This capstone project investigates the topic of lesbian identity in athletics, and explores the topic on two dual levels: the joy and community that professional and amateur lesbian athletes found in sports, and the discrimination and homophobia rampant particularly in professional athletics. While women found strength and joy as professional and amateur athletes, many were simultaneously undervalued and harassed due to pervasive stereotypes and cultural connections between masculinity, lesbianism, and athletic prowess. These stereotypes were deeply damaging for heterosexual and queer athletes alike, but despite this, sports teams and athletic spaces remained a social haven and source of community for many lesbian-identified athletes. Amateur teams for sports like softball, basketball, and even bowling, emerged as a space for lesbians to connect with one another as well as express “masculine” behavior and physicality.
This project was born out of a personal interest and history with queer sports teams at Smith College, where I have found community. Although this project originally intended to serve as a resource for the Smith College community and athletes in particular, it has expanded to explore broader issues of discrimination, homophobia, community, and joy among lesbian athletes from the 1970s to the late 1990s.
While this project explores historical trends of lesbian identities in athletics and raises questions of cultural beliefs and stereotypes, I hope that it compels you to think more broadly about gender and sports, and the increasingly parallel topic of transgender athletes, who face similar discrimination and exclusion based on stereotypes about their identities and bodies.