Dr RENEE RICHARDS
Renée Richards (born August 19, 1934)
An American ophthalmologist and former tennis player who had some success on the professional
circuit in the 1970s. In 1975 Richards underwent male-to-female sex reassignment surgery. She was
then denied entry into the 1976 US Open by the United States Tennis Association, which began that
year requiring genetic screening for female players. She disputed this policy, and the New York
Supreme Court ruled in her favor in 1977 in a decision in favor of transsexual rights. As one of the first
professional athletes to identify as such, she became a spokesperson for the transgender
community. After retiring, she coached Martina Navratilova to two Wimbledon titles.
Richards was born Richard Raskind on August 19, 1934, in New York City, and was raised, as she
put it, as "a nice Jewish boy" in Forest Hills, Queens. Her father David Raskind was an orthopedic
surgeon, and her mother was one of the first female psychiatrists in the United States, in addition to
being a professor at Columbia University.
Richards attended Horace Mann School and excelled as the wide receiver for the football team, the
pitcher for the baseball team, and on the tennis and swim teams. Richards's baseball skills even
led to an invitation to join the New York Yankees, but Richards decided to focus on tennis. After high
school Richards attended Yale University and was captain of the men's tennis team, and was
considered by some to be one of the best college tennis players in the country. After graduating from
Yale, she went to the University of Rochester Medical Center and specialized in ophthalmology,
graduating in 1959 and serving a two-year internship at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. After an
internship, Richards served two years of residency at the Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital in
New York. Richards played competitive tennis for a while and was ranked sixth out of the top 20 males
over 35. After an internship and residency, Richards joined the United States Navy to continue medical
training and played tennis in the Navy. While serving in the Navy, Richards won both the singles and
doubles at the All Navy Championship, with a very effective left-hand serve. During this time Richards
was ranked as high as fourth in the region.
During college Richards began dressing as a woman, which at the time was considered to be a
perversion, and transsexualism was classified as a form of insanity. Richards named the female alter
ego Renée, which is French for reborn. This struggle with sexual identity created sexual confusion,
depression, and suicidal tendencies. Richards began seeing Dr. Charles Ihlenfeld, disciple of
Harry Benjamin who specialized in endocrinology, transsexualism, and sexual reassignment. Upon
seeing Dr. Ihlenfeld she began getting hormone injections with the long-term hope for a life change.
In the mid-1960s she traveled in Europe dressed as a woman, intending to go to North Africa to see
Georges Burou, a famous gynecological surgeon at Clinique Parc in Casablanca, Morocco, regarding
sex reassignment surgery; however, she ultimately decided against it and returned to New York.
Richards married model Barbara Mole in June 1970, and together they had a son Nicholas in 1972.
They were divorced in 1975. In the early 1970s, Richards resolved to undergo sex reassignment and
was referred to surgeon Roberto C. Granato, Sr., by Harry Benjamin, successfully transitioning in
1975. After surgery, Richards went to Newport Beach, California, and started working as an
ophthalmologist in practice with another doctor.
Following Richards' disclosure of her gender reassignment, the United States Tennis Association
(USTA), the Women's Tennis Association (WTA), and the United States Open Committee (USOC)
required all women competitors to verify gender with a Barr body test of their chromosomes. Richards
applied to play in the US Open in 1976 as a woman but refused to take the test, and thus was not
allowed to compete in the U.S. Open, Wimbledon, or the Italian Open in the summer of 1976.
Richards then sued the USTA in New York state court, alleging discrimination by gender in violation of
the New York Human Rights Law. She asserted that participating in the tournament would constitute
"an acceptance of her right to be a woman." Some USTA members felt that others would undergo sex
change to enter women's tennis. Sports Illustrated called Richards an "extraordinary spectacle", and
characterized reactions to her as "varying from astonishment to suspicion, sympathy, resentment, and
more often than not, utter confusion." The USOC stated "there is competitive advantage for a male
who has undergone a sex change surgery as a result of physical training and development as a
male." Richards finally agreed to take the Barr body test. The test results were ambiguous. She
refused to take it again and therefore was barred from play.
On August 16, 1977, Judge Alfred M. Ascione found in Richards' favor. He ruled: "This person is now a
female" and that requiring Richards to pass the Barr body test was "grossly unfair, discriminatory and
inequitable, and a violation of her rights." He further ruled that the USTA intentionally discriminated
against Richards, and granted Richards an injunction against the USTA and the USOC, allowing her
to play in the US Open. Richards lost to Virginia Wade in the first round of the singles competition, but
made it to the finals in doubles.
Tennis career after transitioning
After moving to California, Richards played in regional competitions for her local club, the John Wayne
Tennis Club, under the name Renée Clark. In the summer of 1976 she entered the La Jolla Tennis
Tournament Championships, where she crushed the competition and her unique and lethal left hand
serve was recognized. Her long-time friend Gene Scott then invited her to play in his professional
tennis tournament, the Tennis Week Open in South Orange, New Jersey. The USTA and the WTA then
withdrew their sanction for the Tennis Week Open, and organized another tournament; 25 of the 32
participants withdrew from the Tennis Week Open. This was just the beginning of the issues
Richards would encounter in trying to play professional women's tennis, which eventually led to her
suing the USTA and winning. Richards played professionally from 1977 to 1981 when she retired at
age 47. She was ranked as high as 20th overall (in February 1979), and her highest ranking at the
end of a year was 22nd (in 1977). Her first professional event as a female was the 1977 US Open.
Her greatest successes on court were reaching the doubles final at her first U.S. Open in 1977, with
Betty Ann Grubb Stuart—the pair lost a close match to Martina Navratilova and Betty Stöve—and
winning the 35-and-over women's singles. Richards was twice a semifinalist in mixed doubles (with
Ilie Năstase) at the U.S. Open. In 1979, she defeated Nancy Richey for the 35 and over singles title at
the U.S. Open. Richards posted wins over Hana Mandlíková, Sylvia Hanika, Virginia Ruzici, and Pam
Shriver. She later coached Navratilova to two Wimbledon wins and was inducted into the USTA
Eastern Tennis Hall of Fame in 2000. On August 2, 2013, Richards was among the first class of
inductees into the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame.
Richards has since expressed ambivalence about her legacy, and came to believe her past as a man
provided her with advantages over her competitors, saying “Having lived for the past 30 years, I know if
I’d had surgery at the age of 22, and then at 24 went on the tour, no genetic woman in the world would
have been able to come close to me. And so I’ve reconsidered my opinion.”
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