Pride in Tennis

While having a queer identity plays no role in ability, negative stigma and perception has caused many athletes to stay in the closet for their own safety and comfort. In honor of Pride Month, we’re featuring four inspiring tennis players, both old and new, who are inspiring future generations of queer tennis players:

 

Billie Jean King:


Billie Jean King in action at the Clairol Crown tennis tournament at La Costa Resort in Carlsbad, California in April 1980.

 

King, a former #1 ranked player in the world and winner of 39 Grand Slam titles, has never been a stranger to the spotlight. A passionate advocate for gender equality, King won the “Battle of the Sexes” match in 1973 against Bobby Riggs. She also played a hand in persuading Virginia Slims, a cigarette company to sponsor women’s tennis in the 1970’s.

While she married a man in 1965, King realized she was attracted to women just a few years later. She was outed in 1981 when her secretary, whom she had an intimate relationship with, filed an alimony lawsuit against King. While she denied it at the time, King later came out as gay. In 1987, King divorced her husband and began seeing her doubles partner, Ilana Kloss.

Since coming out, King has received numerous awards from LGBT organizations such as GLAAD, an induction into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame and the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame. She was also the recipient of the 1999 Arthur Ashe Courage Award.

Alison Van Uytvanck and Greet Minnen:

Alison Van Uytvanck (left) and her tennis and life partner, Greet Minnen (right)

This Belgian power couple represents the current generation of LGBT tennis players. Van Uytvanck, a four-time international champion on the WTA tour, met Minnen while the two came up together representing Belgium. The two finished the 2018 season by winning the doubles title as a couple at the BGL Luxembourg Open. Van Uytvanck and Minnen made headlines in 2019 when they were pitted against each other at the WTA 125K Series tournament in Karlsruge, Germany.

Gottfried von Cramm:

Gottfried von Cramm was a former tennis champion and two-time winner of the French Open. Facets of von Cramm’s life were constantly at odds with each other. The archetype of a successful Aryan in Nazi Germany, yet von Cramm did not support Hitler’s regime and refused approaches to make him a central part of Nazi propaganda. Von Crumm, a runner up in three Wimbledon finals, was arrested in 1938 by the Gestapo for being gay and giving financial assistance to a Jew. After being released, von Crumm escaped to what was then known as Palestine with his partner, Manasse Herbst.

Martina Navratilova:

Navaratilova, who held the number one spot in both singles and doubles over 200 weeks, was selected by Tennis magazine in 2005 as the greatest female tennis player from 1975-2005. She has an impressive 18 Grand Slam Singles titles, and 40 Grand Slam Doubles titles. Navaratilova is also one of only three women to accomplish a career Grand Slam in Women’s Singles, Women’s Doubles and Mixed Doubles.

Navratilova was outed in 1981 by the New York Daily News as bisexual and later came out as a lesbian. She proposed to her girlfriend at the US Open in 2014, paving the way for future queer athletes to feel comfortable in the spotlight.

While this list encompasses some of tennis’ most well known queer players, the question remains: Why are there no out male tennis players on tour? This is especially odd as there have been several women who have not only come out, but have been incredibly well received by their peers. Sadly, there’s not a clear answer to this as multiple of the top men’s players on tour have voiced support of working with and competing against gay opponents.
LGBT athletes continue to push tennis and sports to higher levels of acceptance and play. With great influences to look up to, queer-identifying children have some of the best tennis players in the world to look up to.


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