Billie Jean King is one of the greatest tennis players ever, but her impact extends far beyond the court. She’s also a trailblazer in LGBTQ+ activism, having come out as a lesbian in 1981, when few public figures were willing to do so. In this article, we’ll explore Billie Jean King’s career as a tennis player and LGBTQ+ activist and how she’s paved the way for others in both fields.
Billie Jean King’s Tennis Career
Billie Jean King was born in 1943 in California and began playing tennis at a young age. She quickly showed promise, and in 1959, at just 16, she won her first Grand Slam title in doubles. Throughout her career, she went on to win a total of 39 Grand Slam titles, including 12 singles titles.
One of King’s most famous matches came in 1973 when she faced off against Bobby Riggs in what was billed as the “Battle of the Sexes”. Riggs, a former men’s tennis champion, had been taunting female tennis players and claiming that even at 55, he could beat any female player. King, who was 29 then, accepted his challenge, and the match drew huge crowds and a massive TV audience. In the end, King emerged victorious, cementing her place as one of the greatest tennis players ever.
Billie Jean King and LGBTQ+ Activism
King’s impact on tennis is undeniable, but her legacy in LGBTQ+ activism is equally significant. In 1981, she became one of the first public figures to come out as a lesbian when the LGBTQ+ community faced significant discrimination and stigma. Her decision to come out was brave and helped pave the way for others to do the same.
Since coming out, King has been an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ+ rights. She founded the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) in 1973, which fought for equal pay for female tennis players, and she’s also been involved in several LGBTQ+ organizations, including the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).
In 2009, King was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States, for her contributions to tennis and her activism on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community.
Billie Jean King’s Impact Today
Today, Billie Jean King’s impact can still be felt in tennis and LGBTQ+ activism. In tennis, her advocacy for equal pay has helped to ensure that female players are paid the same as their male counterparts at major tournaments. Her legacy also lives on in the Billie Jean King Cup, formerly the Federation Cup, an international team competition in women’s tennis.
In the LGBTQ+ community, King’s bravery in coming out has helped to pave the way for others to do the same. Her advocacy for LGBTQ+ rights has also helped change attitudes and laws worldwide. While much work still needs to be done, King’s impact on the LGBTQ+ community cannot be overstated.
Billie Jean King is a true trailblazer in both tennis and LGBTQ+ activism. Her career as a tennis player is nothing short of legendary, and her impact on the sport can still be felt today. At the same time, her decision to come out as a lesbian in 1981 was a bold and courageous move, and her advocacy for LGBTQ+ rights has helped to change the world for the better.