Originally published in 2019
After coming out in December 2018, British golfer Mel Reid left her native England for the sunny straightaways of the Sunshine State.
She told the LPGA’s Amy Rogers she moved to Florida not only to focus on her LPGA career, but also to give back to the LGBTQ community in ways a previous generation couldn’t.
“The reason I did it was I feel like I’m on a platform where I can have some sort of influence and I have a voice,” Reid told Rogers in the video. “This is my way of giving back.”
For an article appearing on the website of the LPGA, the legendary golf journalist Ron Sirak contrasted the lessons Reid is learning, with that of a golf icon who came out 15 years ago under much different circumstances.
Reid said she is very much aware of how much has changed, as well as how much still needs to change.
“It’s a serious subject,” Reid said. “People kill themselves over it. I just wanted to say, ‘Look, this is who I am. I’m very proud of who I am.’ I feel like it’s 2019 and it should be normalized. It doesn’t make me a bad person just because of the gender of who I love.”
As part of stepping up, Reid is teaming up with the National High School Golf Association, which offers an online LGBTQ resource for players, coaches and families.
Next week, Reid is taking part in a webinar for NHSGA, titled “LGBTQ Education and Inclusion in Junior Golf,” along with Todd Fujiakwa, Maya Reddy, Greg Fitzgerald and Chris Noble. It’s Tuesday, March 26 at 8pm EDT. Click here to sign up.
As Sirak reported, Reid, 31, stands on the shoulders of pioneers like Rosie Jones, who for too long had to hide who she was while playing professional golf.
“Back then, the LPGA had a habit of protecting the brand because of the ever-present stigma of lesbians on our tour,” said Jones, who was contacted by the LPGA for their article about Reid, and just as she did on the links, she did not hold back. “And not to blame the LPGA, it was the sign of the times. The LPGA’s first priority was to its entire membership and sponsors.”
Jones, 59, came out in 2004, after Olivia, a travel agency that catered to lesbians, offered her an endorsement deal.
“It was a difficult decision because I had been living a secret publicly and was a little afraid to change that,” said Jones. “I didn’t want to tarnish the image of the LPGA or any of the relationships I had with sponsors, organizations or affiliates I had.”
“Before I made the Olivia announcement, I called the LPGA, all of my sponsors, my golf club affiliates in Atlanta, all the organizations that I was acting as a spokesperson, and few close fellow players, to let them know what I was about to do,” she said. “I told them that this was the time to bail or prepare for the questions they may get.”
“I was not given one ounce of negative feedback from those calls,” Jones said. “It was no surprise to them and they did not care. I actually gained endorsements the following years. The LPGA helped orchestrate my media attention. Instead of sweeping the topic under the rug as in the past, they made the transition as easy as possible for me, our tournaments, sponsors and fans.”
“It was hard to bare my soul to the questions asked of me after a round of great golf, but eventually the questions got back to golf and it was not the big topic any longer,” she said.
“I was tired of not authenticating who I was as a person,” said Jones. “It was a different time in the world of sports and life in our country. I felt that the tour was in a different place, sponsors were more performance-driven and the public was getting more use to the gay life style. More entertainers, actors, musicians, politicians were out. It was a perfect time for me, the LPGA and our fans.”
“The feedback I got from our fans was far more rewarding that the money I received from my new gay sponsor,” Jones said. “People came out of the woodwork going out of their way thanking me for coming out and being courageous for standing up and representing the LBGT community.”
LPGA reports Jones is semi-retired, doing woodworking, boating and living with her partner of 14 years, Carrie Sexton, on Hilton Head Island. “Our new addition is Berty, the puppy girl,” Jones said, “And I’m working hard on my game for the U.S. Senior Women’s Open, Senior LPGA and the Legends Tour.”
“It was very invigorating and cathartic for me to respond to your questions,” she said. “I feel really a sense of freedom and empowerment to finally share and reveal what it was like for me and many others during that time on tour. Thanks so much for thinking of me and reminding me of my voice.”