Professional Athletes Who Identify As LGBTQ+

The following article includes mentions of attempted suicide and homophobia.

For decades, several professional athletes have continued to break down barriers when it comes to conversations surrounding sexuality and gender identity in their respective sports. Back in 1981, tennis legend Billie Jean King made history as the first prominent female athlete to publicly come out as lesbian after being outed. "I said: 'I'm going to do it. I don't care. This is important to me to tell the truth,'" King later told NBC News of her decision to confirm her sexuality. "The one thing my mother always said, 'To thine own self be true.'"

Some 32 years later, NBA star Jason Collins became the first openly gay player in any of the major U.S. sports leagues. "I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay," he wrote in an essay for Sports Illustrated, adding, "I've reached that enviable state in life in which I can do pretty much what I want. And what I want is to continue to play basketball. ... At the same time, I want to be genuine and authentic and truthful."

Apart from Billie Jean King and Jason Collins, however, several more athletes have, in more recent years, fully embraced their truth, proving time and again that their sexual and gender identities do not define their skills as athletes. From Nikki Hiltz to Brittney Griner, here are some professional athletes who proudly identify with the LGBTQ+ community.

Candace Parker

In December 2021, WNBA player Candace Parker confirmed she was married to Russian professional basketball player Anya Petrakova. "2 years ago, I got to marry my best friend in front of our close family and friends. My heart could have exploded," she wrote alongside an Instagram carousel of their wedding photos, going on to write to her wife, "Thanks for constantly challenging me and telling me when I'm wrong. I LOVE YOU. I appreciate you, I value you and what we have." The two-time WNBA champion also revealed she and Petrakova were expecting a child together, adding that they had always dreamed of having a family together. Their son, Airr Larry, was born in February 2022.

Speaking later on her decision to come out, Parker revealed that she was inspired by her teenage daughter, Lailaa, whom she welcomed from a previous marriage to NBA player Sheldon Williams. "​​I always tell my daughter to be herself," Parker told Time. "And I can't say that to her if I'm not doing it myself. I don't want her to ever think that I'm ashamed or not proud of our family."

Later on in the interview, Parker shared thoughts about coming out, admitting she was initially not on board with the idea. "I was always against 'coming out' because I felt like in this society, in this day and age, you shouldn't have to do that," she said. "Society had a way of putting this pressure on people to come out. And I don't think it should be that way."

Carl Nassib

In June 2021, Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Carl Nassib became the first active player in the NFL to come out publicly as gay. "I'm at my house here in West Chester, Pennsylvania. I just wanted to take a quick moment to say that I'm gay," Nassib said in an Instagram video shared with his thousands of followers. "I've been meaning to do this for a while now, but I finally feel comfortable enough to get it off my chest. I really have the best life, I've got the best family, friends, and job a guy could ask for."

Nassib would later attribute his coming out to his hopes of helping young LGBTQ+ people who might have been struggling just like him. "Personally, from my life, I didn't want to do it, but I just ... felt a huge obligation to my community," he said during an appearance on the "Comeback Stories" podcast that September. "To all the young kids out there who were struggling with their sexuality, if I could just help a few of them out, then I really could sleep better at night."

This reasoning has further played out in Nassib's involvement with The Trevor Project, an organization providing crisis support to LGBTQ+ youth. In his coming out video, Nassib announced a $100,000 donation to the group. "They're an incredible organization. ... They are truly doing incredible things, and I'm very excited to be part of it," he said.

Isaac Humphries

Former NBA player Isaac Humphries announced his sexual orientation in an emotional sit-down with his Melbourne United teammates. "A few years ago, I fell into a very dark place, a very lonely place, and I couldn't be who I am. And I attempted to take my life," he said in a video shared on his Instagram in November 2022. "The main reason behind me becoming so low and being in that point is because I was very much struggling with my sexuality and coming to terms with the fact that I am gay."

The pro basketballer admitted his decision to come out was based off the need to help other struggling athletes see that they can be accepted for who they are, regardless of their sexual identity. "You can be 'Big Ice' and be gay, and you can still be a great basketball player and be gay," Humphries said. "You can do whatever you want. It has nothing to do with your sexuality, or who you are, or who you're meant to be, or who you're expected to be."

After a short stint in the NBA, Humphries returned to the Australian league in 2017, landing a deal with the Sydney Kings that same year, Fox Sports reported. He then went on to play with a number of teams, including Lakeland Magic and Adelaide 36ers. In July 2022, Humphries signed with Melbourne United.  

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Luke Prokop

Not willing to hide his truth anymore, hockey player Luke Prokop came out as gay in July 2021. "It has been quite the journey to get to this point in my life, but I could not be happier with my decision to come out," Prokop wrote in part in an Instagram post. "From a young age I have dreamed of being an NHL player, and I believe that living my authentic life will allow me to bring my whole self to the rink and improve my chances of fulfilling my dreams." With his announcement, Prokop made history as the first active NHL player to openly identify as gay.

And if Prokop had any fear about how his life or career would be affected by coming out, he soon found a depth of support surrounding him in the league. "It seems like it was a long time ago, but it's been nothing but a positive experience for me," the Nashville Predators defenseman said, per the NHL's website. "It's been really amazing the way my teammates have been with me, even opponents." 

Unsurprisingly, coming out has also done wonders for this athlete's confidence on and off the ice. Prokop has since racked up several achievements, including the WHL and CHL humanitarian of the year awards for his contribution towards LGBTQ+ inclusion in hockey and sports at large.

Megan Rapinoe

Megan Rapinoe made her entry into America's professional soccer league in 2009 when she was drafted by the Chicago Red Stars. Two years later, she joined the team that represented the United States at the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup, eventually bringing home the silver medal. And then in 2012, the soccer star decided there was no more hiding. Though many had apparently long suspected her sexual orientation, Rapinoe claimed she had never been asked outright publicly about how she identified.  

"I think they were trying to be respectful and that it's my job to say, 'I'm gay.' Which I am. For the record: I am gay," she said in an interview with Out at the time, though she also noted, "I feel like sports in general are still homophobic, in the sense that not a lot of people are out. I feel everyone is really craving [for] people to come out." The soccer star would later reveal to Anderson Cooper that she realized her sexuality while in college. "It's so embarrassing because I'm just very gay but ... as soon as it clicked, I was like, 'Ah! She has arrived. She's here. Her life is beginning,'" Rapinoe shared. 

At the time of her public coming out, Rapinoe confirmed she had been dating Australian soccer player Sarah Walsh since 2009. After four years together, the pair called things off, as reported by the New York Post. These days, however, Rapinoe is heads over heels with fiancée and former WNBA player Sue Bird, whom she proposed to in 2017. 

Nikki Hiltz

During their freshman year in college, runner Nikki Hiltz came out as gay to their roommate and teammate, per ESPN. Having hidden it for so long, they finally felt free — to be themself and to live their truth. As a result, Hiltz experienced tremendous changes in their running skills. "I started placing higher. It was like I was finally myself," they told ESPN. "Running is such a mental sport. When you can be happy and holistic off the track, it's really going to translate on it. I saw that direct correlation." This, however, was not the end of Hiltz's discovery journey.

In March 2021, the pro runner came out as transgender and non-binary. "Sometimes I wake up feeling like a powerful queen and other days I wake up feeling as if I'm just a guy being a dude, and other times I identify outside of the gender binary entirely," they wrote in part on Instagram. "It's complicated and complex and something I'm still trying to navigate myself, but I've decided it's time to share my gender fluidity with you all." 

By coming out, Hiltz hoped to inspire a real change in society's reaction to LGBTQ+ identities. "I think sport could actually be one of the first places that change can happen," they said, per WBUR.

Ali Krieger

In 2010, while training for the U.S. national team, soccer player Ali Krieger met Ashlyn Harris. The pair soon forged a friendship — a friendship that would evolve into more. "We became really close friends, and we just hung out, we clicked, and we had so much in common," Harris later told People about this time. "We always sat next to each other on the bus and on flights, and we kind of just talked about our dreams and our hopes and what we wanted to do one day when we grew up." It wasn't, however, until years later that the two eventually came out with their relationship. Speaking to The Telegraph, Krieger explained that the decision to keep their relationship private stemmed from the fear of losing their endorsements and being ostracized by the sports community. 

In 2019, after they got engaged, Krieger and Harris decided it was time to share their love story with the world. "We became more and more confident within and ourselves and then clearly within our relationship," Harris explained to People. "We were like, now is the right time ... and I feel like it's a massive weight off of my shoulders." Per the New York Post, the couple got married that December and have since welcomed two children together via adoption. 

Brittney Griner

Though she initially came out to her family as a high school student, it was not until a 2013 interview with Sports Illustrated that WNBA star Brittney Griner publicly came out as a lesbian. In that same interview, she opened up about being bullied as a child for a number of reasons including her sexuality. "It was hard. Just being picked on for being different. Just being bigger, my sexuality, everything," the basketball center said. "I overcame it and got over it."

Since coming out publicly, the WNBA star has continued to champion LGBTQ+ representation in sports. That same year, Griner even signed a deal with Nike, making her the first openly gay athlete to sign with the company. "It's safe to say we jumped at the opportunity to work with her because she breaks the mold," Nike's spokesman Brian Strong said of her signage at the time (via ESPN). Even though Griner has been regarded as a trailblazer in sports, she's insisted she's only trying to help LGBTQ+ youth. "I just kind of look at it like ... I'm just trying to make it where it's not as tough for the next generation," she told People.

In 2019, Griner married wife Cherelle Griner, who has continued to fight for the basketball pro's release from Russia following her February 2022 arrest and subsequent nine-year prison sentence for marijuana possession. That November, Cherelle told "The View," "BG's my person. We do absolutely everything together and so it has been really hard trying to adjust how to live every day without your favorite person."

Elena Delle Donne

Three years after she was drafted into the WNBA, Elena Delle Donne opened up about her sexuality in a 2016 profile by Vogue. The story also noted that Delle Donne was engaged to longtime partner Amanda Clifton, whom she first met through a mutual friend in 2013. "It was just one of those articles where they came into my home, spent a couple days with me, and Amanda is a huge part of my life," Delle Donne told the press her Vogue profile (via ESPN). "So to leave her out wouldn't have made any sense. It's not a coming out article or anything. I've been with her for a very long time now, and people who are close to me know that, and that's that." 

In November 2017, Delle Donne and Clifton tied the knot in a ceremony at the Hempstead House at Sands Point Preserve. Though an intimate affair, the ceremony was livestreamed on The Knot's Facebook Page, as reported by The Washington Post. "I don't really know who I am anymore without Amanda by my side," the WNBA star said of her wife. "I guess our friends really knew what they were doing when they paired us up."

Years after coming out, Delle Donne couldn't be happier to be living her truth. "I'm just honored to be in a position that I can share, first of all, my love with Amanda with the world. And to know that just by doing that and living our lives, we're able to help others," she told People in 2021.

Diana Taurasi

In 2004, Diana Taurasi made her entry into the WNBA when she was selected first overall pick by Phoenix Mercury. That same year, she won the WNBA rookie of the year award. In the years that have since passed, Taurasi has garnered even more achievements, including four WNBA championships, five Olympic gold medals, and three FIBA World Cups, per The Guardian. To top it all, in 2021, Taurasi was named WNBA's greatest player of all time, as reported by People.

But outside of her stellar career, the WNBA star enjoys a beautiful family life with her wife and former Phoenix teammate, Penny Taylor, whom she married in 2017, according to TMZ Sports. "It was the most amazing and beautiful day of our lives," Taurasi told People of their big day. "To be able to share our love with family and close friends meant the world to us." The following year, they welcomed their first child, son Leo Michael. Their second child, a daughter whom they named Isla, was born three years later in October 2021.

As for her stance on the sexuality conversation in sports, Taurasi believes maturity will play a bigger role in helping people accept everyone's differences. "Whether it's sexuality, whether it's race, whether it's religion, as you get older and as you become a smarter person, you'd think you would look at things differently," she said, per USA Today

Josh Cavallo

In October 2021, Australian soccer player Josh Cavallo shared his sexuality with the world. "I'm a footballer and I'm gay," he said in a video posted on Adelaide United's Twitter account. "All I want to do is play football and be treated equally." In a separate tweet, Cavallo admitted he had been struggling with his sexuality for six years, but added that, "It's been a journey to get to this point in my life, but I couldn't be happier with my decision to come out."

Sadly, Cavallo's coming out was not well received by all A-league fans. In January 2022, the Adelaide United player revealed he had been the victim of homophobic crowd abuse during a football match. "I'm not going to pretend that I didn't see or hear the homophobic abuse at the game last night. There are no words to tell you how disappointed I was," he wrote in an Instagram post, adding, "I will never apologize for living my truth and most recently who I am outside of football." Cavallo also revealed that he has since received death threats. But he stands by his decision to come out publicly.

"It was a big relief, it had been a long time coming and I couldn't be prouder," Cavallo told Goal that May. "To this day, I have no regrets about posting it, and announcing who I am to the world." 

Chelsea Gray

Though Chelsea Gray was drafted into the WNBA in 2014, a knee injury had her sitting out her first season. The point guard made her debut the following year, albeit with not as much confidence as she needed. "I wasn't really hesitant on my leg or worried getting hit in the air," she told Andscape. "I kind of prepared for that before going overseas, but having that confidence was what I needed to work on." In the years that followed, Gray proved herself an incredible baller, winning two championships as well as a finals most valuable player award.

Outside of work, however, the WNBA player enjoys just as much bliss with her longtime partner, Tipesa Mercedes Moorer. Having gotten engaged only a year before, Gray and Moorer tied the knot in 2019. Per OutSports, the couple's big day was graced by many other WNBA stars, including Jantel Lavendar, Candace Parker, and Ify Ibekwe. Though the two keep their marriage as private as can be, Gray and Moorer never fail to let the world — or in this case, their thousands of Instagram followers — know just how smitten they are by each other! "You're my person forever and always," Gray captioned a sweet black-and-white pic of the two in November 2022, adding alongside a heart emoji, "Happy Anniversary babe."

Jake Daniels

Not since the '90s, in the days of Justin Fashanu, has the United Kingdom had a prominent soccer player come out publicly as gay. In May 2022, some 30 years later, then-17-year-old Jake Daniels re-wrote history by becoming Britain's only active openly gay professional footballer after coming out in a televised interview. "I can't really put a date on it, but I was probably five or six years old when I knew I was gay. So it's been a long time that I have been living with the lie," the Blackpool forward told Sky News. In the same interview, Daniels admitted that he'd considering coming out after retirement, but added, "I knew that would lead to a long time of lying and not being able to be myself or lead the life that I want to."

Following this, Daniels was met with a show of support from several of his fans, including then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Prince William, and former England striker Gary Lineker. "Football should be a game for everyone. What Jake has done takes courage and will hopefully help break down barriers that have no place in our society,"  Prince William wrote in a tweet. "I hope his decision to speak openly gives others the confidence to do the same." 

For his part, the star football player has insisted that, by coming out, he's just being himself. "I've been inspirational, but that's not the label I should have," Daniels said in an interview with British Vogue that December. "That's just my life."

Layshia Clarendon

In 2015, WNBA star Layshia Clarendon came out in an essay written for The Players' Tribune, writing, "I identify as black, gay, female, non-cisgender, and Christian." Five years later, Clarendon touched on their gender identity again in a heartfelt Instagram post. "There is indeed no one way to be Trans," they wrote in part, adding, "Existing outside of the binary for me is freedom. I've learned that my gender just doesn't fit into these molds that keep trying to hold it down and box it in." The WNBA star also noted that as they continued to grow, so would their gender continue to evolve. In January 2021, Clarendon, who uses all pronouns, shared that they had undergone top surgery, noting on Instagram that the procedure had them "feeling a sense of gender euphoria as opposed to gender ⁣dysphoria."

Two years after initially coming out, Clarendon tied the knot with their partner, Jessica Dolan, per OutSports. The couple has since welcomed a baby together, whom Clarendon revealed is free of gender assignment. This, according to the WNBA star, will help the baby figure out the gender they want to identify with when they are older. "We aren't going to give them a pronoun just because they have been assigned one sex," Clarendon said during a 2021 appearance on the "Our Body Politic" podcast. "... So, I really just want them to know that their life and their body is their own, to make decisions at their own time and with their own free will."