Compete Network Feature Stories

Billie Jean King – #LGBTSportsHistory

Happy LGBTQ+ History Month! Every October is celebrated as LGBTQ+ History Month to recognize and educate about people, places and events that have had an impact on the LGBTQ+ Community. All month we are going to honor some influential athletes, companies, organizations and sports figures who have made a contribution toward LGBTQ+ History.

Billie Jean King (B. 11/22/1943) Is a former world #1 Professional Tennis Player, King’s accomplishments include 39 Grand Slam titles and represented the United States at the Federation Cup and Wightman Cup, including serving as team captain for 3 years.

One of King’s more notable events is the “Battle of the Sexes” where King went against former professional men’s tennis champion Bobby Riggs in an exhibition match. Riggs had often touted that women’s tennis was inferior to that of men’s and despite being 55 years old would often brag that he could beat any of the top women’s players. King had accepted the challenge and went head to head against Rigg’s in front of 30,000 spectators in September 1973. The event garnered huge publicity and King went on to defeat Rigg’s 6-4, 6-3 and 6-3 earning King $100,000.

King went on to say “I thought it would set us back 50 years if I didn’t win that match. It would ruin the women’s tennis tour and affect all women’s self-esteem. To beat a 55-year-old guy was no thrill for me. The thrill was exposing a lot of new people to tennis.”

A lifelong advocate for gender equality and women’s rights, King married Larry King in September 1965. In 1968 had realized she was attracted to women and entered into an intimate relationship with her secretary Marilyn Barnett. She came out as lesbian publicly in 1981 when a palimony lawsuit filed by Barnett was filed. Despite her wishes to retire from professional tennis she could not afford it at the time. King had lost all of her sponsors after publicly coming out and the mounting costs from the lawsuit had forced her to continue playing.

King retired from playing professionally in 1990 but has continued to serve as a coach and mentor for the Team USA Fed Cup Team. She also is actively involved in the Women’s Sports Foundation and the Elton John AIDS Foundation. She is currently living in New York with her partner IIana Kloss.

Follow us on social media (FacebookTwitterInstagram) and the hashtag #LGBTSportsHistory to learn more and keep up to date! We will also be linking all of our articles here, check it out!

Most Popular

To Top