WTA debuts pride-month logo with trans colors despite silence on Martina Navratilova’s transphobia
For pride month, the WTA debuted a new logo on its website and social media platforms bearing the colors of the progressive pride flag — rainbow colors for the queer community, brown and black for LGBTQIA people of color, and pink and baby blue for the trans community.
The WTA’s public support of trans people should be no surprise considering that professional women’s tennis is the modern sport with the longest record of transgender inclusion. In 1977, a New York court recognized the womanhood of Renée Richards, a transgender woman and athlete, and ordered that she be allowed to play in the US Open. The WTA evolved to embrace Richards as the sports pioneer that she is, and currently allows transgender women to compete in the sport as long as they undergo hormone replacement therapy, a similar policy to the Olympics’.
However, when it comes to women’s tennis, the loudest voice on transgender issues has not been one of inclusion, but of rejection. Martina Navratilova, a legendary tennis champion and a lesbian who fought for gay rights, is decidedly against their participation. She wrote an anti-trans screed in 2019, where she appoints herself as arbitrator over which women are women enough to play women’s sports. According to her, transgender women have a sports advantage and ought to play with men, and only trans women who transition before puberty (a tiny minority of trans women) deserve to play women’s sports.
Navratilova’s arcane positions are cruel and widely debunked. According to the Scientific American, “The notion of transgender girls having an unfair advantage comes from the idea that testosterone causes physical changes such as an increase in muscle mass. But transgender girls are not the only girls with high testosterone levels… Plus, the athletic advantage conferred by testosterone is equivocal. As Katrina Karkazis, a senior visiting fellow and expert on testosterone and bioethics at Yale University explains, ‘Studies of testosterone levels in athletes do not show any clear, consistent relationship between testosterone and athletic performance.’”
Digging though old match history, I could not find a single instance where Renée Richards even won a set against Navratilova. As far as I can tell, Navratilova beat Richards three times in singles and at least twice in doubles. Between Richards’ court case and her retirement, she never won a tournament, but in the same time span, Navratilova won nine grand slams across singles and doubles.
In the 45 years since trans women have been allowed to participate in tennis at the highest levels, none have ever won a WTA-level tournament in any category: Not singles, not doubles, not mixed doubles.
If the history of women’s tennis proves any kind of sports advantage, it seems that non-trans women have an enormous one.
Navratilova, a longtime Democrat (whose current Twitter profile picture is of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris), found unlikely allies in Republican state legislators, as they too enjoy positioning themselves as authorities over women’s bodies. Since the beginning of 2021, over 250 bills targeting the LGBT community have been introduced in US state legislatures, over 80 of them are anti-trans bills aiming to remove transgender women and girls from sports. The first wave of these bills was a “coordinated attack” by an anti-LGBTQ group called “The Alliance Defending Freedom,” who gave state legislators a bill template, which included direct quotes from Navratilova’s 2019 transphobic essay.
Seven of these anti-trans sports bills have become law. In particular, Navratilova’s transphobia is enshrined into law in Montana House Bill 112, which includes her quote in the text. It will prevent trans girls and women from playing sports in Montana in both public and private schools, at both the high school and the collegiate level.
Meanwhile, Navratilova and her anti-trans group continue to organize against trans athletes. They did take the time to respond to one of the bills — not with horror or an apology — but to quibble that the bill uses their words to discriminate against all trans women when they only want to discriminate against almost all trans women.
Since the catastrophic anti-trans bills of 2021, as far as I can tell, no one associated with the WTA — no representatives and no athletes — have spoken up against the anti-trans sports bills, and none have called for Navratilova to be held accountable for the harm she has done. No tennis players signed GLAAD’s star-studded letter in support of the trans community that attracted over 450 signers, including Laverne Cox, Megan Rapinoe, and Wanda Sykes. Others to speak out against the bills include the NFL’s R. K. Russell, top WNBA players, and NCAA coaches and players.
If women’s tennis was the first modern sport to include trans women, why aren’t they leaders for trans rights now?
It is possible that the WTA leadership doesn’t understand that just because trans people and gay people are together in the “LGBT” initialism doesn’t mean that we are the same, which is a common misconception. The four letters of “LGBT” represent a loose alliance between different groups who experience some similar forms of discrimination. However, many of the issues transgender people face are foreign to gay and bisexual people.
It’s very common for organizations to say, “I financially support LGBT rights,” but the donations are going to charities that only know how to support gay people. Or the organization might say, “I’m listening to the LGBT community,” but the only people in their circle are gay people.
This is not to say that gay people don’t deserve support or deserve to be listened to, but it’s important to recognize that transgender people experience unique discrimination that gay people don’t. Transgender people understand that lip-service for “the LGBT community” might not necessarily result in any material benefits for transgender people.
If Navratilova is celebrated and trans people are not mentioned outside of the letter “T,” it’s clear that there is no meaningful support for the trans community during a time of dire need.
Martina Navratilova is still a beloved figure in women’s tennis — in 2021, she presented the winner’s trophy at the French Open. She continues to do match commentary. Pride month features and retrospectives on her career have been published not just on the WTA site but in the New York Times.
This is a huge contrast to how the tennis ecosystem treats another retired tennis star and anti-trans “advocate:” Margaret Court. One difference is that unlike Navratilova, Court also “advocates” against gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. She is anti-gay and anti-trans in an obstinate conservative Christian way that is easily identifiable by anyone who has ever seen a coming out scene on television. Court can hardly be mentioned without her homophobia being discussed. Despite the fact that she still holds the record for the most singles grand slam titles, she is not invited to hand out trophies and she is not doing match commentary.
Unlike Court, Navratilova can posture to non-trans people as if she is rational, that she cares about science, and she cares about women — that she is “just asking questions” and “just asking for more studies.” Unlike Court, Navratilova has a huge sphere of influence and is doing real damage.
Hiring her to commentate on a match is not a neutral act. Inviting her to make an appearance at your event is not a neutral act. Celebrating her career as is not a neutral act. Doing these things tells trans people that you think we don’t deserve rights, that science doesn’t matter, and that the career of a retired multi-millionaire is more important than those of all young trans athletes.
All I ask is for the WTA, their players, and their fans to realize what trans people have known for a long time: Navratilova is dangerous, and she is wrong. If you want to support the trans community and wear our colors, then you need to speak out against Navratilova and the havoc she is wrecking on transgender rights.