Through their tremendous visibility on television, LGBTQ+ athletes have helped change the culture of sports and society. Trailblazers such as Billie Jean King, David Kopay, Billy Bean, Jason Collins, Megan Rapinoe, and others have paved the way for contemporary LGBTQ+ athletes in all sports, opening eyes to the importance of equality and inclusion in all arenas, and the power of sports to both reflect and influence the evolution of our society.
Below is a timeline that includes some of the most important and iconic moments in the history of LGBTQ+ representation in sports.
Icons & Milestones
- In 1975, former NFL player David Kopay is the first professional athlete to come out as gay and his subsequent book, The David Kopay Story, becomes a best seller. He was a major inspiration for ESPN’s groundbreaking report Outside the Lines: The World of the Gay Athlete in 1998.
- In 1978, Glenn Burke is the first openly gay baseball player, coming out to his Los Angeles Dodger teammates. In 2013 Burke, who is recognized as the inventor of the “High Five” celebration, was among the first class inducted into the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame. His legacy is a subject of the revealing Comcast SportsNet Bay Area documentary in 2011, Out: The Glenn Burke Story.
- On May 1, 1981, tennis legend Billie Jean King holds a televised press conference and becomes the first prominent female athlete to come out publicly. CNN, the only national cable news network at the time, devotes significant coverage to the story, playing the footage repeatedly throughout the day.
- In 1986, CBS airs the television movie Second Serve, starring Vanessa Redgrave, about the pioneering transgender tennis player Renée Richards.
- Olympic diving legend Greg Louganis comes out at the opening ceremony of the 1994 Gay Games, held in New York coinciding with the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Stonewall riots. A beloved sports star from his televised gold medal–winning Olympic diving performances in 1984 and 1988, Louganis recounts his legendary career and living with AIDS in the 2014 HBO documentary Back on Board: Greg Louganis.
- On June 21, 1997, the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) plays its landmark first game in between the New York Liberty and the Los Angeles Sparks, televised nationally on NBC. The WNBA has a long history of embracing diversity and inclusion, partnering with GLAAD for Spirit Day where players support LGBTQ+ youth and stand up against bullying.
- Former baseball player Billy Bean discusses being a closeted man in sports with Diane Sawyer on 20/20 in 1999. Bean was appointed MLB’s first Ambassador for Inclusion in 2014.
- In 2006, Patrick Farabaugh creates the Madison (Wisconsin) Gay Hockey Association, now the largest LGBTQ+ hockey league in America. The MGHA is the subject of a 2019 video produced by the NHL as part of its Pride Month celebration.
- In 2007, John Amaechi is the first former NBA player to announce he is gay, on the ESPN program Outside the Lines.
- On April 30, 2013, basketball star Jason Collins appears on ABC’s Good Morning America one day after announcing in Sports Illustrated that he’s gay. He becomes the first active male athlete in one of the four major U.S. sports to do so. At his first game following the announcement, Collins receives a standing ovation from fans in his Brooklyn Nets debut.
- In 2014, Michael Sam is the first out gay player to be selected in the NFL Draft when he is taken by the St. Louis Rams. ESPN and NFL Network both carry the moment live as he celebrates on national television by kissing his boyfriend, bringing this milestone moment to a national TV audience.
- In 2014, the Epix documentary To Russia with Love examines two generations of Olympic gay athletes, from the experiences of Billie Jean King and Greg Louganis to the Olympians who competed in the Sochi, Russia Winter Olympics, where anti-gay laws were in place.
- One of the legends of college basketball at Baylor, Brittney Griner comes out as gay after being selected number one in the 2015 WNBA draft by the Phoenix Mercury.
- In 2016, Harrison Browne, a center of the NWHL’s Buffalo Beauts, becomes the first hockey player to publicly come out as transgender. Browne has been the subject of several inspiring NHL.com videos.
- In 2019, Megan Rapinoe is named Sports Illustrated’s “Sportsperson of the Year,” after leading the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team to a fourth World Cup in front of a global television audience. Rapinoe uses her platform to be an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ+ rights and equal pay, appearing on numerous talk shows and news programs.
- In 2020, WNBA icon and four-time champion Sue Bird hosts Love Stories, a roundtable discussion on Uninterrupted’s YouTube Channel, celebrating LGBTQ+ visibility and emotional awareness.
- On June 21, 2021, during Pride Month, Carl Nassib, defensive end for the Las Vegas Raiders, announced on Instagram that he is gay, becoming the first active NFL player to come out publicly.