For only the second time ever a woman has won a Professional Bowlers Association tournament, and this time she was an out lesbian.
Liz Johnson beat Anthony Pepe, who is also openly gay, in the final of the Professional Bowlers Association Chameleon Championship on Saturday. Over a dozen years ago Johnson was the first woman ever to earn a spot on a men’s tournament broadcast. Now she joins Kelly Kulick as the only two women to beat the guys.
This is also the first time Johnson is talking publicly to the media about being LGBT. She said she hasn’t avoided the conversation, but it also just hasn’t been a priority to talk proactively about it.
"My family and friends know,” Johnson told Outsports. “I have some close friends I've known for a long time, and any of my close friends have known for 20 years."
Johnson is currently engaged to her fiancée, Kasia Kaufman, and the two will be married soon.
While Johnson grew up in Upstate New York, the couple lives near Chicago, where Kaufman works. For Johnson, who travels a lot for bowling, the central location in the Midwest isn’t a bad thing.
Johnson said she has been bowling professionally for over two decades. In that time she has not hidden who she is and has been out and proud with fellow bowlers and people across the leadership of the PBA.
“I started bowling on the ladies tour when I was 20 or 21, and it was a big part on the ladies tour for a while,” Johnson said. “A good portion of the ladies out there were gay. Anyone who was out there knew who anyone was and it didn't matter. They didn't care who you were with.
“If you’re a great person, you’re great person. Same thing with the guys. The guys have always treated me well because of my ability and my personality. They don’t care who I'm with. Everyone respects one another.”
Johnson ended up bowling on the men’s tour when the ladies’ tour folded in 2003. Despite the Professional Women’s Bowling Association launching again in 2015, she has been competing across gender lines. She is likely the best female bowler in the United States, most recently winning the U.S. Open in 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017. That’s an incredibly solid streak.
Now she can add a victory on the open tour to her trophy case.
Johnson’s victory over Pepe will be broadcast on ESPN on Dec. 17. Set your DVRs!