Renee Richards still amazed she broke transgender taboo

Thu Mar 26, 2015 7:47am EDT
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By Steve Ginsburg

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - More than three decades after putting down her tennis racquet, Renee Richards is still astonished she had the moxie to join the women's professional tour after living the first 34 years of her life as a man.

For all the frenzy around Olympian Bruce Jenner's reported decision to transition to a woman, the transgender pioneer Richards, born Richard Raskind, believes nothing could be tougher than what she endured in the 1970s.

"How could I have actually gone out there in front of thousands of people as this notorious transsexual and compete against young women?" Richards, 80, told Reuters by phone from New York state.

"I didn't know whether I was going to be shot at, or whether I was just going to be yelled at."

Jenner, 65, was once considered the world's greatest athlete after winning the gold medal in the decathlon at the 1976 Summer Olympics. That same year Richards says she was "outed" for her sex change, a revelation that reverberated, and not just through the sports world.

Richards laughs about reports she is counseling Jenner. "It's not true," she said. "That's insane. It would be preposterous for me to say anything to him."

Jenner's transition would make him the most high-profile American to come out as transgender, a boon to the community's increasingly visible fight for equality and acceptance. A reality star via the Kardashian family's TV series, he has not publicly commented on his plans.

But Richards believes that, with no chance to begin his new life privately, Jenner will have a challenging time.   Continued...

Renee Richards poses for a portrait on the front porch of her home in Carmel, New York, March 25, 2015.  REUTERS/Mike Segar