Elena Delle Donne is Queer: Olympic Basketball Player Casually Comes Out Before Rio

Elena Delle Donne is a Chicago Sky superstar, the 2015 WNBA MVP, a member of the United States Women’s National Basketball Team competing in the Rio Olympics this year — and oh yeah, she’s super engaged to another woman. Vogue hung around with Delle Donne pre-Rio because she’s a big dang deal in the world of women’s basketball and casually mentioned in this month’s issue that Elena Delle Donne is going to get herself a gold medal and a wife this year.

Yesterday, when a reporter in Rio asked Delle Donne about the Vogue piece, she said:

“It was just one of those articles where they came into my home, spent a couple days with me, and Amanda is a huge part of my life. So to leave her out wouldn’t have made any sense. It’s not a coming-out article or anything. I’ve been with her for a very long time now and people who are close to me know that and that’s that … I decided I’m not at all going to hide anything.”

Elena Delle Donne introducing her girlfriend to Vogue the way any straight female athlete would introduce male partner is perfectly normal these days, and that fact is revolutionary!

This is the 20-year anniversary of the groundbreaking 1996 women’s Olympic basketball team that travelled to over 100 cities to play exhibition games and host clinics and workshops with young women all around the country, hoping to whip up enough interest in women’s basketball that a gold medal in the Atlanta Olympics would lead to a women’s professional basketball league in the United States. It worked! In 1997, the WNBA played its very first game. When Sheryl Swoopes, one of the biggest names on the ’96 team, came out in 2005, it was a huge deal that reverberated around the world of women’s sports. And when the ’96 team’s point guard, Jennifer Azzi, came out earlier this year by announcing that she is married to her assistant coach, she became the only openly LGBT head coach working in NCAA Division I basketball.

Compare that to the current US Women’s Basketball team. Elena Delle Donne came out with a shrug in a major mainstream women’s magazine. Not long after Brittney Griner was the number one WNBA pick, she casually mentioned that she’s gay in an interview with Sports Illustrated. Seimone Augustus came out in 2012 by mentioning to a USA Today reporter that she was engaged to another woman (they’re now happily married), and when ESPN followed up with her about it a few months later, she said, “I was on such a high note, as far as being happy with who I am, it didn’t really matter what anybody else thought. … It really was a non-issue. Every text, every call, every email, any time of communication I received has been positive.” And last year Angel McCoughtry came out on Instagram.

Which means a full third of this year’s Women’s Olympic basketball team is openly queer. Five Olympics ago that would have been unheard of! Five Olympics ago there wasn’t even a women’s professional basketball league in this country!

2016 has been a rough year, but the nonchalance with which famous women athletes can simply be out is an uncontested triumph. Maybe it won’t be long before a famous woman can reveal her future wife to a huge mainstream magazine and not a single reporter will have a follow up question.

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Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle senior writer who lives in New York City with her partner, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Heather has written 1207 articles for us.

6 Comments

  1. I’m a huge Delle Donne fan and was really excited by this!

    My question is, what percentage of the starters are out? I’m pretty sure Delle Donne and Griner are starters, and some of the other out women too. So the starters will be even gayer than the (incredibly gay) team as a whole.

  2. I’m super excited about this and the timing specifically. I come from a total sports family and we’ll be watching a lot of the Olympics together. My dad is a huge women’s basketball and soccer fan. He’s having a really hard time with accepting my relationship with my girlfriend so any additional positive examples of out, happy, queer women is a big win. Thank you thank you to Elena.

    And also, check out her girlfriend’s Instagram post about their engagement, it’s amazing

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