Role Models: Openly Gay Athletes Play an Important Role in Promoting LGBTQ Rights

What role do openly gay athletes play in promoting the rights of the LGBT community? This question is often asked, and the answer is incredibly important to understand.  To be honest, the role that these individuals play is valuable almost beyond words.

Let’s face it, professional athletes are celebrities  - and they are everywhere.  We see them on the fields, in the news, and even on social media.  And, because of their success (it takes a lot of talent and work to make a living playing a sport), they are truly influential.  People across the country and around the world try products advertised by their favorite athletes and even help support the causes they take the time to represent. We have seen them as spokespeople for charities and organizations - using their notoriety and celebrity for good.

The value openly gay athletes bring to the community is considerable.  First, they provide us (and our children) with the knowledge that somebody “just like us” can do what they do. This is so important - it offers hope and instills confidence.

And, when they actively support causes important to the LGBTQ community, they raise awareness of important issues, educating those who may not identify as a member of our community but may just appreciate their performance, and would be otherwise unaware.

Being an openly gay athlete can be challenging, which is why so many hesitate to share their true selves publicly. But those who have managed to make a lasting impression and help show that people are people, regardless of who they love, and raise awareness and money for important causes.

For example, in 2012 Megan Rapino (who has multiple world cup and Olympic medals, for the U.S. Soccer team) came out as a lesbian.  She continuously fights for the rights of the LGBTQ community, increasing visibility for the issues closest to her heart. Other professional athletes who are openly gay and who have had incredible influence include, but are not limited to Jason Collins (retired, NBA), Joanna Lohman (women’s soccer), and the very famous Billie Jean King (women’s tennis).

Openly Gay Athletes

  • Chris Mosier: Chris Mosier is the first openly transgender athlete to earn a spot on a men's U.S National team. Besides being an All American duathlete and groundbreaking triathlete, Mosier has dedicated his life to fighting for transgender rights. He founded, an online platform that promotes inclusivity in sports, and is the vice president of You Can Play, an organization that works to ensure safety and inclusion in all sports. Mosier worked with HRC to speak out against North Carolina’s anti-LGBTQ HB2 law, and also participated in HRC’s Facebook Live Transgender Day of Visibility panel

  • Megan Rapinoe: As a member of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team, Megan Rapinoe helped Team USA secure a gold medal at the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup and the 2012 London Olympics. Rapinoe came out as a lesbian in 2012 and has since worked tirelessly for the rights of LGBTQ athletes. Rapinoe is a longtime HRC supporter, joining our #LoveConquersHate campaign in 2013 in support of Russia’s LGBTQ community.  

  • Joanna Lohman: Former member of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team and Washington Spirit midfielder/defender, Joanna Lohman has worked to advance the rights of LGBTQ athletes everywhere. She helped launch GO! Athletes, an organization that aims to create a safer space for all LGBTQ youth athletes in school, and also sported HRC’s logo in honor of several prides.

  • Kye Allums: In 2010, Kye Allums became the first openly transgender NCAA Division I college athlete. Since his incredible basketball career, Allums has become a vibrant advocate for transgender rights and is a supporter of HRC’s work. Allums also founded I Am Enough, which encourages other LGBTQ individuals to come forward and talk about their own life experiences. In 2015 Allums was inducted into the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame.

  • Layshia Clarendon: As a “biracial, black, gay, female, genderqueer and Christian” WBNA basketball player for the Atlanta Dream, Layshia Clarendon has proven to be a formidable force both on and off the court. Embracing the intersections of her identity, Clarendon is a vocal proponent for LGBTQ equality and regularly uses her platform to advocate for change. In August, Clarendon and fellow WNBA star, Brittney Griner, penned a powerful op-ed condemning the anti-transgender Texas bill, SB3.   

  • Billie Jean King: A legendary tennis player, advocate, and Presidential Medal of Freedom awardee, Billie Jean King is often called one of the greatest tennis players of all time. Since coming out as a lesbian in 1981, she has also been an avid advocate for LGBTQ rights in sports, receiving HRC’s National Equality Award in 2006. The story of her famous match with Bobby Riggs is told in the new movie Battle of the Sexes, featuring Steve Carell and Emma Stone.

  • Billy Bean: Billy Bean is a former Major League Baseball (MLB) player, and the second MLB player to publicly come out as gay. In 2014, he also became the MLB’s first Ambassador for Inclusion, working to remove homophobia and transphobia in the sport. Bean has been a long-time supporter of HRC, and participated in a number of HRC panels and conferences about LGBTQ inclusion in sports.      

  • John Amaechi: John Amaechi, who shared his coming out story in a video for HRC, is the first former NBA player to publicly come out as gay. Amaechi has been an outspoken critic of homophobia in sports and works to promote an inclusive and open environment for LGBTQ basketball players across the country.

  • Robbie Rogers: After signing with the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2014, Robbie Rogers became the first openly gay male athlete in any of the five major North American sports leagues. In 2015, Rogers was inducted into the Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame.

  • Brian Anderson: “It gets better,” professional skateboarder Brian Anderson said after coming out in September 2016. Based in Queens, N.Y., Anderson has long been a magnet for sponsors in the skateboarding world, but feared coming out would damage his reputation. Anderson continues to receive support from the LGBTQ community, especially the community of LGBTQ skateboarders.

As members of the LGBTQ community, we are proud and excited when openly gay athletes succeed. They are role models for us and our children and they play an important role in all of our lives.