Renee Richards: The Journey of a Transgender Athlete
It took Renee Richards, previously known as Richard Raskin, 24 years, one chromosome test, and series of harrowing boycotts to re-emerge onto the tennis scene as one of the first professional transgender tennis players. It was 1977 and Richards was back on the same court she had once played on as a man, only this time she would would play as a woman and in the women’s league. It wasn’t until this moment, at 43 years old that Renee could walk along the same streets she’d grown up on feeling free and completely herself.
However, re-emerging in this new light was by no means easy. Richards was met with many hostile reactions from both the media, her opponents and other professionals in the tennis world. But not all reactions were negative. She was also met with praise from various minority groups who appreciated her courage to stay true to herself and defy the social stigmas up against her.
Richards was more than meets the eye, a Yale graduate and an ophthalmologist with the suffix “Dr.” tagged to the beginning of her name. There was no denying her accomplishments as both a man and a woman, nor her ferocious will power. Shortly after undergoing sexual-reassignment surgery Richards moved across the country to start a new life on the West coast in Newport, California. In an effort to keep her love, and talent for the sport of tennis alive she began playing at the country club near her house and was encouraged by her community to enter into a tournament and was later offered a place in a New Jersey tournament. Once again, Richards was met with a fury of media and broadcasters hoping to take advantage of her presence on the court as controversy to boost readership.
Despite her talents as an athlete, Renne’s outward transformation prevented her from playing in the 1976 US Open despite being legally considered a woman by the state of New York. She responded with anger, a lawsuit, and consequently won. She went to on to play in the 1977 US Open against the19 77 Wimbledon champion Virginia Wade, to whom she lost. In spite of this, and in classic Renee Richards fashion, she powered on and reached the final playing doubles with Betty Ann.
Richards continued to play professionally and eventually found her corner in world of women’s tennis, reaching No. 20 in the world. She went on to become a coach, leading Navratilova to No. 1, all the while defying any negative press against her.
More than anything else, Renee Richards has become a household name in the LGBTQ community by setting an example for individuals struggling with their gender. She did this by paving the way towards a more equal and just treatment of transgendered individuals during a time when the subject was still taboo. Although, the subject of transgender rights is still not resolved in our society today, people like Renee Richards have had a positive influence to the progress of equality.