Most Influential LGBTQ Sports Stars of All Time. The LGBTQ community is historically under-represented in the world of sport. Today – and although there is still a long way to go – the world of sport is opening up, and it is thanks in part to some of the great LGBTQ ambassadors who have broken down barriers and broken stereotypes.
As we celebrate global pride this month, we wanted to watch the Top 10 LGBTQ sports Stars & ambassadors of all time who really pushed the program and tried to make the world of sport a more welcoming place for all.
10 Most Influential LGBTQ Sports Stars of All Time
- Renée Richards – Tennis
Dr. Renée Richards is not the most famous name on this list, but she was a pioneer. More than 40 years ago, she won a legal battle to play at the 1977 U.S. Open as a woman after a sex-change operation. The following year, she reached the final of the women’s doubles tournament at the US Open.
Richards would then become the spokesperson for transgender athletes, and she would eventually coach the great tennis player Martina Navratilova, which you will find later in this list.
- Megan Rapinoe – Football
Megan Rapinoe is the current captain of the U.S. national team, as well as the winner of the Ballon d’Or and Golden Boot awards at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup – a tournament she won with her team.
Rapinoe works alongside a number of LGBTQ organizations and has earned a place on the board of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center. She is also a spokesperson for Athlete Ally, which aims to end homophobia and transphobia in the world of sport.
- Ian Thorpe – Swimming
The Australian Ian Thorpe – known by many as the “Thorpedo” – is one of the most successful swimmers of all time and is ranked 3rd in the list. He won five Olympic gold medals, the highest number won by an Australian athlete. He also won 11 gold medals at the World Championships. Thorpe was released in 2004 in a British television show.
In 2017, he was a leading supporter of the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey, campaigning for same-sex marriage to be legalized in Australia, which happened the same year.
- Justin Fashanu – Football
Justin Fashanu was the first British professional football player to become gay, which he did in 1990 via an interview with the British tabloid The Sun. Eight years later, Fashanu tragically committed suicide following allegations of sexual assault by a teenager in the United States. Despite the tragic end of its history, Fashanu has become a symbol of the struggle for acceptance by LGBTQ players and supporters.
- Billie Jean King – Tennis
Billie Jean King is a tennis icon, having won an incredible 39 Grand Slam titles. She was, and still is, a great advocate for the LGBTQ community, as well as someone who pushed the issue of gender equality.
King is a member of the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame. She recently spoke openly about Margaret Court’s homophobic and transphobic comments and believes the Margaret Court Arena – one of the courts used at the Australian Open – should be renamed.
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- Brian Boitano – Figure Skating
Brian Boitano was a big name in the sport in the 1980s and early 1990s, and the pinnacle of his career came when he won gold at the 1988 Olympic Games in Lillehammer. He has also won the World Championships twice and the U.S. National Championships four times. Boitano did not come out gay in competition.
Instead, he revealed his sexuality in 2013, when he was appointed to the U.S. delegation to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. He said that until then he had never wanted to go out.
- Tom Daley – Diving
Tom Daley is an English diver with two world championship medals. The first of these medals came at the age of 15. He is also the youngest diver to compete in an Olympic final.
Daley came out bisexual in 2013 via his YouTube channel, stating that he had been in a relationship with his partner Dustin Lance Back since the beginning of the year. They married in 2017. He has been active in the campaign against anti-gay laws in Commonwealth countries and is also a patron of the LGBT-Switchboard charity (UK).
- Orlando Cruz – Boxing
Boxing could probably be considered the most macho sport, which makes Orlando Cruz even more remarkable. The Puerto Rican became gay in 2012, while still an active boxer, and continued to challenge the WBO Featherweight title in 2013 and the WBO Lightweight title in 2016, losing both fights.
In 2013, Cruz married his partner in Central Park – the same year he was one of the first to be inducted into the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame. In 2018, he was also Grand Marshall for the Chicago Pride Parade.
- Michael Sam – NFL
Michael Sam is a former defensive end who was drafted in 2014 by the St. Louis Rams. When Sam was drafted, he became the NFL’s first gay public player, having been unveiled a few months earlier. Unfortunately, Sam’s career has not been long.
After being cut from the Rams, he was taken over by the Dallas Cowboys but never overtook their practice squad. He would then spend a year in the CFL. He retired in 2015 for mental health reasons and is now a motivational speaker and author.
- Martina Navratilova – Tennis
Finally, the list comes to an end with Martina Navratilova, who is considered one of the greatest tennis players of all time. She has won an incredible 59 Grand Slam titles, including 18 singles, and has spent 332 weeks as the world’s number one tennis player. Navratilova is now known as a strong advocate for LGBTQ rights. She has already spoken at the Washington March for the Rights and Liberation of Lesbians, Gays, and Bisexuals. Navratilova also supports animal rights and humanitarian causes.