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Sports: Lesbian  
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While boys prove themselves on the athletic field, learning teamwork and testing and improving their physical limits and skills, girls are routinely edged off that field. Using ridicule ("You throw like a girl!") and name-calling (from "tomboy" to "dyke"), male-dominated society persuades most girls to find more acceptable and "feminine" outlets.

Title IX

Those girls who do remain involved in athletics usually find themselves participating in under-funded, under-respected, and under-attended athletic events. In 1972, Congress passed Title IX, the Education Amendments of 1972, requiring equal participation and funding for both men and women in all educational institutions, including athletics.

Title IX has had a dramatic impact on women's sports. According to the National Federation of High School Associations, 294,015 girls competed in high school sports in 1971, the year before Title IX was passed. By 1995, that number had risen to 2,240,461. To describe this increase another way: before Title IX, one in twenty-seven girls participated in school sports; twenty-five years after the passage of Title IX, the number had risen to one in three. No wonder it is currently under attack by conservatives.

Even so, compliance with Title IX is so loosely enforced that the vast majority of colleges still have large inequities between their men's and women's athletic programs, with men receiving a much greater share of resources. This inequity continues into professional sports as well. The Forbes Magazine 1995 list of the forty highest paid athletes included only one woman.

Beating the Odds: Didrikson

However, well before President Nixon signed Title IX into law, lesbians were beating the odds to make names for themselves in sports.

In 1932, a semi-professional basketball player from Beaumont, Texas, Mildred Didrikson, entered an Amateur Athletic Union track and field championship. The woman who would become one of the most versatile and accomplished athletes of the twentieth century entered eight events as a one-woman team and won six, as well as the championship. Eight points behind Didrikson, a team of twenty-two women came in second.

Didrikson, nicknamed "Babe" by the boys who admired her skill at sandlot baseball, went on to win two gold medals and a silver medal in track and field in the 1932 Olympic Games. She became a renowned golfer, winning fifty-five professional and amateur tournaments during her career. She was named Female Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press six times between 1932 and 1955, and, in 1950, was given the title Female Athlete of the Half Century.

Didrikson's career was filled with struggles against both a journalistic establishment and an athletic establishment that disparaged her achievements by calling her "unnatural." She fought back with the cocky confidence and flamboyant humor that she had developed growing up poor and self-reliant in the streets of Beaumont.

She also fought back by breaking down every barrier that was erected against her. For example, when the upper-class ladies golf establishment barred her from their refined amateur tournaments because she was a professional player, Didrikson helped found the Ladies Professional Golf Association. The LPGA helped put women's golf on a more nearly even footing with men's golf by giving professional women golfers a venue comparable to the Professional Golf Association, though far from equal in prize money.

Didrikson was not able to live openly as a lesbian, but her remarkable career nevertheless inspired other lesbian athletes. The epitaph on her tombstone in Galveston, Texas reads "Babe Didrikson Zaharias--1911-1956--World's Greatest Woman Athlete."


Babe Didrikson was followed by other pioneering lesbian athletes.

Billie Jean King, born Billie Jean Moffitt, in Long Beach, California, in 1943, began playing tennis at eleven years old and won her first championship at fifteen. By the time she retired in 1984, King had won a record twenty Wimbledon championships and thirteen U.S. Open titles. She had also brought more prize money and respect to women's tennis than any women's sport had received up to that time.

King helped found the Women's Tennis Association, started the magazine WomanSport, and was one of the catalysts for the beginning of the Virginia Slims Tournament. A feminist since the early days of the women's liberation movement in the 1970s, King worked diligently for the rights of girls and women, both on the playing field and off.

In a lighter vein, she participated in the 1973 "Battle of the Sexes," where she played against 55-year-old men's tennis champion Bobby Riggs. Riggs had baited King for two years, claiming that women had no place outside the home, and that any man could defeat any woman in a sporting event.

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