All while achieving fantastic things in their sport. To celebrate Pride Month, we’re recognizing some of the talented LGBT athletes and sports people who have achieved great things in sport.
LGBTQ+ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (or Questioning) and ‘plus’, which represents other sexual identities including pansexual, asexual and omnisexual. And while many industries are slowly becoming more accepting of the LGBTQ+ community, there is still some work to do in the world of sport. Though throughout history, there have been athletes who have stood proud, and who have had the support of their teammates and fans. Here are just some of the LGBTQ+ professional athletes, both past and present, who have proven to be strong advocates of the community in sport.
Tom Daley, English, Diving
In 2008, Tom Daley became Britain's youngest ever European gold medalist just shortly before his Olympic debut in Beijing – where he became Great Britain’s second youngest male Olympian, aged just 14. The Plymouth-born diver specializes in the 10-metre platform event, and has since won a combined total of ten World, Commonwealth and European Championship gold medals, as well as two Olympic bronze medals (at the London 2012 and the Rio 2016 Olympics), establishing himself as one of the finest divers in the world.
Daley came out as gay in late 2013. On his own YouTube channel, he announced that he had been in a relationship with a man since early that year. He said: "I've never been happier."
Billie Jean King, American, Tennis
Billie Jean King is one of the most famous names in tennis. The former World No. 1 professional tennis player won 39 Grand Slam titles: 12 in singles, 16 in women's doubles, and 11 in mixed doubles throughout her career, and she also beat Bobby Riggs in the famous ‘Battle of the Sexes’ match in 1973 at age 29. Regarded by many in the sport as one of the greatest women's tennis players of all time, King was initiated into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1987.
King was outed as a lesbian in 1981, and her publicists told her to deny the claim. Today, she is an advocate for gender equality, and is the founder of the Women's Tennis Association and the Women's Sports Foundation.
Find out more about some of the famous female athletes, past and present, who have excelled in sport, and inspired future generations.
Keegan Hirst, English, Rugby League
Keegan Hirst was a professional rugby league player who last played as a prop for Halifax in the Bet Fred Championship. He began his career as an academy player at Bradford Bulls before joining Haslet Hawks in 2008. He made almost 300 appearances for Haslet, Dewsbury, Botley, Featherstone, Wakefield and Halifax throughout his career, before retiring in 2020 at the age of 32.
In 2015, Keegan Hirst became the first known active British LGBT rugby league player, and the first player to take to the pitch as an openly gay man, receiving an overwhelmingly positive reaction from fans and fellow players alike. He has been a champion for LGBTQ+ equality in the sports world, and believes that although rugby league may appear to be a ‘macho’ sport to the outside world, it is hugely inclusive.
Nicola Adams, English, Boxing
Nicola Adams OBE is Great Britain’s most successful female boxer of all time. She became an icon at the London 2012 Olympic Games after winning the first ever female boxing gold medal for Great Britain as an openly LGBT person. She then went on to win a gold medal in the 2016 Rio Olympics to become the first British boxer to successfully defend their Olympic title for 92 years. Adams won Olympic, Commonwealth and European Games' titles, and the World, European and European Union championships. She retired with an undefeated record and held the WBO female flyweight title in 2019.
Nicola Adams was named the most influential LGBT person in Britain by The Independent in 2012, and she was appointed MBE in 2013 and OBE in 2016 in recognition of her services to boxing and unprecedented achievements.
Gus Kenworthy, British-American, Skiing
Freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy has competed in slopestyle, halfpipe and big air categories, and won a silver medal at the 2014 Sochi Olympic games, representing the US. In 2019, Kenworthy announced that he would compete for his birth nation, Great Britain, and a few months later, he won his first gold medal as a competitor for Great Britain. He is also due to compete for Great Britain in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
Kenworthy came out as gay in 2015, becoming the first action-sports star to do so. He said: “For most of my life, I've been afraid to embrace that truth about myself. Recently though, I've gotten to the point where the pain of holding onto the lie is greater than the fear of letting go, and I'm very proud to finally be letting my guard down”. In 2018, he was pictured kissing his then boyfriend before his race at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, which was broadcast on live TV and became a significant moment in LGBT visibility.
Mark Foster, English, Swimming
English former competitive swimmer Mark Foster represented Great Britain in the Olympics and World Championships, and swam for England in the Commonwealth Games. At 15, he was officially the fastest swimmer in the country. He competed primarily in butterfly and freestyle at a 50-metre distance, and won numerous medals in international competition during his long career, making him one of the most successful British swimmers of all time. He retired briefly in 2006 at the age of 35, but made a comeback at the national championships the following year, winning both his events. He had a total of six World Championship titles, two Commonwealth titles and eleven European titles to his name before finally retiring after the 2008 Olympics.
Despite living an openly gay life to friends and family, Foster hid his identity as a sportsman. He decided to announce that he was gay in 2017, saying: “I tiptoed around the issue for so long”. The swimmer began seeing a therapist in 2017, and decided that it was the right time to share his feelings. Foster has supported the Terrence Higgins Trust, Stonewall and Ben Cohen’s Stand Up To Bullying Campaign, and has recently admitted that his life is “much easier now”.
Michael Sam, American, American Football
Former professional American football player Michael Sam Jr. played college football for the Missouri Tigers, before being drafted by the St. Louis Rams of the NFL (National Football League) in the seventh round of the 2014 NFL draft. He also played a season for the Montreal Alouettes in the CFL (Canadian Football League), before stepping away from professional football due to mental health reasons in 2015.
After completing his college football career, Sam came out as gay, becoming the first publicly gay player to be drafted in the NFL. He was also the first publicly gay player to play in the CFL. Sam currently shares his experiences as an author and motivational speaker.
Colin Jackson, Welsh, Athletics
Colin Jackson CBE is a Welsh former sprint and hurdling athlete, who specialized in the 110 meters hurdles. During his career, he won an Olympic silver medal, was two-time world champion, world indoor champion, went undefeated at the European Championships for 12 years and was a two-time Commonwealth champion. His world record of 12.91 seconds for the 110m hurdles stood for over a decade and even though he retired in 2003, he still remains the 60 meters hurdles world record holder.
He told his parents that he was gay in 2006, at the age of 39, after a former partner sold a “kiss and tell” story to a tabloid newspaper. He said: “I was waiting for them in the kitchen. They walked in and they sat down. My mother could see my face and I was quite distraught. It didn’t faze them at all.”
Casey Stoney, English, Football
Casey Stoney MBE is a professional football manager and former defender. Since making her England debut in 2000, she has been capped more than 100 times, and she was an integral part of the England teams which reached the UEFA Women's Euro 2009 final and the quarter finals of the FIFA Women's World Cup in 2007 and 2011. In 2012, Stoney succeeded Faye White as the England captain and also became captain of the newly formed Team GB squad for the 2012 London Olympics. She played for various league clubs throughout her career, before ending her playing career at Liverpool Ladies in 2018. She was appointed head coach of WSL (Women’s Super League) club Manchester United the same year.
Stoney came out to her family at an early age, but didn’t reveal her sexuality publicly until 2014, at the age of 31. She decided to speak out after seeing the positive reaction to diver Tom Daley saying he was in a relationship with a man, and because of the "loving relationship" she was in. Understandably, Stoney found revealing her sexuality to the world daunting. “I’ve never been someone who wanted to be in the spotlight,” she says. “Ever. I’m quite happy staying in the background so it was a strange experience”. She added: “The amount of positive responses, the amount of people saying I’ve helped them, it’s been really overwhelming and justified my decision”.
Jason Collins, American, Basketball
Former professional basketball player Jason Collins played college basketball for Stanford University, where he was an All-American in 2000/01. Collins was selected by the Houston Rockets as the 18th overall pick in the 2001 NBA (National Basketball Association) draft. He then went on to play for the New Jersey Nets, Memphis Grizzlies, Minnesota Timberwolves, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Washington Wizards and Brooklyn Nets.
In 2013, Collins made history when he became the first person to openly come out in any of the four major US professional sports. He broke the news in an article in Sports Illustrated, writing, "I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay." The following year, Collins retired from the NBA after 13 seasons in the league. And in 2014, he was featured on the cover of Time Magazine's ‘100 Most Influential People in the World’.
Gareth Thomas, Welsh, Rugby Union
Gareth Thomas CBE is a former professional rugby player, who represented Wales in both rugby union and rugby league. He was the most capped Welsh rugby union player with 100 test match appearances, until he was overtaken by Stephen Jones in 2011. He won four rugby league caps for Wales, scoring three tries. He is currently ranked 13th among international try scorers, and is the second highest Wales try scorer behind Shane Williams. He retired from rugby in October 2011.
Thomas became one of the first known active gay athletes when he publicly acknowledged his sexuality in 2009. The following year he was voted the most influential gay person in the UK in The Independent on Sunday Pink List and received Stonewell’s Hero of the Year award. And rugby players from across the globe supported Thomas as part of the Rainbow Laces campaign that the charity Stonewall UK began in 2013.
Mel Reid, English, Golf
Melissa Reid is a professional golfer who plays on the Ladies European Tour and the LPGA Tour. She won several events as an amateur golfer, and played on the Great Britain and Ireland team in the 2006 Curtis Cup, before turning professional in 2007 at the age of 20. She began playing on the Ladies European Tour (LET) in 2008 on sponsor invitations, and a third-place finish at the Australian Open allowed her to stay in the top 20 on the money list and gain entrance into LET events for the rest of the season. Reid was named LET Rookie of the Year in 2008, and has won a total of six times on the Ladies European Tour, plus two top-10 finishes on the LPGA Tour, including a win in her maiden LPGA Tour event, the ShopRite LPGA Classic in 2020.
Mel Reid joined with Athlete Ally in 2018—an organization that's working to eliminate homophobia and transphobia in sport—to publicly accounted she was gay. For a long time she protected her sexuality as a means to advance her career and as a result of the fear of losing sponsorship. According to Reid, she acknowledges the influential power her platform has given her. “I’ve just reached a point in my life where I feel like my true, authentic self,” Reid said. “If my story helps one person, then I feel like it’s a good cause”.
Many LGBTQ+ athletes and sports people have taken the brave decision to come out publicly in recent years, inspiring many others to follow suit. But sadly, athletes are still facing discrimination in sport, which has a negative impact on the number of LGBTQ+ people taking part. There are lots of organizations all over the world working to challenge LGBTQ+ phobia in sport and improve access to sport for all LGBTQ+ people across the world. Pride Sports was founded in 2006, and is one of three organizations in the UK working solely to challenge homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in sport. They work with National Governing Bodies, County Sports Partnerships, Local Authorities and grassroots clubs to make sure LGBTQ+ people are able to get into organized sport and have an enjoyable and rewarding experience within sport.
If you want to find out how to be more LGBTQ+ inclusive in sport, or if you’re part of the LGBTQ+ community and have been inspired to take up a new sport, check out our article for further information and advice.