20 Pro and Former Pro LGBTQ Athletes That Can be Role Models for Your Players
By Melissa Wickes
June 20, 2023
One of the most important things when it comes to helping young members of the LGBTQ community—or any marginalized community for that matter—feel safe, comfortable, and confident is representation. When a young queer person sees members of the community thriving—whether its in the sport they’re playing, on TV, or in other fields that they wish to one day be successful in—they can envision themselves having the same success and happiness.
When you’re considering ways to make LGBTQ players on your team and throughout your youth sports organization or club feel comfortable and confident, a great way to do so is by talking to them about openly queer professional athletes.
Here’s are some notable examples of LGBTQ athletes that can serve as role models for your players.
Who could forget the co-captain of the United States Women’s National Soccer team and the success she’s had both on the field and as an advocate for LGBTQ+ rights and fighting for equal pay?
Jason Paul Collins
“I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m Black. And I’m gay,” former NBA player Collins wrote in a Sports Illustrated article in 2013. This made him the first person to openly come out in any of the four major professional sports!
A British diver who has competed in multiple Olympic Games, Daley came out as gay in 2013 and has since been an advocate for LGBTQ+ visibility and equality in sports.
Rogers used to play for the LA Galaxy in Major League Soccer. He came out as gay in 2013 and became the first openly gay male athlete to compete in a top North American professional sports league.
An American freestyle skier who competed in the Olympics, Kenworthy has been an advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, particularly within the sports community.
Adams is a bisexual retired British professional boxer and Olympic gold medalist. She advocates for LGBTQ+ representation in sports as well.
A former American football player who played as a defensive end, Sam came out as gay in 2014 and briefly played in the NFL, becoming the first openly gay player to be drafted by a professional football team.
Billie Jean King
Billie Jean King is a household name in professional tennis, having beat Bobby Riggs in the now famous “Battle of the Sexes” match in 1973. Unfortunately, she didn’t have the opportunity to come out on her own accord as she was publicly outed as a lesbian. While her publicist encouraged her to deny the claim, she told the truth.
“I said: ‘I’m going to do it. I don’t care. This is important to me to tell the truth.’” King said 44 years later during an interview. “The one thing my mother always said, ‘To thine own self be true.’”
In 2012, the Puerto Rican native, professional boxer announced he was gay, despite the lack of acceptance in the sport at the time. In 2016, he dedicated a match to the victims of the mass shooting at a gay nightclub, Pulse, in Orlando, Florida.
Fallon Fax is the first transgender woman in MMA fighting history. This led to widespread criticism and controversy, leaving many to question if she should be able to fight cis women.
“It took me about a year to understand and to feel the support from the transgender community,” Fox told The Guardian in 2015.
In November of 2022, Australian basketball player Isaac Humphries announced to his teammates that he was gay in an emotional video he has since shared on social media.
“Look, this is probably going to be one of the hardest conversations I’ve probably ever had in my life, but life is about doing hard things and learning from them, and making a difference through those hard times,” Humphries said in the video.
Sue Bird is considered by many as one of the greatest WNBA players of all time. She is now married to Megan Rapinoe, talk about a power couple!
A former defensive end for both the Cowboys and the Buccaneers, Russell announced that he was bisexual via an essay on ESPN, becoming the first openly bisexual person in the NFL.
Amaechi didn’t come out as gay until years after retiring from the NBA, in his memoir Man in the Middle. He said his teammates who suspected he may be were welcoming about it, but still described it as “terrifying” for some to come out, in an interview in 2007.
In conjunction with a $100,000 donation to the Trevor Project—an organization that focuses on suicide prevention in LGBTQ youth—NFL player Nassib came out as gay via a social media post. This made him the first openly gay active player in the NFL (in 2021!).
While the general public did not know Burke was gay while playing for the LA Dodgers in 1977, everyone on the team did. Because of this, he’s often credited with being the first gay man in the MLB. Burke tragically passed of AIDS in 1995 at the age of 45-years-old. The Oakland A’s have since renamed their annual Pride Night to Glenn Burke Pride Night.
Billy Bean played for a variety of teams in the MLB—including the Detroit Tigers, LA Dodgers, and San Diego Padres. After leaving the game in 1995, he finally came out as gay in 1999. Now, he’s the Ambassador for Inclusion at the MLB which involves speaking to each team in the league about the importance of inclusion and acceptance.
Richards transitioned in the ’70s and applied to participate in the US Open in 1976. She was rejected by the US Open for refusing to take the required Barr body test, which tested your blood for your sex. She sued the United States Tennis Association for gender discrimination and won.
David Denson, former Milwaukee Brewers player, was the first active baseball player to be openly gay while playing in Major League Baseball in 2015.
Sheryl has a list of basketball achievements that are often compared to Michael Jordan’s. In 2005, she decided she was done “living a lie” and came out as an openly gay woman in the league.