Inside the W with Michelle Smith: The W and PRIDE Through the Years

The WNBA has always been a trailblazer for LGBTQ+ inclusion in sport. The league continues to be one of the most consistently inclusive and progressive leagues in the causes it supports, the fans it attracts, and the willingness of its players to live their lives with PRIDE.

The league celebrates its annual #WNBAPRIDE month with activities and recognitions across the WNBA’s 12 markets and beyond. Let’s look at some of the seminal moments in league history that have shown commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

June 2001 – The Los Angeles Sparks, in their first season playing at Staples Center, became the first team in any professional sport to acknowledge Pride Month. Sparks players boarded a team bus and participated in a rally and party at a Los Angeles lesbian bar called “Girl Bar.”

May 2002 – New York Liberty veteran center Sue Wicks interviewed with “Time Out New York” and became the league’s first active player to come out publicly. Wicks said she never viewed it as a momentous announcement.

“I was already 35 years old and had lived around the world and had some ideas about who I was as a person and what made me happy,” Wicks told Outsports in 2019 about that interview. “Just being myself, being true to myself, made me happy.”

October 2005 – Sheryl Swoopes, a three-time WNBA MVP and the first women’s player to have a shoe named for her, becomes the first high-profile African-American basketball player to come out as gay in a story reported by the New York Times.

“I was at a point in my life where I am just tired of having to pretend to be somebody I am not,” Swoopes said in a telephone interview with the New York Times at the time. “I was basically living a lie. For the last seven, eight years, I was waiting to exhale.”

October 2012 – Minnesota Lynx star guard Seimone Augustus speaks out publicly during the WNBA Finals against a proposed anti-LGBTQ marriage amendment in Minnesota. Minnesotans defeated the measure in the November 2012 election, the ban on gay marriage falling short by just three percentage points.

“I felt like it was the perfect time for me, being on a platform where I can make a change with my voice and my situation,” Augustus told The Associated Press. “Maybe inspire someone else to come out and be comfortable with themselves. Or maybe someone else’s parents will see my parents saying that it’s OK to be with your child and love your child unconditionally regardless of your sexual preference.”

June 2014 – The WNBA becomes the first professional sports league to establish a dedicated Pride campaign. “WNBA Pride” included participation by all 12 teams, though some other teams had been recognizing Pride month individually for several years. Teams and players participated in Pride events, and there was a nationally televised Pride-themed game.

Then-WNBA President Laurel Richie told ESPN, “We are building on something that previously existed.” 

June 2016 – WNBA teams organize to express solidarity and raise money for the victims of the Pulse Nightclub shooting. Players wore warmup shorts and made donations to local funds. Breanna Stewart auctioned off her game-worn shoes, with proceeds benefiting the victims, and Shavonte Zellous, an Orlando native, shared her connection to the tragedy with the shooting. Her sister was in the nightclub when the shooting happened but was uninjured.

June 2016 – The NBA and the WNBA joined together to participate with a float in the New York City Pride March and parade, becoming the first professional sports leagues to do so. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and then WNBA President Lisa Borders rode on the float.

June 2017 – The New York Liberty became the first New York sports team to have a float in the Pride parade, having marched alongside the NBA/WNBA float the previous year.

December 2018 – Chicago Sky backcourt mates Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley become the league’s first married teammates. They would go on to win a WNBA title together in 2021.

“I’m lucky enough to play and travel with my wife. … We compete. We get at it. We make each other better,” Vandersloot said. “I credit a lot of my individual success to her.”

September 2019 – The entire first-team All-WNBA group were women who identify as LGBTQ+ – Brittney Griner, Elena Delle Donne, Courtney Vandersloot, Chelsea Gray, and Natasha Howard.

February 2021 – Guard Layshia Clarendon, who most recently played for the Minnesota Lynx, is the league’s first openly trans and non-binary player, having already shared during the 2020 season their use of all pronouns (he/she/they). During the 2021 offseason, they shared that they had undergone top surgery.

“[My activism has] gone from more of an individual perspective to how I can empower the people around me,” Clarendon said. “That has been the fun part. I realized I’ve always freed people with my truth.”

Longtime WNBA reporter Michelle Smith writes a column on WNBA.com throughout the season. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs.