8 LGBTQIA+ Icons in Sports History

While TOGETHXR values and celebrates members of the LGBTQIA+ community all year long, Pride Month is a perfect time to recognize some incredible trailblazers. Most of these athletes were the first in their sport to come out in some way, breaking barriers and changing the game both on and off the field.

Sue Wicks 🏀

Sue Wicks was drafted into the WNBA by the New York Liberty in 1997 after smashing nearly every women’s basketball record at Rutgers in her collegiate career. Her shot-blocking abilities made her an integral part of the Liberty squad. But Wicks’ play wasn’t her only mark on the WNBA. 

In a 2002 interview, a journalist asked Wicks if she was gay — to which Wicks answered, without hesitation, yes. At that moment, Wicks became the first athlete in the WNBA to come out as LGBTQIA+ — and changed the landscape of the league forever. 

“It would always chafe against me, someone saying, ‘You can’t say that you are gay.’ You know what, I like myself, I’m proud of myself and that is me, and I don’t care.” - Sue Wicks

Briana Scurry ⚽

Briana Scurry quickly became a star after stellar performances in the 1999 Women’s World Cup, where she made a pivotal save in goal to help the U.S. seal its win over China. Scurry was the only Black player on the team, and one of the first openly LGBTQIA+ players in USWNT history. She specifically recalled television cameras panning away from her as she gave her girlfriend a celebratory kiss after winning the World Cup. In 2022, Scurry released a documentary about her experience being the only Black player and out lesbian on the national team called “The Only”, which is streaming on Prime Video. 

“What I realized after the fact was the media had problems with the way I looked and the fact that I was gay. That was a bit of an eye opener and something I had to reconcile and realize because I always felt my color was never going to be anything that held me back.” - Briana Scurry

Billie Jean King 🎾

Billie Jean King won hearts and opened minds throughout her illustrious tennis career. After winning the first-ever Battle of the Sexes, BJK helped to establish the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), providing decades of opportunities for female tennis players after her. In 1981, King was outed to the press and subsequently lost all of her sponsorships. Her agents urged King to deny the claims, but instead, BJK confirmed that she identified as lesbian, becoming the first prominent female athlete to openly identify as LGBTQIA+. Since then, King has remained steadfast in fighting for the LGBTQIA+ community and was even honored with a Presidential Medal of Freedom for her activism in 2009. 

“It takes bravery to live an authentic life. While I was not able to come out as a member of the LGBTQ community on my own terms, if you’re ready & can safely do so, then I support you! And if you’re not quite there yet, I support you exactly where you are.” - Billie Jean King

Savoy Howe 🥊

Savoy Howe began boxing in 1992 and quickly found herself working her way to the top of Toronto’s boxing scene. Soon after, she was fighting in the first-ever sanctioned women’s boxing events and even in a boxing documentary, where she became the first woman boxer to publicly identify as lesbian. Howe decided to start teaching boxing, which led to her opening the first-ever women’s only boxing gym in Canada. Howe’s club, Toronto Newsgirls Boxing Club, closed for a brief period in 2020 but is back up and running and now has over 300+ active members

“I had just come [to Toronto] with my theater degree. At the same time, I was trying to come out of the closet, and at that time, 30 years ago, it was a pretty unsafe place… and I didn’t want to be afraid. So one day, I saw a picture of a woman in the newspaper wearing boxing gloves, and it was kind of like a light bulb went off.” - Savoy “Kapow” Howe

Quinn ⚽

Seattle Reign and Canadian National team midfielder Quinn made history in 2021 when they became the first openly transgender and non-binary player to win an Olympic gold medal. Quinn said that although they were out to most people in their life, they decided to come out publicly in 2020 not only so that they could live their most authentic life, but also to provide trans representation within the soccer community. 

"Mostly, I feel aware of the realities. Trans girls being banned from sports. Trans women facing discrimination and bias while trying to pursue their Olympic dreams. The fight isn't close to over... and I'll celebrate when we're all here." - Quinn

Muffin Spencer-Devlin ⛳

Muffin Spencer-Devlin played in the LPGA from 1979-2000, where she notched three Tour wins. In 1996, she made history by becoming the first openly LGBTQIA+ LPGA player after coming out in a Sports Illustrated article. Spencer-Devlin struggled with her mental health and felt that hiding her identity only made her bouts with depression and mania worse. She made it a point to be outspoken regarding mental health, even though it was far more stigmatized to do so at the time.  

“Coming out is like an incredibly huge weight being lifted from my shoulders. No more living in the shadows. No more lies.”  -Muffin Spencer-Devlin

Layshia Clarendon 🏀

In December of 2020, Layshia Clarendon made history by sharing that they identified as trans and non-binary — effectively becoming the first non-cisgender player in WNBA history. Clarendon, who uses all pronouns interchangeably, has been one of the most outspoken players in the WNBA regarding many social issues and served as the WNBPA’s First Vice President during the 2020 “Wubble'' season.  

“I love how much being trans makes me think outside the box in every part of my life, because I don’t fit neatly into any category. And I love how what makes being trans hard is also what can make it beautiful, how being trans and nonbinary means existing outside of everything.” - Layshia Clarendon

Amanda Nunes 👊

Amanda “Lioness” Nunes isn’t just the most decorated female fighter in the MMA, she was also the first out LGBTQIA+ UFC fighter in history. Nunes went 23-5-0 in her historic career and was the only woman to hold two UFC championships simultaneously. As soon as Nunes won the fight at UFC 289, she went into retirement on a high note with both of her championship belts at her feet.

“I accomplished my dreams, and I’m gay, I think anyone, running after their goals, earning it, being good, they can make it there. Regardless of orientation, race, everything. The world has enough space for everyone.” - Amanda Nunes