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1994 Out100
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Martina Navratilova's activism didn't withstand the test of time

The tennis legend went from fighting for inclusion to fighting against trans representation in sports.

Martina Navratilova had long secured her spot as a tennis legend by the time she appeared on the cover of Out for the December 1994/January 1995 issue. With 18 Grand Slam singles titles, she had won more matches than any other player — all by the age of 38. And, while still ranked 4th in the world, Navratilova had just announced her retirement from the sport.

But her influence extended beyond tennis. Navratilova came out as bisexual in 1981 (she would later identify as a lesbian), making her one of the first prominent athletes to come out publicly. Although her coming out didn't go exactly as planned — a newspaper published an interview with her before she was ready — she embraced her identity and became an activist for gay rights.

And that was very much needed in that era. By 1994, HIV was the leading cause of death among Americans between the ages of 25 and 44. Our idea of progress at the time was the passing of "Don't ask, don't tell," which finally allowed LGBTQ+ people to serve in the military, so long as they stayed in the closet.

Having public figures who refused to be ashamed of who they were was more important than ever. Navratilova fit the bill, and her openness drew attention to the fight for equality across the country and provided a reminder to tennis fans that, at the end of the day, queer people are just people like everyone else.

At the time, Navratilova spoke to Out about her interest in pursuing fiction writing, or perhaps acting, following her impending retirement. While she did go on to publish the two books she mentioned in her interview (a third was already out at the time), that was the end of her foray into publishing fiction. She did, however, publish two additional non-fiction books — one about staying in shape and another collecting stories about growing up gay in the U.S. — and appeared in a three-episode arc on Ryan Murphy's The Politician in 2019.

She returned to tennis to play doubles in 2000, the same year she was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. She kept that up through 2006, winning her 20th Wimbledon title along the way and matching Billie Jean King's record. In December 2014, she married former Miss USSR 1990 Julia Lemigova after proposing at the U.S. Open three months prior.

Navratilova is still considered one of the most influential tennis players in history. Unfortunately, her activism has not withstood the same test of time. The last several years have seen her turn her attention towards fighting against the inclusion of transgender women in sports, to the point of openly suggesting people advocating for trans rights just "be quiet."

It's a disappointing turn for anyone once lauded for their own commitment to authenticity.

"Nobody has an excuse to not be out to their friends and family," Navratilova told Out back in 1994. "How can you be happy if you can't be honest about who you are?"

See All 2023's Most Impactful and Influential LGBTQ+ People
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Step into the Out100 Vault & celebrate 30 years of history-making LGBTQ+ folks!
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Step into the Out100 Vault & celebrate 30 years of history-making LGBTQ+ folks!

It's been 30 years since the annual Out100 list started highlighting the best and brightest of the community. To honor that milestone, let's take a look back at the many LGBTQ+ people who have changed the world.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Out100, Out’s storied annual list of LGBTQ+ people who have changed culture — and the world.

In celebration of this milestone, we are so proud to launch the official Out100 Vault, which highlights the Out100 covers from our archive as well as fresh essays and insights from past honorees.

The preservation of the LGBTQ+ past has never been more important, as the recent right-wing attempts at queer book bans and censorship demonstrate. For over three decades, Out has fought against mainstream erasure, telling the stories of the artists, warriors, and changemakers who made our history and our movement. Looking to the future, we hope you find inspiration from them in the ongoing fight for visibility and equality.

And if you, or someone you know, deserve to be on this list, please let us know through the Reader’s Choice submission page. Your stories and accomplishments need to be heard, and Out as always is here to tell them.

Sincerely,


Daniel Reynolds

Editor in chief, Out Magazine

Raffy Ermac

Editor in chief, Out.com

See All 2023's Most Impactful and Influential LGBTQ+ People
Artists
Disruptors
Educators
Groundbreakers
Innovators
Storytellers

Rachel Kiley

Rachel Kiley is presumably a writer and definitely not a terminator. She can usually be found crying over queerbaiting in the Pitch Perfect franchise or on Twitter, if not both.

Rachel Kiley is presumably a writer and definitely not a terminator. She can usually be found crying over queerbaiting in the Pitch Perfect franchise or on Twitter, if not both.