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Breaking Barriers: 10 Legendary Lesbian Athletes Who Are Changing the World

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Feb 28, 2024

Breaking Barriers: 10 Legendary Lesbian Athletes Who Are Changing the World
  • The history of professional sports has always had LGBTQIA+ people smashing records and breaking barriers. 

    These days, professional women’s sports are leading the industry when it comes to the diversity and inclusion of openly queer athletes. While the sports industry has long been perceived as heteronormative and male-dominated, there are many gay women and non-binary athletes who are changing the rules of the game. 

    Whether you are here to learn the names of every single lesbian in the 2023 World Cup or you want to do a deep dive into the history of queer athletes in professional sports, you’ve come to the right place. The women who can live out and be proud today come from a long history of LGBTQIA+ people who fought for recognition, visibility, and the ability to compete in professional sports. It all started over three decades ago, in 1981. 

    We’ll be talking about famous athletes, like: 

    • Megan Rapnioe
    • Kristie Mewis 
    • Sam Kerr
    • Marta
    • Brittney Griner 
    • Sue Bird 
    • Candance Parker
    • Amanda Nunes 
    • Nina Nunes
    • Angel Flores 

    A brief history of queer women in sports

    Gay women have been competing in sports (and forming intramural lesbian sports leagues for cruising and recreational dyke drama) since the dawn of time. But in the more recently documented history, the Czech tennis player Martina Navratilova made history when she publicly came out as bisexual in 1981. 

    Navratilova finished her career with 18 major singles titles, including four U.S. Opens, three French and two Australian. Adding in her 38 doubles titles, Navratilova won 56 Grand Slam championships. In 1981, she revealed to the New York Daily News that she had a sexual relationship with author Rita Mae Brown—can you think of a more iconic duo?—but asked them not to publish the article. Of course, they did. 

    This wasn’t the only example of a public outing in the 80s. A few months earlier, another famous female tennis player, Billie Jean King (who famously triumphed in the “Battle of the Sexes” against Bobby Riggs), was also forced to come out after an affair she had with her former secretary came to light. Her publicists told her to deny the claim, but she refused.

    “I said: ‘I’m going to do it. I don’t care. This is important to me, to tell the truth,'” King told NBC News 44 years later.

    Billie Jean King

    “The one thing my mother always said, ‘To thine own self be true.'”

    Billie Jean King

    Even though both of these women’s hands were forced, their visibility paved the way for other lesbian and bisexual athletes to come out throughout the 1980s and 90s. French tennis player Amélie Mauresmo came out in 1999 at the age of 19—one of the first to come at the start of her career rather than the end. 

    Muffin Spencer-Devlin paved the way for lesbian golfers as the first LGPA player to come out as gay. Less than a decade later, LPGA star Rosie Jones publicly announced she was a lesbian in 2004, although she had been out to family and friends since the late 70s. 

    Since the WNBA began play in 1997, over a third of all-time Top 25 WNBA players are lesbian, queer, or bisexual. And we all know the legacy of queer women soccer players in the NWSL and competing on the top stage in the World Cup. Here are some of the top lesbian athletes who have become household names in women’s soccer, basketball, MMA, and more

    The most iconic lesbian soccer players

    Kristie Mewis, a lesbian USWNT player, confronts her girlfriend Sam Kerr after Team USA defeated Australia in the bronze medal match at the Tokyo Olympics.

    Source: People

    Bend It Like Beckham was just the beginning. I, amongst others, proudly joined the ranks of the millions of queers who spent all my pastime this summer Googling “Lesbians in the World Cup.” It was deeply important to me and my friends to know exactly who on the pitch was gay—we even had a running bet going to see who had the best gaydar. 

    I would love to spend this entire section introducing you to all 100 of the out lesbians in the World Cup—including Adrianna Franch, Quinn, Rachel Daly, Kadeisha Buchanan, and Hannah Wilkinson. But, let’s keep it high-level. This list of high-profile lesbian soccer players is required reading for anyone who wants to get an idea of just how gay the sport is.

    Megan Rapnioe

    Megan Rapinoe and Sue Bird hold hands after Rapinoe’s last NWSL match for OL Reign.

    Source: Just Women’s Sports

    This wouldn’t be a spotlight on lesbian athletes if we didn’t mention the OG, the stylish, passionate, fierce, hot, and gay, Megan Rapinoe. She is one of the most talked-about female athletes of our time. She has been proudly out for more than a decade and is one of the most vocal athletes on women’s issues, LGBTQIA+ rights, and diversity and inclusion at large. 

    Former U.S. soccer player Julie Foudy, one of the 1999 US Women’s National Team stars, has nothing but good things to say about Rapinoe.

    “In the past, many female athletes—in our generation, for sure—were told to sit down, be quiet, and be grateful. What Rapinoe has brought to the equation is the idea that we will have to boldly disrupt.”

    Julie Foudy

    And boldly disrupt, she does. She and Sue Bird are currently in the running for the most badass queer sports couple on the scene today. More on Bird in a bit. 

    Kristie Mewis and Sam Kerr

    Sam Kerr and Kristie Mewis, lesbian soccer’s favorite power couple, pose for a selfie together in a soccer stadium.

    Source: Just Women’s Sports

    While we are on the topic of lesbian athlete power couples, USWNT player Kristie Mewis and the current captain of the Australia women’s national team have officially announced their engagement! Their romance first ignited during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and has been going from strength to strength ever since. Mewis and Kerr are amongst some of the latest queer soccer players to boo up with a fellow soccer player. At least they are on different teams!

    In the Netflix documentary Under Pressure—which, if you haven’t watched yet, is a must-see—Kerr reveals the secret to her and Mewis’ relationship on and off the pitch.

    “We’re both so supportive of each other but also so hard on each other.”

    Sam Kerr

    The Matildas star says that having a relationship with a fellow soccer star

    “Drives us. We’re both so competitive, but some days I’ll come out of a game, she’ll come out of a game, and we’ll just say we don’t want to talk about soccer.”

    Sam Kerr

    We can’t wait for the wedding.


    Marta Vieira da Silva, one of the best lesbian soccer players in the world, runs across the field with the arms outstretched in her iconic yellow Brazilian #10 jersey.

    Source: Gayles TV

    If you are new to the international women’s soccer scene, one name you absolutely need to know is Marta. The Brazilian-Swedish soccer player is often regarded as the greatest female footballer of all time. Oh, and she also happens to be gay AF. Marta, la rainha do futebol, came out in a public post in January 2021 when she announced her engagement to Toni Pressley. 

    This was a huge moment for queer Brazilians, as it marked one of the first times that a Brazilian sports star in the public eye would come out as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community.

    “Being LGBT in Brazil is an act of courage,”

    Julia Santana

    Queer basketball players

    If you aren’t a soccer girlie, like myself, then let me introduce you to the gayest sport out there: women’s basketball. The WNBA is so gay that a self-proclaimed heterosexual woman, Candice Wiggins, said that

    “The WNBA’s lesbian culture broke my spirit.”

    Candice Wiggins

    Whatever that means! While women’s professional basketball is highly overlooked, these girls are proving that the WNBA deserves to be on the map for some of the best game out there. 

    Brittney Griner

    Britney Griner, number 42 on the Phoenix Mercury, poses with her hands up, during her rousing welcome back to the WBNA.

    Source: ABC 27

    Queer basketball player Britney Griner is a two-time Olympic gold medalist with the U.S. women’s national basketball team and a six-time WNBA All-Star from Houston, TX. She garnered international attention when she was imprisoned in Russia after she was found traveling with vape cartridges with cannabis oil. After returning home, she has become an advocate for detainees and is currently working on a documentary to share her story with the world. 

    Oh, and did I mention that she and her wife, Cherelle Griner, met in college when she accused Brittney of

    “Took your milkshake (still up for debate lol)”

    Brittney Griner

    in Griners own words. Cherelle Griner stuck by Brittney’s side and tirelessly advocated for the Phoenix Mercury star during her wrongful detention. We can’t wait to see what Brittney Griner does next. 

    Sue Bird 

    Queer athlete couple Sue Bird and Megan Rapinoe pose together at a basketball game, they are both dressed in iconic sports jerseys.

    Source: The Spun

    I promised that we would get back to the other half of Megan Rapinoe’s power couple, Sue Bird. So far we’ve covered lesbian athlete couples who play the same sport, but this one has to be our favorite cross-sport romance out there. Suzanne Brigit Bird is an American former professional basketball player who played her entire career with the Seattle Storm of the WNBA. Bird is considered to be one of the greatest players in WNBA history.

    Upon coming out in 2017, she said,

    “These aren’t secrets to people who know me. I think people have this assumption that if you’re not talking about it, you must be hiding it, like it’s this secret. That was never the case for me.”

    Sue Bird 

    Bird and Rapinoe made history when they posed nude together for ESPN The Magazine’s Body Issue. They were the first same-sex couple the magazine ever featured. They got engaged in 2020, have supported each other through the ups and downs of their careers, and say that they are “slowly” planning a wedding. Another win for gay marriage!

    Candance Parker

    A glamorous photo of Candance Parker with her wife Anna Petrakova. They are both wearing neon sequin pantsuits while Anna holds a small black basketball.

    Source: People

    Candance Nicole Parker, a.k.a. “Ace,” is an American professional basketball player for the Las Vegas Aces. Parker has done just about everything there is to do in the land of basketball. She’s won three WNBA titles, two MVP awards, and made seven All-Star appearances. She is also currently married to Anna Petrakova, a retired Russian professional basketball player. The couple has a son together and are expecting another baby on the way. 

    She stated that the reason she came out and acknowledged her two-year marriage to Anna Petrakova was because of her 13-year-old daughter.

    “I always tell my daughter to be herself [and] to be proud of who she is. And I can’t say that to her if I’m not doing it myself,” she shared.

    Candance Parker

    “I don’t want her to ever think that I’m ashamed or not proud of our family.”

    Candance Parker

    Other LGBTQIA+ professional athletes

    There are many lesbian athletes that serve as powerful role models not only for their outstanding physical abilities, but also for their advocacy challenging LGBTQIA+ discriminatory policies and trying to change the culture of sports for the better. There are many queer women outside of basketball and soccer who are reclaiming the narrative.

    Amanda Nunes and Nina Nunes

    Lesbian MMA power couple Amanda Nunes and Nina Nunes pose with their baby. Amanda is wearing her UFC champion belt.

    Source: My MMA News

    My favorite thing about women’s sports is just how many of the women end up dating each other. It’s a beautiful, and very gay cultural phenomenon. If you know anything about mixed martial arts, then you will know the legacy of lesbian athelete Amanda “Lioness” Nunes—otherwise known as the greatest fighter in the history of women’s MMA. Nunes was the UFC’s first openly lesbian fighter and got married to her wife Nina Nunes (née Ansaroff) in 2019. 

    The MMA power couple has two beautiful children and are adjusting to a life in retirement from professional fighting. When asked about the start of their romance, Nunes said,

    “We enjoyed being around each other and we were also best friends. We’d go fishing together and training together, and sometimes we go a little heavier in the sparring session and then we just smile after.”

    Amanda Nunes

    Sounds like a sporty lesbian dream to me.

    Angel Flores 

    Transgender powerlifter and lesbian athlete Angel Flores stands in a pink sports bra in a gym with pride flags and a sign that reads “Liberation” behind her.

    Source: Central

    The last queer athlete and LGBTQIA+ icon on this list is none other than Angel Flores. Angel Flores is a transgender barbell athlete who held the Texas state record for deadlifting 402 pounds. She is a queer, trans femme icon in a world that expects trans women to be ultra-feminine to be seen as their true gender. Angel rewrites that narrative for all the trans femme athletes and lesbian powerlifters out there. And yes, it looks like she is currently single!

    It’s crucial to celebrate the queer athletes who are striving to make the world a better, more inclusive, and objectively hotter place (not in the global warming type of way). Sporty dykes are going anywhere. We are at the tipping point of a tidal wave of gay women who are changing the culture of sports for generations to come.

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    Dusty Brandt Howard is a writer & a fighter. He is a trans masculine cultural narrator who builds worlds with words. You can follow his thirst traps on Instagram, his writing on Substack, or find him at your local queer bar in northeast LA.

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