While NBA player Jason Collins' "coming out" party is just beginning — and make no mistake, this is huge for the NBA and male professional sports everywhere — several female professional athletes have already publicly embraced their sexuality. The WNBA, UFC, Women's Professional Soccer, and many more women's leagues with "major" male counterparts have welcomed out LGBT athletes for years, though they have not garnered the same magnitude of respect as males.
The reasoning seems simple enough — NBA or NFL athletes, for example, face much more backlash from millions of fans (and players) who simply assume that there's no way the "tough" and "masculine" guys they watch on TV are gay. Women athletes, on the other hand, don't get as much publicity in anything they do, much less coming out as LGBT.
Here are 5 openly LGBT current professional women athletes you might (or might not) know:
1. Brittney Griner
The Baylor basketball phenom known for her height and her dunks acknowledged in a series of interviews following her #1 WNBA draft pick that she is a lesbian. (Seimone Augustus and Ann Wauters are also current/recent openly lesbian WNBA players.) Griner has spoken about being bullied, both growing up and even as she gained popularity at Baylor. But she said she has always been open about her sexuality, and in doing so is a perfect role model for young athletes of any gender who are uncomfortable about coming out.
2. Megan Rapinoe
Rapinoe, a member of the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team, has played the sport professionally since 2009 and came out publicly last year in an interview with Out magazine. (The team's coach Pia Sundhage is a lesbian, as is fellow soccer player Lori Lindsey.) In the interview, Rapinoe speculated that female athletes are generally more accepting of lesbian teammates. "It's very open and widely supported [in women's sports]," she said. But "for males, it's not that way at all. It's sad." Rapinoe added that she has a girlfriend of three years, a fellow soccer player who is from Australia.
3. Fallon Fox
A mixed martial artist who hopes to make it to the UFC, Fox is a transgender woman — born anatomically male, but has had several surgeries to make her anatomically female — and she always knew her battle for acceptance would be more difficult than those of most LGBT athletes. She has faced criticism this year from male and female fighters alike for wanting to fight with other women, most of whom claim she is lying about her gender identity to win more fights. But Helen J. Carroll, an advocate for LGBT athletes, dismissed this: "The short answer is the transgender woman is a woman, and when she transitions, she takes testosterone-blocking hormones, so when she does end up competing, she has less testosterone in her system than her competitors do." Hopefully, Fox will garner more acceptance for being who she is as her career progresses.
4. Vicky Galindo
This professional softball player first publicly acknowledged her bisexuality in a pre-Beijing Olympics edition of The Advocate featuring LGBT athletes. When Galindo first joined the Olympic team in 2008, she had no idea how her teammates would react to having a bisexual team member. But her close friend and roommate on the team encouraged her to share her feelings with the rest of the team, and when she came out to them, she learned they were extremely accepting — "regardless of sexuality," she added. She later learned the impact on her team was greater than she could have imagined, when teammate Lauren Lappin came out as a lesbian and credited her decision to Galindo.
5. Liz Carmouche
When the UFC added its first women's division earlier this year, Carmouche made headlines by not only participating in the first women's fight, but also by becoming the first LGBT athlete in the UFC — male or female. A former Marine, "Girl-Rilla" quickly rose to popularity with key wins in the Strikeforce and Invictus mixed martial arts promotions after serving in the military for 5 years. When UFC President Dana White signed Carmouche, he said he takes cases of homophobia very seriously among his fighters and completely supports Carmouche's fighting prowess and sexuality. She headlined UFC 157 in February, fighting bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey — who, incidentally, is one of the people bashing Fallon Fox. Even though Carmouche lost that fight, she continues to be a force for equality in the UFC.