PERTH, AUSTRALIA - JULY 22: Pernille Harder #10 of Denmark celebrates the victory after the FIFA Women's World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023 Group D match between Denmark and China at Perth Rectangular Stadium on July 22, 2023 in Perth / Boorloo, Australia. | Photo by Zhizhao Wu/Getty Images

Pernille Harder, the longtime stalwart of Denmark’s women’s soccer team, was recently quoted by the Associated Press about being an out gay woman in “football,” offering an interesting observation.

“I think women’s sports have always been open,” she said, apparently about the inclusion of gay, lesbian, bi and queer athletes in major women’s sports. I’m assuming she wasn’t talking about trans inclusion, particularly given various bans of trans women in the female category.

Harder has some solid frame of reference. She has competed for the Denmark women’s soccer team since 2009,

It’s great that her own experience playing over the last decade-plus has demonstrated unwavering acceptance. That’s awesome to hear.

Still, a couple decades of perspective don’t tell the full story of LGB women in female sports.

“Even today, some coaches and administrators as women have to consider both the repercussions of being LGBT and being a woman and how that influences their professional careers,” Helen Carroll, one of the world’s leading LGBTQ advocates in the women’s sports space, told Outsports. Carroll was a successful college basketball coach in the 1980s.

“For the majority of years that’s been negative, and even for some women now it can still be negative,” she added. “There is still the undercurrent of competing against the good-old-boys system.”

To be sure, there have been very public examples in the last few decades of gay women and lesbians facing massive repercussions for coming out. Most notably, in the early 1980s, both Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova came out and reportedly lost endorsement deals and support.

Penn State women’s basketball coach Rene Portland had a “no lesbians” policy on her team that ultimately led to her resignation (or firing, depending on how you look at it).

University of Florida softball player Andrea Zimbardi got the school to settle a lawsuit over her expulsion from the team for being gay.

Just this year, a gay soccer coach said she was fired for simply expressing that LGBTQ people have a role to play in the Christian church.

That raises a key issue.

There are elements of religion and geography that can play roles in the acceptance of LGBTQ people, even in women’s sports. The vast majority of out athletes at this Women’s World Cup are in the Western World, namely Europe, the Americas and Oceania.

Very few publicly out athletes are from Africa, Asia and the Middle East. That’s just reality.

So while women’s sports can feel very “open” to some athletes, including Harder, even today there are issues.

That speaks to the level of anti-LGBTQ energy still present in many places, even in elite women’s sports. While acceptance may largely be there, the feeling of rejection is still present for many LGBTQ athletes.

The fact that at least 13% of the players at this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup are publicly out as LGBTQ is inspiring. Relative to the dearth of out gay men in elite-level soccer, that may feel like complete acceptance.

Yet we know of various other women who are LGBTQ and don’t want to be publicly out.

Harder’s comment may reflect her own experience in Denmark, but it doesn’t give insight to the struggles so many women experience in other parts of the world.

And frankly, it’s doubtful all women on her own team feel the comfort she feels, as she is the only publicly out athlete on the 23-person Danish team that Outsports could identify.

Many people justifiably point to men’s sports as needing to advance on LGBTQ inclusion.

Yet the women’s game in every sport also needs help. While it may feel to some like sports have “always been open” to gay and lesbian women, there are still so many women in sports who struggle, whether it’s in the 1980s or today.