May 31, 2011

LGBTQ Female Role Models: Sheryl Swoopes

Hey! So I know we're still trying to keep the blog active this summer (if you want to write, talk to Risa!), so I thought I'd talk about a wonderful LGBTQ female role model who has been in the news a little bit lately!

When legendary basektball player Sheryl Swoopes came out in 2005, she was the second WNBA player to do so in history.

Over the course of her career, Swoopes has won 3 Olympic gold medals, is a 3-time WNBA MVP, 4-time WNBA Champion and a 3-time winner of the WNBA Defensive Player of the Year award. The player who has been referred to as "the female Michael Jordan" (or maybe Michael Jordan is just the "male Sheryl Swoopes"), she is most famous for her 10-year career with the Houston Comets, and has also played for the Seattle Storm (2008). Most recently, in March of 2011, at the age of 40, Swoopes returned to the sport after a hiatus due to injuries, to play with the Tulsa Shock.

In regards to her sexuality, Swoopes says, "it doesn't change who I am. I can't help who I fall in love with. No one can. ... Discovering I'm gay just sort of happened much later in life. Being intimate with [Alisa, her partner] or any other woman never entered my mind. At the same time, I'm a firm believer that when you fall in love with somebody, you can't control that." Nevertheless, Swoopes doesn't want her LGBTQ identity to become her only identity that people acknowledge: "I don't want people to just focus on me coming out and that part of my life, because there are so many other aspects to who I am. As a strong, black, female athlete, and as a single parent, there are so many different parts of my life that could really influence someone else's life."

a 2006 interview with ESPN, Swoopes explained why she came later on in her career, rather than earlier: "It's not something that I want to throw in people's faces. I'm just at a point in my life where I'm tired of having to pretend to be somebody I'm not. I'm tired of having to hide my feelings about the person I care about. About the person
I love." She also mentions that she didn't always identify as a queer woman: "I didn't always know I was gay. I honestly didn't. Do I think I was born this way? No. And that's probably confusing to some, because I know a lot of people believe that you are. I've been married, and I have an 8-year-old son. Being with a man was what I wanted. When I got divorced in 1999, it wasn't because I'm gay. I'm three years older than my ex-husband, and I matured a lot faster than he did."

When Swoopes went on a cruise with Olivia crusies in 2005, a LGBTQ women's cruise line, she was approached by the CEO, Amy Errett, and asked if she would like to become the face of Olivia cruises, to which she agreed: "Amy came out to L.A. when the Comets were playing the Sparks, and we talked. She asked if I would be the face of Olivia. I was like, 'Wow, that's big.' Martina Navratilova endorses Olivia. Rosie Jones endorses Olivia. But I had to think about it. A few days later, I called Amy back and said yes. It's funny, when I booked the Olivia cruise I didn't even think about people seeing my name on this list full of lesbians. I guess I didn't care. I just felt like, if I'm going to do the cruise and I'm going to be the face of Olivia, why not just come all out? I mean, you have Ellen DeGeneres and Rosie O'Donnell, but you don't have your well-known gay African-American who's come out. Not to my knowledge. I know it's not accepted in the black community. I know I'll probably take a lot of flak. But in all honesty, that's not my biggest concern."

(Swoopes with her partner of 13 years, Alisa Scott)

In addition to being an advocate for LGBTQ individuals in sports, she is also an advocate for changing the face of women in sports leadership positions: "There is definitely a need for good female coaches. In the WNBA and in college, I see teams leaning towards former NBA players — and men in general — as coaches, and that is a slap in the face, because there are so many quality, qualified females out there that should be given the opportunity to coach." She is also an advocate for the American Lung Association and most recently has become a role model for her come-back to the sport at the age of 40, earlier this year: "I may be older, but the competitive fire is still there and I'm excited about the possibilities. The only reason why I'm doing it is because I still love the game. There was the misconception out there that I retired after the 2008 season, but that was never the case. I wasn't done with basketball yet, and I'm still not done."


  1. it made my day when she said she didn't feel like she was born gay and came out later in life after being with a man who was right for that time in her life. less mainstream narratives like this don't get circulated enough!


    ...maybe not :/

    Great job Megan. As usual. xx