Dr. Renée Richards made worldwide news when she was thrust into the international spotlight for her sex reassignment surgery after she won a women’s tennis tournament. Opposition to her being allowed to play in tennis competitions led to a landmark court case that ultimately gave her the right to play. Born in 1934 as Richard Raskind, Richards’s public struggle to be accepted as a woman by the U.S. Tennis Association drew attention to the discrimination and general lack of understanding that transsexuals faced. Her determination throughout this difficult time inspired countless gay men, lesbians and transsexuals.
Richards is considered to be a trailblazer of LGBT activism, by taking on the professional sports world and inspiring others to find their voices and fight for fair treatment in all aspects of their lives. Her accomplishments in the world of sports include being captain of the Yale tennis team, captain of the U.S. Navy Tennis Team — as well as two-time All Navy Champion — captain of the U.S. Tennis Team at the Maccabiah Games in Israel, and coach of all-time champion Martina Navratilova. She was inducted into the Eastern Tennis Hall of Fame in 2000.
ROBIN BRONK: If you had five minutes in the Oval Office with President Obama, what would you discuss with him? What issue would you like him to know about?
Renée Richards: I am Jewish, so how does he plan to help gain peace in the Middle East?
RB: If you could ask the President one question, what would that be?
RR: One? How about three?
(1) How does the president plan to gain peace in the Middle East?
(2) I am a septuagenarian doctor still in the practice of ophthalmology. Please explain “ObamaCare.” None of my colleagues have a clue what it will be.
(3) I am the oldest living relic, a pioneer for the transgender community. Do you need me for a panel on dealing with LGBT issues?
RB: What piece of advice would you give President Obama?
RR: How preposterous to think that I, or anyone, could give the president “advice,” even President Clinton? The only one who could do so is dead. And curiously, he has the same birthday as President Clinton and me —August 19. His name was Bernard Baruch, and he advised several presidents, but you are all too young to remember that.
RB: If you were going to send the president to one of your favorite places in the United States for one day, where would that be? Why?
RR: Easy. He loves golf, same as me. Pebble Beach, Monterey, Calif.
RB: What CD/piece of music would you recommend that the president add to his collection? Why?
RR: Either the Tchaikovsky or the Brahms violin concerto. But if he likes country more, I would send him a CD of my favorite — Don Williams’s “I Believe in You.”
RB: Would you ever consider a political career?
RR: I grew up in Queens, New York. I once thought of running for borough president. My goal: to fix all the potholes on Queens Boulevard; my slogan, Vote for the Queen of Queens!
Robin Bronk is CEO of The Creative Coalition — the leading national, nonprofit, nonpartisan public advocacy organization of the entertainment industry. Bronk is a frequent speaker on the role of the entertainment industry in public advocacy campaigns and represents The Creative Coalition and its legislative agenda before members of Congress and the White House. She produced the feature film “Poliwood,” airing on Showtime, and edited the recently published book Art & Soul. Bronk pens this weekly column with assistance from Risa Kotek.