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Martina Navratilova: Coming ‘full circle’

Navratilova on why the Sochi games must go on

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Martina Navratilova, tennis, gay news, Washington Blade, sports
Martina Navratilova, tennis, gay news, Washington Blade, sports

Martina Navratilova came out in 1981 and lost endorsement deals for her bold stance. (Photo courtesy of John Wright Photo)

Martina Navratilova broke more than one glass ceiling during her career.

She won 18 Grand Slam singles titles – including nine women’s singles championships at Wimbledon during her time on the tennis circuit that spanned more than three decades from 1975 to her official retirement in 2006. Navratilova also won 31 major women’s doubles and 10 major mixed doubles titles.

She also made history in 1981 as one of the first professional athletes who came out as gay.

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Navratilova, 56, told the Washington Blade during an interview that fans had a mixed reaction to her decision to publicly disclose her sexual orientation.

“I’d get some ovation from some,” the retired Czech-born tennis champion said, noting she didn’t receive endorsement deals after she came out. “From some they would just not clap at all and some would be whistling and booing.”

Navratilova credited positive media coverage over the last decade with improving the way LGBT athletes are treated.

“Back then it was people who cheered me on that were looked at funny, so it’s just totally come around,” she said. “I didn’t know how bad it was in the stands until I met some people that were my fans back in the day and they’re like, ‘you had no idea what people used to say,’ so it’s nice to know that it’s kind of full circle. People couldn’t get away with that stuff anymore.”

Navratilova spoke to the Blade a few weeks after former Washington Wizards center Jason Collins came out as gay in a Sports Illustrated op-ed.

“His coming out will have a positive impact on an untold amount of lives,” she said. “It’s just adding to the groundswell of acceptance.”

Collins’ representatives have declined the Blade’s requests to interview him.

Collins described Navratilova as “one of my heroes” during an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos shortly after he came out. He also said she is one of his role models.

“You never know how you affect somebody in what way and it was just really nice to know just by being who I am made a difference — a positive difference in somebody else,” Navratilova said, noting she and Collins have exchanged e-mails since he came out. “It’s very empowering and humbling at the same time.”

Navratilova spoke to the Blade shortly after Russian lawmakers unanimously passed a bill by a 436-0 margin that sought to ban the “promotion of homosexuality” to minors. President Vladimir Putin on June 30 signed the so-called gay propaganda measure into law.

Putin also signed a bill that bans foreign same-sex couples and those from countries that allow same-sex marriage from adopting Russian children. Groups that receive funding from outside Russia that do not register as “foreign agents” under a 2012 law face a fine of up to 500,000 rubles (or $15,220.)

“I feel like Putin’s just trying to go against whatever the West is doing,” Navratilova said. “If the West would be bad about gays, he would have gay marriage, but because the West is good with the gays — or getting better, he goes the other way.”

Navratilova is among the current and former LGBT professional athletes who oppose calls to boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi over Russia’s gay rights record. Others include Olympic diver Greg Louganis, who was unable to compete in the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow because the U.S. boycotted the games over the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan the year before; figure skater Johnny Weir and former George Washington University basketball player Kye Allums.

Blake Skjellerup, a gay speed skater from New Zealand, plans to wear a rainbow pin during the Sochi games.

Navratilova said Russia shouldn’t “have gotten the Olympics in the first place,” but stressed she “never believed in boycotts.” She referenced the gay advocacy groups that boycotted Colorado after voters in 1992 approved a constitutional amendment that barred the state from enacting anti-gay discrimination laws to further prove her point.

The U.S. Supreme Court struck it down in 1996 in the Romer v. Evans decision.

“It’s more effective to get in people’s faces and prove them wrong rather than run away,” Navratilova said. “To me a boycott kind of runs away from the problem.”

She was also a Tennis Channel commentator during the men’s final at the French Open in early June when opponents of France’s same-sex marriage law interrupted the match between Spanish tennis players Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer. Navratilova said the shirtless protester who ran onto the court with a flare in his hand near Nadal reminded her of the man who stabbed Monica Seles during a German tennis match in 1993.

“You’re like holy shit, you’re still not safe on the tennis court,” she said. “On top of that, it’s these asshole protesters who have nothing better to do but complain about gay people having the same rights as they do.”

Navratilova also recalled seeing some of the more than 100,000 people who marched against France’s same-sex marriage law in Paris on May 26 — three days before the first gay couple legally tied the knot in the country. Opponents of nuptials for same-sex couples also gathered along portions of the Tour de France route last month to protest the statute.

“I couldn’t believe the masses of people who were out protesting against something that doesn’t affect them in any way,” Navratilova said, referring to the May 26 march in the French capital. “To really see real people that are so emotionally invested in denying you equality is really disconcerting.”

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Gus Kenworthy skis for Great Britain at 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics

The freestyle skiing Olympic medalist continues to advocate for sport to become a more accepting place for openly gay athletes

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Gus Kenworthy (Screenshot courtesy Beijing Olympic Winter Games/IOC)

Out British-American freestyle skier, actor, and YouTuber Gus Kenworthy, will be competing in his third Olympic Winter Games, but his first for Team GB next month for the 2022 Beijing Games. In 2014 and 2018 Kenworthy represented the USA where during the 2014 Sochi Winter Games in Russia he became an Olympic Silver Medalist.

In an interview recorded in December, Kenworthy stressed his personal mantra of ‘Let people be themselves.’ The freestyle skiing Olympic medalist continues to advocate for sport to become a more accepting place for openly gay athletes.

Having recently won bronze in slopestyle for Team USA at PyeongChang 2018, Kenworthy is aiming for another podium place at his “third and final Games”, where he’s focusing on halfpipe at Beijing 2022, representing Great Britain. Kenworthy said with quiet determination that this year’s Winter Games will be his last as an Olympic competitor.

Kenworthy joins a “record number” of openly LGBTQ+ athletes heading to the Beijing games, Outsports reported. The 2018 Winter Olympics featured 15 out queer athletes, and Outsports noted that the Beijing games will see more openly LGBTQ+ athletes than previously Winter Games.

PinkNewsUK notes that there was a question as to whether Kenworthy would be able to compete at the 2022 Winter Olympics, which kick off in February.

Just weeks ago, Kenworthy shared in an Instagram post that he recently got a “bad concussion” while at a training camp in Switzerland.

He explained that he’s had a “few serious” traumatic brain injuries in the past so the “seriousness of each added concussion has been stressed to me”.

 

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Out professional soccer player calls out ‘homophobic abuse’ from crowd

The Adelaide United player said he had “no words” to describe his disappointment at being the target of anti-gay insults from the crowd

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Photo courtesy of Josh Cavallo Instagram

Professional soccer player Josh Cavallo, who became the only openly gay top-flight male professional footballer last year, told his Instagram followers over the weekend that he experienced “homophobic abuse” during his last game. 

The Adelaide United player said he had “no words” to describe his disappointment at being the target of anti-gay insults from the crowd at AAMI Park during his team’s Saturday game against the Melbourne Victory.

“As a society it shows we still face these problems in 2022,” he wrote. “This shouldn’t be acceptable and we need to do more to hold these people accountable. Hate never will win. I will never apologise for living my truth and most recently who I am outside of football.”

Cavallo added that he was also targeted after the game online. 

“To @instagram I don’t want any child or adult to have to receive the hateful and hurtful messages that I’ve received,” he said. “I knew truely being who I am that I was going to come across this. It’s a sad reality that your platforms are not doing enough to stop these messages.”

The Australian Professional Leagues (APL) said it was “shocked and saddened” to hear Cavallo’s reports of “homophobic bullying,” according to the Guardian

“Our players, staff and fans have the right to feel safe on and off the pitch,” APL CEO Danny Townsend said. “There is no place for bullying, harassment or abuse in Australian football and we have zero tolerance for this harmful behaviour.”

The APL is working with both teams to investigate the incident, adding that sanctions will be issued to anyone involved. 

In a statement, Adelaide United Chief Executive Officer Nathan Kosmina said that the team was “appalled” at the “verbal abuse” that Cavallo received. 

“Adelaide United is proud to be an inclusive and diverse football club, and to see one of our players subjected to homophobic abuse is disappointing and upsetting,” he said. “Josh continues to show immense courage and we join him in calling out abuse, which has no place in society, and it will not be tolerated by our Club.”

The Melbourne Victory added that it “sees football as a platform to unite fans no matter what background. Spectators found to have breached these standards will be banned from future matches.”

At the end of his Instagram message, Cavallo thanked those sending him positive messages, love and support. 

“Love will always win,” he said. 

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Transgender climber completes 5th of 7 highest summits

Erin Parisi is the first out trans mountain climber to reach such heights. Next up she’ll make a second attempt to conquer Mount Denali.

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Erin Parisi (Photo courtesy of Erin Parisi)

SANTIAGO, Chile – Erin Parisi just returned from the bottom of the world, but already the out transgender  woman has set her sights on her next challenge in her mission to conquer the highest summits of each of the seven continents. 

”I have been trying to train and get to the tops of the highest mountain on every continent: Seven Peaks, seven summits, seven continents,” she said. “I just finished Antarctica, which is an extraordinarily difficult climb as far as logistics, as far as dealing with the weather and the environment, a mountain that’s only been climbed 2,000 times before.”

(Photo courtesy of Erin Parisi)

It was New Year’s Day when she spoke by phone to the Los Angeles Blade, from a hotel room in Santiago, Chile, where it’s summertime. Five summits down, two more to go. 

“In order, the first five are Mount Kosciusko in Australia. Then I did Kilimanjaro a second time — I climbed it once manifesting as a dude, and I decided that I wanted to do them all post-transition,” said Parisi. “Next, I did Mount Elbrus in Russia and then I did Aconcagua in South America, not too far from where I’m sitting right now.”

Parisi, 45, reflected on both her climb 16,050 feet to the summit of Vinson Massif in Antarctica, and her plans to return later this year to the tallest spot in North America: Mount Denali, 20,310 feet above sea level. Not the highest of the seven summits but considered by many experienced climbers to be the hardest. 

“Last year, we got flattened by wind,” said Parisi, who was disappointed that neither she nor anyone on her team were able to reach the summit due to those conditions and injuries. “I want to go back and have a little chat with Denali.” 

It certainly was challenging for Parisi, who hurt her hand so badly in last summer’s attempt, during Pride Month, that she requires surgery. She posted on Instagram back then, that she thought she had dislocated a finger in a rush to set up camp as they ascended to 14K feet, and it set off doubts that made her question continuing. Alone for two days, stranded for a total of six days in subzero temperatures by a vicious wind storm with gusts up to 60 mph, Parisi wrote that she “rested, journaled, meditated, shed a few tears,” and decided “Climbing isn’t about holding on, it’s about letting go.”

Good thing she did; It turns out Parisi did more than dislocate a finger. 

“There are a series of tendons that come down your pointer finger and around the base of your palm, called the volar plate, and that tendon got stuck in some climbing gear,” she said. “It looks like a dislocation. When it happened, I relocated it pretty quickly, but the pain was kind of unbearable for the next week or two. So, I finally went to the doctor last fall and they looked at it and they said, ‘It’s not going to get better. You tore up the ligaments and broken the volar plate.’ So, I have to have that reconstructed.”

That means she lived with that injury for four months and even climbed Vinson Massif without the benefit of her dominant right hand. Parisi credits her wife with finally convincing her to get it looked at.

“I just figured I was getting old, and it was sore, but she talked me into going to the doctor eventually,” said Parisi, uttering the words every spouse loves to see in print. “Yeah, she was right, like usual!”

Next up, Parisi said she will make a second attempt to conquer Mount Denali in Alaska. “That’s going to be next, sometime in summer of 2022.” And then next year: Mount Everest, the last of the seven summits, and at 29,050 feet, the tallest. 

“2023 is the 70th anniversary of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s expedition, and we want to be up there for the 70th anniversary,” she said. “I think it’s a little-known fact that Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay had a trans member on their team. And we want to tell her story.” That would be the story of Jan Morris, a journalist for The Times of London, who died in 2020.

Given her location, Parisi has been out of touch with news of the world as well as what’s been happening with her wife and their nine-year-old child in Colorado. She also missed both Christmas and New Year’s as well as her birthday. Well, almost missed, thanks to a surprise celebration organized by her fellow climbers and organizers back home, which she shared on Instagram

(Photo courtesy of Erin Parisi)

“My team and the @climbingsevensummits team surprised me by serving dessert bubbles 🥂 and cheesecake, and leading the entire camp in 2 rounds of “Happy Birthday.” I was completely embarrassed, but my mind was set at ease and I warmed to the idea that I might just fit with this crew climbing through New Year.”

Parisi really needed that boost; She was having doubts again. “Imposter syndrome is real, and after missing the Denali summit last May, I was confident I didn’t belong here,” she wrote on Instagram. That feeling stemmed from feeling as if she was “the only trans person” on the continent, not just last month, but ever. 

When she returned to civilization, the Los Angeles Blade caught her up on the latest controversies dogging the transgender population: hate directed at both UPenn swimmer Lia Thomas and Jeopardy! champion Amy Schneider, simply because they’re winning their respective competitions.  

“I don’t understand it, with the Jeopardy! champion, either, because, there’s no way to say she has any advantage, or that it’s unfair to anyone, or that she’s taken something from anyone else. I mean, there’s just no argument to disparage her by,” said Parisi. “It blows my mind how stubborn people are just recognizing somebody’s right to exist. Live and let live. And I’m hoping that 2022 somehow will be a better year.”

Parisi is active in promoting transgender rights, and the flag she carries on every expedition incorporates the trans pride flag designed by Monica Helms. “We really take pride in putting the pink, blue and white up there,” she said. “I climb these summits just to kind of remind myself and remind the world that you can be yourself and you can enjoy the things you enjoy. You don’t have to make a choice.”

Other than her lifelong love of mountain climbing, which she told TripAdvisor last summer began when she was climbing trees at age 6, Parisi said she finds joy in every part of living her authentic life. 

“I find joy in the outdoors. I find joy in breathing the fresh air. I find joy in my nine-year-old child. I convinced myself I was unlovable, and now I have probably, not even probably, hands down, the most loving relationship that I’ve ever had in my life, post-transition. I find great joy in being loved and loving. I love cooking and just everything about life is better, when you’re yourself.” 

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Follow Parisi’s adventures on Instagram at @transending7 and learn more about her mission and how to support her nonprofit organization at transending7.org

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