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Celebrating LGBTQ sports history: The complicated champion Martina Navratilova

Every day in October we’re looking back at the athletes, coaches and events that made LGBTQ sports history.

Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championship
June 28, 1994
Photo by Bob Martin/Getty Images

Every day in October we’re looking back at the athletes, coaches and events that made LGBTQ sports history. Today, we recall the historic accomplishments of tennis icon Martina Navratilova, coming out as lesbian, fighting for human rights, as well as her controversial stance against transgender inclusion in sports. After the main story of her coming out, you’ll find links to our coverage from 2003 to today.

Martina Navratilova comes out

By Cyd Zeigler

Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championship
Martina Navratilova of the United States serving to Hana Mandlíkova in the Ladies Singles Semi - Final match on 1 July 1981 during the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championship at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in Wimbledon in London, England.
Photo by Tony Duffy/Allsport/Getty Images

You know her by one word: Martina. She is not only one of the greatest lesbian athletes of all time, not only one of the greatest tennis players of all time, not only one of the most important lesbians of all time, she is one of the greatest athletes of all time. Period. Career titles: 177 (world record for men and women, spanning four decades). Grand Slam titles: 59 (world record for men and women). ESPN and Bleacher Report have both named her one of the America’s 25 greatest athletes.

When she came out of the closet in 1981, she had recently defected from Czechoslovakia to the United States. Even then, at 18, her star was quickly rising with 11 Grand Slam titles already under her belt. While a small group of lesser-known athletes had come, and while Billie Jean King was outed months earlier, Martina was the first big-time athlete in her prime to come out publicly by her own volition.

Donna Lopiano, executive director of the Women’s Sports Foundation, told ESPN:

Martina was the first legitimate superstar who literally came out while she was a superstar. She exploded the barrier by putting it on the table. She basically said this part of my life doesn’t have anything to do with me as a tennis player. Judge me for who I am.

While brave, the public revelation cost her. She told Outsports in 2007 that she believed she had lost about $10 million in endorsement deals as corporate executives in the 1980s avoided her in the midst of the AIDS scare.

Martina has used her position for good, fighting the anti-gay Amendment 2 in 1992 and speaking at the gay march on Washington in 1993. She’s also worked with PETA, AARP and she has spoken strongly against the Communism that she escaped from in Eastern Europe.

I met Navratilova only once, in 2007 when she was making the rounds as spokesperson for the AARP. I was blessed to spend a couple hours with her at Good Morning America and then in her hotel room. She couldn’t have been more gracious, sitting with me for far longer than she said she had. I’ll forever remember those couple of hours with one of the great sports legends of our time. — Cyd Zeigler


The Once and Current Champ

At 46, Martina Navratilova Is Still Outspoken and Winning Titles

By Douglas Robson Jan 28, 2003


Martina Navratilova got married!

Congratulations Martina Navratilova, who married longtime girlfriend Julia Lemigova.

By Cyd Zeigler Dec 17, 2014

TENNIS-GBR-WIMBLEDON-VIP
US former tennis player Martina Navratilova (R) and her wife Russian bussinesswoman and former model Julia Lemigova July 6, 2019.
Photo credit should read GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images

Martina Navratilova deletes tweet about trans athletes, promises to ‘educate myself’

Navratilova made a trans-athlete comment that Right Wing pundits ran with. Now she wants to learn more about the issue.

By Cyd Zeigler Dec 21, 2018


Martina Navratilova on trans athletes: ‘Letting men compete as women is unfair’

The tennis legend says transgender inclusion in sports is “insane and it’s cheating.”

By Dawn Ennis Feb 17, 2019


Martina is an advocate for gay rights, human rights, animal rights, seniors and against communism

I wrote this in June 2019 about Navratilova’s record as a human rights advocate, which seems tarnished considering her support for excluding transgender athletes from women’s sports:

Navratilova used her position as a world champion to fight the anti-gay Amendment 2 in 1992 and spoke at the gay march on Washington in 1993. She’s also worked with PETA, AARP and she spoke strongly against Communism in Eastern Europe.


‘Perhaps I don’t know as much as I thought!’ Martina Navratilova talks about her new trans athlete documentary

The tennis legend who once called trans women “cheaters” hints that she may be more open-minded now.

By Ken Schultz Jun 21, 2019


Martina slams homophobe Margaret Court for ‘hiding behind her Bible’

Tennis icon Martina Navratilova called out Australian tennis legend Margaret Court in a tweet: “amazing how strong her homophobia truly is…”

By Dawn Ennis Jan 2, 2020


Martina among the names of the 300+ women athletes who signed a letter from an anti-trans group to the NCAA

They’re 309 women who oppose transgender inclusion in sports, and wanted to do so in secret. But Martina Navratilova and her cosigners could not hide from us.

By Dawn Ennis Updated Aug 2, 2020


Martina records PSA to support cancer research

On Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020, WTA Legend Martina Navratilova, a breast cancer survivor, joined WTA Charities to release a public service announcement for their global “Aceing Cancer” campaign launched with Cancer Research Racquet and the American Cancer Society to raise money for women’s cancer research.


Look for another story celebrating LGBTQ sports history tomorrow and every day this month.