Renee Richards Is A Transgender Sports Icon Who Paved The Way For Caitlyn Jenner With A Game-Changing Lawsuit Back In 1975
Ever heard of Renee Richards? She's a transgender icon who fought for the inclusion of transgender women in sports 40 years ago. Having gone by Richard Raskind for 34 years, the ophthalmologist and professional tennis player transitioned in 1975 and changed her name to Renee, which means "rebirth" in French. After applying to play in the U.S. Open in 1976, Richards was turned down. So she sued, and won. Thanks to her bravery at a time when the transgender community was less accepted, Richards helped pave the way for Caitlyn Jenner and the almost entirely positive response to her Vanity Fair debut.
Richards was barred from playing in the U.S. Open, Wimbledon, and the Italian open in 1976, which is the same year Jenner won a gold medal in the Olympics. After a year of fighting the ban in court, a New York Supreme Court judge ruled that Richards had been discriminated against on the basis of gender and must be allowed to enter the tournaments. The case was a monumental win for transgender rights in the sports world. She played in the U.S. Open the following year, becoming the first person to have played in both the men's and women's competition, and reached the finals in women's doubles.
It took a lot of courage to come out as a transgender woman to the entire nation in the 1970s, and it still does today. Even Richards, now 80, is surprised she had the courage. She told Reuters in May:
How could I have actually gone out there in front of thousands of people as this notorious transsexual and compete against young women? I didn't know whether I was going to be shot at, or whether I was just going to be yelled at.
But she did and it was huge for LGBT rights in sports, not to mention making transgender individuals more visible to Americans. Richards retired from tennis in 1981 and returned to working in ophthalmology in New York, where she still lives.
Before Jenner revealed her new look on Monday, there were rumors that Richards was counseling her on the transition, but Richards told Reuters that was "preposterous."
Jenner is no doubt the most high-profile American to come out as transgender and is an inspiring role model for the transgender community, but others have been smoothing the path for years and it's been a long, hard fight to get to where we are today.