At 70 years old, Billie Jean King shows no signs of slowing down. She still serves as a leading figure in women's sports, and was most recently selected by President Obama to travel to Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics as a part of the US official delegation. King had to say of her selection, "I am equally proud to stand with the members of the LGBT community in support of all athletes who will be competing in Sochi and I hope these Olympic Games will indeed be a watershed moment for the universal acceptance of all people."
King's position as a feminist and member of the LGBT community is legendary. Born in 1943, Billie Jean didn't realize her homosexuality until 1968, at the age of 25. The problem was, she had married her college sweetheart, Lawrence King, three years earlier in 1965. She said of the early years of her marriage and her sexuality, "Fifty percent of gay people know who they are by the age of 13, I was in the other 50%. I would never have married Larry if I'd known. I would never have done that to him. I was totally in love with Larry when I was 21."
The marriage was rocky. In 1971, Lawrence revealed to Ms. Magazine (without consulting her first) that his wife had had an abortion. She would later explain that she didn't believe her marriage stable enough to add a child into the equation. Also in 1971, she entered into a relationship with her secretary Marilyn Barnett. Barnett would go on to sue Billie Jean (unsuccessfully) for palimony in 1981, after the relationship had ended. This suit forced Billie Jean to come out of the closet, making her the first female athlete to do so. Despite this, Billie Jean and didn't divorce until 1987.
As a result of being outed, King lost all of her endorsements. She said of the period, "Within 24 hours [of the lawsuit being filed], I lost all my endorsements; I lost everything. I lost $2 million at least, because I had longtime contracts. I had to play just to pay for the lawyers. In three months I went through $500,000. I was in shock. I didn't make $2 million in my lifetime, so it's all relative to what you make."
Despite the years of hardship and small-minded abuse, King emerged as a leading figure in the feminist and LGBT movement, supporting not just other athletes who want to come out of the closet, but anyone who wants to live an open life. And speaking of open lives, King now shares hers with partner Ilana Kloss, another former tennis pro. They spend their time between the homes in New York and Chicago.
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