suicide note, he addressed how his inability to get a fair trial because of his sexuality played a role in his suicide. As well as this, he proclaimed that the sex with the boy was consensual.
14. Jason Collins – First Openly Gay NBA Player
Jason Collins spent a respectable 13 years in the NBA, but his name will always be attached to the fact that he was the first openly gay active player in the four major US sports leagues. Collins’ career was teetering towards the end when he made his announcement, but by still having a short career it allowed Collins to write about the experience with a unique perspective.
For The Players Tribune, Collins wrote “I was locked in. Nothing was different. I did what I always do. Being gay certainly didn’t affect how I played,” and it also did not impact how he was treated off the court.
13. Darren Young – First Active Wrestler To Come Out
While there have been wrestlers in the past that have come out as being homosexual after their time in the ring was done, Darren Young became the first prominent active wrestler to come out as a homosexual. Young came out to TMZ after he was asked if a gay wrestler could ever be a success, saying “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.”
Ironically, prior to coming out, Darren Young’s wrestling page was littered with hints that Young was a ladies man, including his bio that said, “As comfortable in the VIP section as he is in the ring, Darren Young’s life revolves around three things — money, women, and wrestling.”
12. Billie Jean King – Lost Millions In Endorsements
The winner of 39 Grand Slam Titles, it is easy to see why many people consider Billie Jean King to be the greatest female tennis player of all time. She also just happens to not be straight! Billie Jean King married Larry King back in 1965, but it was in 1968 that she started to realize she had an interest in women. In 1971 she started dating a woman, information that became public knowledge after Bennett, who was Billie’s lover, filed a palimony lawsuit against King in 1981.
For those non-lawyers out there, Bennett was trying to get a division of financial assets and real property after their live-in relationship was terminated. King was the first prominent gay professional female athlete, and the lawsuit prevented her from competing in 1981.
When talking about the experience, King said “Within 24 hours [of the lawsuit being filed], I lost all my endorsements; I lost everything. I lost $2 million at least, because I had longtime contracts. I had to play just to pay for the lawyers. In three months I went through $500,000. I was in shock. I didn’t make $2 million in my lifetime, so it’s all relative to what you make.”
11. Michael Sam – First Openly Gay NFL Player To Be Drafted
Michael Sam made national headlines when he became the first openly gay player to be drafted by an NFL team. Sadly for Sam, his talents were not enough to keep him on the playing field and he failed to make a significant impact. When talking about his playing career, Sam blamed his homosexuality for his shortcomings, saying “I think if I never would have came out, never would have said those words out to the public, I would still be currently in the NFL.”
After being cut from the NFL, Sam went on to play in the CFL (where he was also the first openly gay player in the league), but Sam left training camp a day before the first preseason game citing personal reasons. Sam later returned but did not make an impact when he played. He hurt his back and then left the team citing mental health concerns.
After being cut from the team, Sam talked to Dan Patrick (a radio host) where he said “It was a really last call to go to the CFL. I never really wanted to go to the CFL, but I did and I committed to going.”
10. Greg Louganis – Also Tested Positive For HIV Before Olympics
Greg Louganis is a multiple time gold medal winner, competing on both the springboard and the platform events. Louganis also tested positively for HIV in 1988, a story that he detailed in his autobiography, Breaking The Surface.
In 1995, Louganis sat down with Barbara Walters and talked openly about being gay and his struggle with HIV. Louganis admitted that he contracted the disease 6 months prior to competing in the 1988 games, but did not disclose the information. This became a controversial moment when Louganis had an open wound after a dive and was cared for by an attendant who closed the wound but did not wear protective gloves.
Prior to coming out of the closet, Louganis admitted that he underwent at least a year of intense therapy in order to prepare for the potential ramifications.
9. Megan Rapinoe – Multiple Gold Medal Winner
Megan Rapinoe is a talented female soccer player whose biggest claim to fame may helping the United States win gold at the 2015 Fifa Women’s World Cup, as well as at the 2012 London Olympics.
Rapinoe discussed her sexuality with Out magazine back in 2012 saying that she had been dating fellow footballer Sarah Walsh for several years. Their relationship sadly came to an end in 2013 after 5 years together. You can imagine Rapinoe would be quite the catch, so perhaps you’re not stunned to find out that she’s since gotten engaged to musical artist Sera Cahoone.
8. Orlando Cruz – First Openly Gay Boxer
Orlando Cruz is one of the best featherweight boxers in the world, he also just happens to be the first openly gay boxer. Cruz spoke out in 2012 saying, “I have and will always be a proud Puerto Rican. I have always been and always will be a proud gay man.”
Cruz has done several interviews since, where he admits “I don’t mix my work with my private life. The sport is very macho, but they accept and support me.”
That support also extends to his fans and family back in Puerto Rico, which Cruz has said in the past meant a lot to him. You may also be happy to hear that Cruz has not felt attacked by his opponents, saying in an interview with Fightland saying “Nothing has changed, I still get a lot of respect from my rivals, sponsors, from Puerto Rican society and the entire world.”
7. Brittney Griner – Ended An Engagement To Fellow WNBA Player
You might not be completely up to date with the WNBA, but Brittney Griner is one hell of a player. She was the #1 overall pick in 2013 and alongside winning the WNBA Championship, has also won gold at Rio when competing with the United States team.
Griner came out as a lesbian in April 2013 expressing that she had always been bullied in her life, for reasons that included her sexuality. Griner was engaged to fellow WNBA player Glory Johnson but the two were arrested in 2015 after police broke up a fight.
That didn’t stop them from getting married in 2015, and Johnson even announced she was pregnant. Who knows what went down, but literally the next day Griner filed for an annulment citing fraud and duress.
6. Robbie Rogers – 2nd Openly Gay Male Soccer Player
Above you read about the tragic life of the first openly gay soccer player, Justin Fashanu. Now you’ll get to read the much less tragic story of Robbie Rogers, the 2nd gay male footballer in Britain, and also the first openly gay man to compete in a North American professional sports league.
While he retired shortly after his original announcement (he said partially to avoid the media), he later signed with the Los Angeles Galaxy in the MLS. He, alongside boyfriend (and creator of The Flash, Greg Berlanti) recently welcomed a baby boy into his family this past February.
5. Pat Patterson – Was Not Acknowledge As Gay By The WWE Until 2014
There is little doubt that the WWE would not be what it is today, if not for Pat Patterson. Patterson was not only an impressive wrestler in his own day, but he was also a huge player behind the scenes and was responsible for several innovations such as the Royal Rumble match.
While Patterson first came out in the early 1970s, it was reportedly not acknowledged by the WWE until 2014. When talking about his life on the reality show Legend’s House, Patterson said “For once in my life, I’m gonna be me now. I survived all this, being gay.” He further explained his decision to come out, saying “I gave my life to the business, I don’t regret nothing. For the rest of my life, I want to be happy.”
4. Ian Thorpe – Denied Being Gay For Several Years
When you think of outstanding swimmers, your mind may go to Michael Phelps, but in Australia, their hero is definitely Ian Thorpe. Thrope was Australian Swimmer of the Year from 1999 to 2003 and in 2000 (when the Olympics were in Australia), he took home 3 gold and 2 silver medals.
Thrope had actually denied being gay for several years, but in 2014 he elected to finally come out, saying “I’m comfortable saying I’m a gay man. And I don’t want people to feel the same way I did. You can grow up, you can be comfortable and you can be gay. And I hope this makes it easier for others now, and even if you’ve held it in for years, it feels easier to get it out.”
3. Anja Pärson – Gold Medalist Alpine Skier
Anja Pärson may not be a household name in North America, but she is an Olympic Gold medalist for Sweden and is a former alpine skier. It may not be as shiny as gold, but Pärson also has 4 bronze medals and 1 silver medal to her name.
As well as this, Pärson has taken home 7 gold medals at the World Championships. It may not be as grand a stage as the Olympics, but still mighty impressive. Parson announced back in 2012 that she had been in a relationship with Filippa Radin for the past 5 years. The two have two children together and were married back in 2014.
2. Rosa Mendes – Admitted That She’s Experimented With Women
Rosa Mendes may not be the strongest female to ever step into a wrestling ring, but she’s definitely good looking and deserving of her spot on the show Total Divas. The reality show follows a few Divas and allows fans to get a closer look at some of their favorites. It definitely allows for some interesting conversations to take place, including Rosa Mendes admitting in one episode that she’s been with women in the past and identifies as bisexual. Mendes further explained, “I get emotionally attached to guys when I’m intimate and I’m scared.”
1. Martina Navratilova – Ranked #1 In The World For 332 Weeks
In 2005, Tennis magazine selected Martina Navratilova as the greatest female tennis player from 1965-2005. Talk about one hell of an accomplishment, but when you consider she was ranked #1 in the world for 332 weeks as a singles competitor, and 227 weeks as a doubles player, you can understand why she earned that status
Her sexuality became a point of public debate in 1981 when she gave an interview to New York Daily News and mentioned she was bisexual. She has since come out as a lesbian, and from 1984 to 1991 Navratilova had a long-term relationship with Judy Nelson.
Since then Navratilova has started a relationship with Julia Lemigova and the two were married in December 2014.