One of the highlights of my two weeks in Montreal this summer working for Outgames I was squiring Patricia Nell Warren around the events for two and a half days.
Warren is the author of the groundbreaking gay sports novel, The Front Runner. It’s the story of a college-age runner, Billy Sive, and his ex-Marine coach, Harlan Brown - their love for their sport and each other. The story ends with Billy unable to finish the men’s 5,000 meter race at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. You’ll have to read the book to find out why.
When Outgames called, Warren was more than happy to come to Montreal 30 years later and complete that last lap on Billy’s behalf. When she did, the crowd at the track and field stadium went crazy.
As Warren sat in the sweltering heat waiting to walk the symbolic final 50 meters of Billy’s race, gay men from 30 to 80-plus years of age came over to tell her how much The Front Runner meant to them. “I read it as I was coming out,” one said. “I knew I wasn’t alone.” “Thank you so much for writing that book,” said another. “It gave me the courage to say who I was.”
Giving voice to LGBT people in sports has been Warren’s passion for more than 30 years. A long-distance runner herself, Warren was instrumental in achieving equality for women in that sport. She, along with 11 other women runners, crashed the Boston Marathon in 1969 to illustrate the ludicrous ban by the Amateur Athletic Union on women competitively running more than two miles. A few years later, the rules were finally changed, and women runners were 50-mile marathoners.
Now, Warren has just published another book about gays in sports, but this one is a nonfiction work. The Lavender Locker Room: 3,000 Years of Great Athletes Whose Sexual Orientation Was Different comes out this month and has already been met with praise from LGBT and straight athletes alike. The book is a collection of essays she has written for, the LGBT sports website.
The Lavender Locker Room chronicles LGBT people in sports from the first out love relationship between Greek athletes Achilles and Patroclus to well-known gay athletes Dave Kopay, the former NFL player, and tennis great Martina Navritilova.
But between the opening and closing chapters are the fascinating stories of athletes that we don’t know.
The lover of England’s King James I - now sometimes called “the gay king” - George Villiers was knighted as a Gentleman of the Bedchamber. But more important to the sport of horse racing, he was also designated as the “master of the horse.”
“I think I’m the first one to really put together the whole story of Villiers,” Warren told me in a recent phone interview. “Racing had become the sport of kings. Villiers started the breeding program. He got the ball rolling. We owe him the horse. The story is so colorful it’s almost like an historical romance novel.”
But for Warren, it’s not just about athletes who are gay or lesbian, but about how LGBT athletes have helped to define the sports they loved.
“Gay people have tended to focus on the political and psychological part of coming out,” she said. “But it’s [also> really important to look at the sport at the moment that these people appear.”
Warren explained that people don’t tend to think of Amelia Earhart as a sportswoman, “yet she was one of the people who made the presence of women in air racing possible.”
“Earhart may have been one of air racing’s ‘odd girls,’ in a day when the words ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ were never spoken openly,” Warren writes in the chapter on the famous flyer. In 1929, Earhart and 19 other “sky girls” - as women flyers were called in that day - entered the first national Women’s Air Derby and broke new ground. That same year, Earhart and 98 other women pilots formed the 99s, the first women’s pilots association, which Earhart helmed as president. Soon after, men and women were competing against each other in air races.
Warren went on to explain in our interview that two men - one gay, the other bisexual - also had an impact on racing in the air. Extremely closeted Alberto Santo-Dumont pioneered balloon racing, and Howard Hughes, who Warren calls the “ultimate bisexual,” left quite a mark on air racing as well as on airplane technology.
“We are the creative ones,” she said.
How true - and Warren’s work, whether fiction or non, bears this out as well.
Libby Post is the founding chair of the Empire State Pride Agenda and a political commentator on public radio, on the Web, and in print media. She can be reached at"

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