To usher in LGBT+ History Month, Sports looks at the lives of six LGBT+ athletes who have made history in their sport, but whose stories may not be as well known.
From the first known transgender woman in the UK to a Wimbledon champion, an NFL professional bowler and a sprinter who has successfully challenged the leadership of her sport.
Here are six LGBT+ athletes we think you should know more about.
Disclaimer : This article contains references to suicide, drug use and other issues such as sexual misconduct.
1. Panama Al Brown
One of the most important things is mental toughness.
Alfonso Teofilo Brown, better known as Panama Al Brown, was the first Latin American world boxing champion and is considered one of the greatest bantamweights in history.
During his career, Brown won an incredible 59 fights by KO and was the Welterweight World Champion for six years.
Brown was born in Panama in 1902 to Afro-Caribbean immigrants. His mother was a janitor and his father died when Brown was 13. As a teenager, Brown was working as an office clerk in the Panama Canal Zone when he saw American soldiers boxing and decided to take up the sport.
Brown turned pro at the age of 20 and won his first overseas fight the following year in New York City. He settles in the city, where his rise to the top of his sport is uncertain.
In 1926, after three years of boxing in the United States, Brown fought for the first time in Paris. He liked it so much that he decided to live there.
In 1929, Brown became the first Latin American world champion by defeating Spaniard Gregorio Vidal in 15 sets in New York. This victory made him a hero in Panama and he became known throughout Latin America.
Brown’s battle drew large crowds, including Pablo Picasso and Ernest Hemingway.
Brown also became a popular boxer in Paris and fought in 40 fights throughout Europe between 1929 and 1934.
He spent most of his life in the French capital and is said to have been revered by the French for speaking seven languages and partying through the night.
He also performs in cabaret shows and even tap dances in one of them, highlighting his black talent and launching Josephine Baker’s career.
But not everyone liked Panamanians. Brown had a relationship with French writer Jean Cocteau, who became his manager, although he knew little about the sport.
As news of Brown’s sexuality spread, people began attending his fights only to taunt or spit at him as he passed through the ring, and after one fight spectators beat him to death.
All this on top of the racial discrimination he already suffered.
Brown had a relationship with French writer, artist and filmmaker Jean Cocteau, who is pictured holding an umbrella over a boxer.
When World War II broke out, Brown returned to New York and tried in vain to find work in the cabaret clubs of Harlem.
He started boxing again, but the power disappeared. In 1942 he was arrested for cocaine use and deported to Panama for a year.
Back in Harlem, Brown – now in his late 40s – became a sparring partner for aspiring boxers, earning a dollar a round.
Brown died of tuberculosis in 1951 at the age of 48. He was first buried in a small grave in Harlem until boxing fans raised money to send his remains to Panama.
2. Area of activity
It is possible to fall in love at any time and with anyone. This decision is not taken on the basis of caste, religion or gender.
Dutee Chand, born in 1996, is the third Indian to qualify for the 100 metres at the Olympics, the first Indian to reach the world final in the sprint – at the World Youth Games – and has two silver medals at the Asian Games. She is also the first openly lesbian athlete to compete for India.
Chand grew up in the poor rural village of Chaka Gopalpur in Odisha’s Jajpur district. She came out of the closet in 2019 – a year after the Indian Supreme Court decriminalized gay sex – and faced a public outcry from both her villagers and her parents.
Chanda’s father told the Times of India that his daughter’s relationship with the outside world was immoral and unethical and had ruined the reputation of his village.
You added your connection to the outside world: We belong to a traditional Odi web community that does not allow this sort of thing. How can we meet our parents and our community?
At the 2019 World Universiade in Naples, Chand became the first Indian to win a gold medal in the 100 metres at the global event.
But the media attention was not new to Chand. In 2014, at the age of 18, she was disqualified from the Commonwealth Games because of her testosterone levels.
Like South African 800m legend Caster Semenya, Chanda also had natural testosterone levels normally found only in men. This is also known as a difference in sexual development, or DSD.
Chand missed the 2014 Commonwealth and Asian Games due to his suspension for refusing to take the corrective treatment (hormone therapy) prescribed by the IAAF (now World Athletics) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
A year ago, and Chand was the first athlete to defy the rules of hyperandrogenism. They were temporarily suspended and Chand was able to compete again and became an Olympic champion the following year. Reliance on the same rule was rejected for Semena.
Chand is only the third Indian woman to qualify for the 100m at the Olympics.
In 2018, Chand shared how she met Semenya at the Rio Games, which made her feel like a good friend.
She told me not to worry about it and concentrate on sports. I’m glad my fight is over, but it’s not, Chand said.
In 2019, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruled in favour of the controversial rule that athletes with DSD, like Semenya, must take hormone-limiting drugs if they want to compete in the 400m, 400m hurdles, 800m, 1500m, one mile and combinations over the same distances.
As a sprinter, Chand is exempt from this rule. But she would have offered Semena her legal team, which was working on her 2015 appeal.
During the coronavirus pandemic, Chand spent his time distributing food and sanitary napkins to people in his village.
She also plans to open an athletics academy for people from the region, she told Vogue : I want another child who wants to walk around barefoot like me.
In contrast to his exclusion from the 2014 Commonwealth Games, Chand was recently announced as one of four Pride House ambassadors for the 2022 Games in Birmingham.
3. Roberta Cowell
It’s easier to change your body than your mind.
Roberta Cowell was born in Croydon, London, in 1918. She was a British racing car pilot, a fighter pilot in World War II and the first known British transgender woman to undergo a transplant.
Cowell’s father was Major General Sir Ernest Marshall Cowell, honorary surgeon to King George VI – the Queen’s father.
She became interested in cars and racing, as she writes in her biography: It was the end and almost the end of my life.
Cowell graduated from secondary school at the age of 16 and went on to join the RAF, but his ambitions to become a fighter pilot were initially thwarted by air sickness.
Instead, in 1936, she began an engineering degree at University College London, where she also became interested in motor racing.
What started with Cowell sneaking into the garage at Brooklands Raceway to gain experience while wearing a mechanical suit enabled her to start racing while still a student, and in 1939 she competed in the Antwerp Grand Prix.
Cowell married race car driver Diane Zelma Carpenter at the age of 23, and the couple had two daughters.
During World War II, Cowell returned to the Air Force and worked as a replacement pilot. In 1944 she spent five months in German prisoner of war camps after her plane crashed and she was captured by German troops.
While in POW camps, Cowell taught motor vehicle engineering to her fellow prisoners and made two escape attempts that led to several weeks of solitary confinement.
After the war, Cowell competed, but she felt worse and worse – by 1950, she was still living as a man, but taking high doses of estrogen.
She met Dr. Michael Dillon, the first transsexual to undergo phalloplasty (penis reconstruction). He operated on Mrs Cowell to remove her testicles, a procedure that was illegal in Britain at the time.
This allowed Ms Cowell to obtain a document from a private gynaecologist showing that she is intersex, so that she could obtain a new birth certificate showing her gender as female.
In 1951, Cowell was the first person in Britain to undergo vaginoplasty (construction of a vagina from penile tissue). It was performed by Sir Harold Gillis, widely regarded as the father of plastic surgery, who had previously performed the procedure only on a corpse.
In 1954, Cowell told the story of her transition in Picture Post magazine. This has generated international public interest. In her autobiography, she wrote: I became a woman, physically, mentally, glandular and legally.
After the fall of communism, Cowell returned to motor racing and continued to race throughout the 1950s and 1960s before experiencing financial difficulties.
Cowell died in 2011 at the age of 93, living alone in South West London. She asked that her death not be made public, and her daughters, whom she had not seen since their 10-year separation, did not hear of her death until two years later, when an external obituary was published.
4. Freda du Fora
I was the first single woman to climb in New Zealand, so I took all the hard knocks until the day I became more or less known in the climbing world, where I could do anything and do it the way I thought was best.
Freda du Faur, born in Sydney in 1882, was an Australian mountaineer who in 1910 became the first woman to climb Mount Cook, New Zealand’s highest mountain.
Du Faur grew up near Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, where she learned to climb. She was studying nursing when she received an inheritance from her aunt that allowed her to travel and become a full-time mountaineer.
Du Faur prepared to climb Mount Cook at the Institute of Physical Education in Sydney, where she met coach Muriel Cadogan, who eventually became her partner.
On the third. In December 1910, under the guidance of Peter Graham and his brother Alec, Du Faur became the first woman to climb Mount Cook, at an altitude of 3,760 metres, in a record time of six hours.
After the ascension, Du Faur said: I’ve peaked. I feel very small, very lonely and very prone to tears.
She later climbed several other mountains, including the one that would later bear her name and New Zealand’s second-highest mountain, Mount Tasman.
Du Faur became known for his agility and stamina and always wore a skirt to climb – despite objections.
Du Faur moved to England in 1914 and lived with Cadogan in Bournemouth, where he wrote a book about climbing Mount Cook.
In 1929 Cadogan suffered a nervous breakdown and Du Faure tried to have her committed to a mental institution.
Instead, they were both kidnapped, drugged and separated against their will. Unlike male homosexuality, which was a crime, lesbianism was then classified as a mental disorder.
Cadogan was eventually sent back to Sydney and committed suicide on a cargo ship on the return trip.
After Cadogan’s death, Du Faur was released from prison. She returns to Australia to live with her family, but remains confused and depressed.
Du Faure committed suicide in 1935 and was buried by his family in an unmarked grave. A plaque was placed on his grave in 2006 to commemorate his legacy.
Next to the mountain named Freda, in the Southern Alps of New Zealand, is Cadogan Peak, named after Muriel Cadogan.
5. Jerry Smith
Playing with fire is bad for those who become burnout. It is a great joy for all of us.
Jerry Smith, born in 1943 in Oregon, was a mainstay of the Washington Redskins in the NFL for 13 seasons. When he retired, Smith held the NFL record for most career touchdowns by a tight end (60). The two-time pro bowler had never publicly revealed himself as gay before he died of AIDS at the age of 43.
Smith was selected in the ninth round of the 1965 NFL draft by the Washington Redskins, now known as the Washington football team. At 6-foot-11, he was considered small for a tight end. But he had a long and important career, held several NFL records and was considered one of the best players of his time.
Smith’s record for most touchdowns in his career wasn’t broken until 2003 by Shannon Sharpe, who was inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame in 2011. Smith’s close friend and teammate, Brig Owens, said Smith would be in the Hall as well if he wasn’t so sexual.
Smith played 13 seasons for Washington from 1965 to 1977.
Smith had a brief relationship with teammate David Kopay, the first NFL player to take the field in 1975, three years after his retirement.
In his autobiography, Kopay refers to a sexual encounter with Smith, using a pseudonym for him. Smith never spoke to Kopay again.
Smith was coached for a time by NFL legend Vince Lombardi, for whom he enjoyed playing and whose brother was openly gay.
Lombardi tried to be tolerant of everyone in the locker room, suggesting Smith knew and accepted his sexuality.
Just before he died, Smith said: Everything a man looks for in life, I found at Coach Lombardi’s. He made us men.
Owens, who was often in the room with Smith, said Smith lived in fear and never went out because he feared his career would be ruined if people found out he was gay.
Smith died two months after learning he had AIDS.
In 1986, Smith became the first professional athlete to announce that he had been diagnosed with AIDS. He died two months later.
A few weeks before his death, he was interviewed for an article in the Washington Post so that, he said, Central America would finally accept that AIDS can affect anyone. Even an NFL player.
6. Bill Tilden
Tennis is more than a sport. It’s art, like ballet. Or like a play. When I walk onto the set, I feel like Anna Pavlova. Or like Adeline Patti.
Bill Tilden, born in 1893, won 10 Grand Slam titles, including three at Wimbledon and seven at the U.S. National Championships (now the U.S. Open).
He dominated tennis for more than a decade, winning every major tournament he participated in by one point for six years. He was also openly gay.
In 1929, Tilden became the first player to reach 10 Grand Slam singles finals – a record not broken until 2017 when Roger Federer won his 11th Grand Slam. Wimbledon final.
Tilden was born into a wealthy family in Philadelphia. He played tennis as a child, but didn’t start playing the sport seriously until he was 20 years old.
When he was 22 years old, his parents and older brother died, after which he suffered from severe depression. Tennis has become his way of coping.
Tilden became the first American to win Wimbledon in 1920. The following year he won again and said it was too easy. As a result, he did not participate in the tournament for the next three years.
In 1930, at the age of 37, he became the oldest man to win the singles title at Wimbledon. The following year Tilden, desperate to make money, began playing professionally and he continued to play on the professional circuit until he was 50 years old.
Tilden, nicknamed Big Bill because of his size, was the number one player in the world from 1920 to 1925. During this time, he won six consecutive U.S. singles championships.
In 1946, however, Tilden was arrested, charged, and sentenced to one year in prison for contributing to juvenile delinquency, although his conviction was appealed.
When he was released, Tilden’s terms of probation were strict and lasted five years. Tilden could no longer make a living teaching unless her friend Charlie Chaplin let her use his private garden.
Tilden was arrested in 1949 for groping a 16-year-old hitchhiker. He spent ten months in prison.
Tilden was openly gay and one of the dominant figures in American sports in the 1920s.
Despite these condemnations, Tilden was unanimously named the greatest tennis player of the half century in a 1950 Associated Press poll. It was only a few weeks after he got out of prison.
During his professional touring years, Tilden lived in a hotel suite in New York City, where he wrote, produced and performed in Broadway shows and books on tennis strategy. He disappeared from public life and died of heart complications in 1953, at the age of 60.
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