Editor’s note: For four decades now, Martina Navratilova has been proud to say who she is. Shortly after becoming a United States citizen in 1981, the 18-time Grand Slam singles champion revealed her sexuality in a New York Daily News story. Clearly, she was ahead of her time. Has the world caught up? Recently, Navratilova sat down to discuss June’s LGBTQ Pride Month.
In 1981, I was semi-out. Because I didn’t care, personally. I just wanted to get my citizenship. Once I got that, I didn’t care who knew what, or when.
The fact that we have Pride Month – across the whole country – that’s a good thing. We have Pride Day at NHL games, NFL, baseball, all over.
It wasn’t always like that. When the WNBA first started, the TV cameras were busting themselves to not show the gay women in the audience, which is what most of the audience was. And they would always try to show the family over here, or the straight couple over there. They were panning away from the gay couples. When they showed my box at Wimbledon, the commentators said, “Oh, there’s Martina’s friend.”
So it was always hush-hush, or ignored – or called something other than what it was. So these days it’s just nice not to have to censor yourself, or not be censored, most of all. And it kind of becomes, not a norm, exactly, but “Ah, who cares?”
For me, there are some people whom I didn’t know they were gay until something came up and they said, “Oh, me and my husband,” and I was like, “I didn’t know they were gay.” And that’s great. This is the whole point. It shouldn’t matter one way or the other – but it still does. And so it’s nice to have that kind of support. It’s a whole Pride Month, not just one day. Very cool.
I’m surprised we haven’t seen more players come out in recent years.
It takes a lot of energy to keep that inside. I know friends who rearrange the furniture when the in-laws come, when the in-laws don’t know they’re a couple. The energy that it takes to hide and pretend and censor yourself, the words you use, what stories you even tell, etcetera? It’s exhausting. As an athlete, you have only so much energy every day, right? You try to save it for the match. You’re wasting so much of it on this.
It’s a very freeing experience, coming out. I have not ever heard of anybody who said, “Ooh, I wish I had stayed in the closet.” Everybody says, “I should have come out sooner, had I known.”
So I would urge people to just be themselves. You don’t have to announce it. Just say, “You know, by the way, this is the deal and whatever.” And be done with it. And you don’t have to use that energy anymore trying to hide. You’re trying to hide who you are? So, what? So that other people will not be uncomfortable?
Ten years from now? Right now, women’s right to choose is threatened, so who knows which way this country’s going? I think we’ll have better legal protection under the law for all LGBTQ. Everybody will have equal protection under the law. I think that will happen. But women’s right to choose may not be there. In which case, we will have a revolution.
In the end, everything is kind of driven by money. You make the laws and, hopefully, people will adhere to them and they give you confidence and they give you validation, but ultimately it’s about opportunities financially. And when companies realize that they do better when they are all-inclusive, diversified in every way, they make more money. Because obviously their consumers are a diverse group of people. They will do better – it’s a symbiotic relationship – and then everything will get better.
But, yeah, I think it’s going in the right direction. And it’s all the better.