This post is sponsored by HBO and Gentleman Jack.
When HBO told us they wanted to highlight Modern LGBTQ Trailerblazers to help celebrate their Gentleman Jack series, Seimone Augustus’ name was at the top of my list. Augustus is most known, of course, for athletic domination. At LSU, she was a Naismith College Player of the Year, a Wooden Award-winner, a Wade Trophy-winner, a two-time All-American, and she took the Lady Tigers to three Final Fours. And she was just getting warmed up. As a professional, Augustus — the first pick of the 2006 WNBA draft — has won four WNBA championships, three Olympic gold medals, a WNBA Finals MVP Trophy, and been named to the WNBA All-Star team eight times.
Augustus was also one of the first superstar female athletes to come out as a lesbian. She’d been out in her personal life since she was a teenager, but she came out publicly in 2012, when Minnesota introduced a ballot initiative that would ban marriage equality in the state where she’d played her entire U.S. professional career. “Everyone thinks that the WNBA is one big lesbo party anyway,” she joked.
She laughed, but she also knew there was plenty to lose: The WNBA spent nearly the first decade of its existence trying to shed the image that women’s basketball was a big gay circus; major companies were still squirrely about supporting openly gay celebrities; very few professional athletes were actually publicly out; and always there was the reminder that the day Billie Jean King was outed, she lost every single one of her sponsorships. Augustus came out anyway.
In 2015, after the Supreme Court ruled that all 50 states had to license and recognize same-sex marriages, Augusts penned a candid, moving, gorgeous essay in the Players’ Tribune about her wedding to LaTaya Varner.
As stirring as her thoughts about falling in love are, the way Augustus writes about realizing she’s a lesbian are just as affecting: “I knew I was gay by the time I reached middle school. I’ve never been attracted to guys. I can appreciate their beauty, but it comes without desire. I’ve always had a more intimate connection with women. In high school, I kissed a girl for the first time. It felt too comfortable and too right to think I was anyone but whom I was in that moment. I’ve followed that honesty my whole life.”
I was reminded of Augustus’ essay when I was rereading Anne Lister’s diaries to prepare for our coverage of Gentleman Jack. Like Augustus, she grew up without any lesbian role models. Like Augustus, she knew early on in her life that she preferred intimate connections with other girls. And like Augustus, that assuredness, is what informed her unshakable belief that her sexuality was innate and therefore without fault.
One of the first women Lister ever kissed asked her if the thought it was wrong, if the Bible forbade it. “I urged in my own defence,” Lister wrote in 1817, “the strength of natural feeling & instinct, for so I might call it, as I had always had the same turn from infancy. That it had been known to me, as it were, by inclination. That I had never varied & no effort on my part had been able to counteract it. That the girls liked me & had always liked me. That I liked them in return.”
A few years earlier, Lister had written, “I know my own heart and understand my fellow man. But I am made unlike anyone I have ever met. I dare to say I am like no one in the whole world.”
200 years later, thanks to the courage of women like Seimone Augustus, fewer and fewer girls will ever feel that way.