Gay Athletes through History

By Gallagher, John | The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine), August 18, 1998 | Go to article overview

Gay Athletes through History


Gallagher, John, The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)


From the ancient Olympics to modern professional sports, gay men and lesbians have shown the world their athletic prowess

776 B.C.

* The first Olympic Games is held in Greece. The event, held every four years, is male-only; a separate competition, called the Heraea Games, ks held for women.

A.D. 393

* Roman emperor Theodosius the Great bans the Olympics and orders the buildings associated with it; destroyed.

1879

* Female baseball teams tour the United States, where outraged authorities often arrest the players for prostitution.

1887

* In what The Lesbian Almanac dubs "a great moment in lesbian and gay spoils history," the softball is invented in Chicago. The game becomes one of the few competitions considered socially acceptable for women. By the 1950s it; also becomes a popular pastime among lesbians looking for alternatives to bars. "The games did succeed in providing legends anti heroes for the lesbian subculture," Lillian Faderman later writes.

1896

* The first modern Olympics are held, in Athens. After lobbing, women are included in the next Olympics, in 1900.

1899

* Eight years after basketball is invented, separate rules are formulated for female? players.

1920

* Bill Tilden wins the men's singles at Wimbledon. Tilden, who does little to hide his homosexuality, wins two more Wimbledon titles and seven U.S. championships, in addition to leading U.S. teams to seven World Cup victories. In 1950 a survey of sportswriters names him the greatest tennis player of the half century. He dies in 1953.

1932

* Helen Hull Jacobs wins her first of nine Grand Slam titles in tennis. In a career marked by aggressive, dose-to-the.-net playing, Jacobs is ranked in the top ten players in the world for 12 consecutive years beginning in 1928. One of her contributions to the sport is to wear shorts, not skirts, on court. "It seemed like the sensible thing to do," she says later. During World War II Jacobs is one of only five Navy women to achieve rank of commander. She goes on to write 19 books, to farm, and to design sportswear. When she dies in 1997 at the age of 88, her obituary lists her long-time female companion, Virginia Gurnee, as her survivor.

1967

* The International Olympic Committee demands that all women athletes undergo chromosomal testing to determine their gender. The policy is instituted after officials begin to suspect that some Soviet bloc athletes are in fact men disguised as women with the help of female hormones.

1968

* Tom Waddell, a 30-year old Army physician, places sixth hi the Olympic decathlon. The "old man" of the U.S. team, Waddell is greatly respected by his fellow athletes. He continues his decathlon career until 1973, when an injury forces him to retire from athletic competition. Increasingly involved in gay politics, Waddell and his partner, Charles Deaton, are the first gay men to be featured in the "Couples" section of People magazine in 1976. Five years later Waddell forms San Francisco Arts an(t Athletics to plan the first "Gay Olympic Games."

1972

* Entertainer Dinah Shore lends her name to the Ladies Professional Golf Association tournament held in Palm Springs, Calif., each March. Twenty years later the event has become the single largest gathering of lesbians in the United States, attracting 25,000 women annually.

1973

* In a match billed as the "Battle of the Sexes," Wimbledon champion Billie Jean King defeats Bobby Riggs in straight sets at the Houston Astrodome. The New York Times reports that the calmest person al, the match was King's secretary, "a 25-year-old, pale, willowy blonde, a former hairdresser from Beverly Hills" named Marilyn Barnett. Eight years later Barnett sues King for palimony, asserting that the two had had a lesbian relationship for years.

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