Tuesday, October 25, 2016

October 25 - Renee Richards

Renee Richards

Born Richard Raskind, Renee Richards is one of the earliest (though often reluctant) spokespeople for the transgender rights movement. As a teenage boy, Richards attended a private school and played football, baseball (she was offered a spot on the New York Yankees), tennis, and swimming. Richards attended Yale and was captain of the tennis team, where she studied ophthalmology and then enlisted in the Navy. Before and during this tenure, Richards experimented with cross-dressing and transvestism. Because being trans was considered medically insane at the time, Richards suffered depression and sexual confusion, creating a female alter ego named Renee to help cope. She traveled to Morocco in the 1960s to consult with a doctor there about sexual reassignment surgery but ultimately decided against it and tried to live a "normal" life. Richards married in 1970 and fathered a son in 1972; the marriage ended in 1975 when Richards decided to finally undergo transitional surgery in California, where she worked as an ophthalmologist. The following year, Richards applied to play in the US Open as a woman, following the institution of a new gender verification test which Richards disagreed with, and was denied entry when she refused to take the test (which tested chromosomes for a Barr body). Richards was also banned from Wimbledon and the Italian Open that same summer. She sued the United States Tennis Association for gender discrimination. This sparked a media firestorm, with some publications and organizations arguing that a man transitioning to a woman had a competitive advantage and some USTA members arguing that men would undergo sex changes to play in and win women's tournaments. Richards agreed to the Barr body test in 1977, and the results were inconclusive; she refused to take it again and was again refused entry in women's tournaments. She was finally granted admission to the US Open when a judge ruled in her favor in 1977. She lost in the first round of singles but made it to the final round of doubles. Richards played professionally until 1981, though her biggest success came as coach to Martina Navratilova, who won two Wimbledon championships under Richards's tutelage. Her legal battle over her gender expression is still considered a landmark event in the trans movement, as it brought to light the struggles trans people face each day, particularly in the workplace.

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