Profiles of LGBT people, from the past and today – and celebrating their birthdays! All Birthdays →

Billie Jean King

Born in Long Beach California to religiously conservative working-class parents, Billie Jean King joined the women’s tour as a teenager, when tennis was still considered an “amateur” sport and star players were paid under the table. King, who eventually won 39 Grand Slam Tournaments, including all 4 Grand Slam singles titles in 1972, emerged as a powerful voice for women’s equality in sports. She campaigned for equal prize money for women and in 1973 founded the Women’s Tennis Association, which sponsored a separate women’s tour to increase the bargaining power of women players. King is best remembered for taking up the challenge of Bobby Riggs, who claimed no woman could beat him. On September 20, 1973, at the Houston Astrodome, before a crowd of 30,000 with many men wearing “male chauvinist pig” T-shirts, King defeated Riggs in straight sets. This “Battle of the Sexes” made national headlines and did much to promote women’s visibility as athletes. Through all these years, King was increasingly aware of her attraction to women. In 1981, she was “outed” as a lesbian when a former secretary sued her for palimony. King was the first woman and first tennis player named Athlete of the Year by Sports Illustrated; was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1987; and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.