Billie Jean King remembers being outed in 1981: “You know, I lost all my endorsements in 24 hours”
It’s been an extraordinary month for gay athletes in pro sports.
Major League Soccer has its first openly gay player with Robbie Rogers signing with LA Galaxy while NBA player Jason Collins came out earlier this month.
Tennis legend Billie Jean King tells USA Today she also loves seeing society “at a tipping point that gay rights are the civil rights of the 21st century. … It’s been one by one by one, people coming out on their own terms. Not being outed.”
Billie Jean did not get to come out on her own terms back in 1981. She was still married to a man when she was sued for ‘galimony’ by Marilyn Barnett, a woman with whom she had been romantically involved with.
King was outed in May 1981.
“My galimony case, not coming out when I was ready, was a real hardship,” King says. “You know, my lawyer and my publicist didn’t want me to come out with the truth, that I had an affair with a woman. And so that was really hard. I think that’s taken me the longest, to be comfortable in my own skin. It took probably until I was 51.”
“But in ’81, with Martina Navratilova coming out, it was a tough time. You know, I lost all my endorsements in 24 hours. And now I know Jason Collins hopefully will get some new endorsements because he’s come out and shown how courageous and brave he is. … When gay rights becomes a non-issue, the LGBT community can exhale.”