UC Berkeley is a leader and pioneer in many ways, shapes and forms, and Cal was also the first program in the Power Five to host an openly LGBTQ+ athlete, according to SB Nation.
In 2016, the Pac-12 led the Power Five conferences (Big 12, SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12) with 56 total openly LGBTQ+ athletes. Stanford, Cal and UCLA are some of the main leaders in number of known LGBTQ+ athletes — the Bears were home to nine LGBTQ+ athletes just a couple years ago.
Hubert Stowitts was Cal’s first known LGBTQ+ athlete and was a track letterman. Stowitts attended Cal from 1911-1915 and was also a dancer, artist and actor, along with being a student at UC Berkeley.
In the early 20th century, women’s tennis player Helen Jacobs (1926-29) was open about her sexual orientation. Then, Mark Bingham, who attended Cal in the 1990s, became an openly gay member of the men’s rugby team.
Come the 2000s, the number of Cal’s LGBTQ+ student-athletes increased more rapidly, and the list now includes men’s gymnast Graham Ackerman (2002-05), softball player Victoria Galindo (2003-05), women’s basketball players Layshia Clarendon (2009-13) and Mikayla Lyles (2010-14), and women’s rowers Heather Hargreaves (2010-13) and Becca Lindquist (2011-12).
Hargreaves’ presence still exists on the UC Berkeley campus, as she co-founded the Student-Athlete Gay-Straight Alliance, or SAGSA, in 2012, in an effort to promote inclusion for LGBTQ+ athletes.
“It can be hard being an athlete sometime,” Hargreaves said in a 2013 interview with the Daily Californian. “You can feel isolated and alienated in a sense because there’s not many out athletes on our team. We wanted to change the culture and create a community where everyone feels like who they are.”
The goal of SAGSA is “to fight the stigma of being an out student-athlete in NCAA Division I athletics through community outreach, education and awareness,” according to Cal’s campus site.
“Everybody has things to say about gay athletes and how great it is that they’re coming out,” Hargreaves said in the 2013 interview. “But with transgender athletes, it’s a whole new frontier on every level. A lot of people misunderstand issues of transgender people.”
Another player who helped create an open and safe space for discussions about LGBTQ+ athletes was Lyles in 2014. Lyles, along with former Stanford women’s basketball player Toni Kokenis, organized panel discussions, a workshop and a clinic as part of an effort they started called We A.R.E. (Athletes Reaching Equality) Pride.
In addition to Hargreaves and Lyles, Clarendon is an active LGBTQ+ role model in the professional sports world. Clarendon is a star guard for the Atlanta Dream in the WNBA, paving the way as a role model for women in sports.
Clarendon has been praised for embracing her nonconformity as a woman of color, a lesbian and an outspoken sexual assault survivor.
It is likely that these athletes and activists will continue to inspire young players of all sports to pursue their talents at the highest levels, no matter their sexual orientations.