Olympian Seimone Augustus on being an openly gay pro athlete [VIDEO]

Seimone Augustus, right, with her partner LaTaya Varner.
Seimone Augustus, right, with her partner LaTaya Varner.
screenshot from ESPN video

- Best Lynx Player - 2012: Seimone Augustus

As the U.S. Olympic women's basketball team prepares to defend its 2008 gold against France on Saturday (3 p.m. CST), one of its players, MN Lynx star Seimone Augustus, bears another distinction.

Of 10,000 international athletes competing in the London games, she's one of just 23 who are openly gay, as counted by and reported by the AP.

Augustus, who is the 2011 WNBA MVP (and also City Pages's "Best Lynx Player 2012," probably an equally momentous distinction), came out publicly in May, when she revealed her plans to wed her girlfriend of five years, LaTaya Varner, to GLBT news magazine The Advocate.

A month later, she and Varner were grand marshals of the Twin Cities Pride parade. In an interview this week with ESPN's "Outside the Lines," Augustus spoke winningly about growing comfortable with her sexuality and not worrying about her love life affecting her career.

Augustus, on her knee at right, proposing to Varner on a beach in Miami. The sand sculpture reads, "Will you marry me Tay?"
Augustus, on her knee at right, proposing to Varner on a beach in Miami. The sand sculpture reads, "Will you marry me Tay?"
screenshot from ESPN video
Augustus grew up an only child in Baton Rouge, La., and one day as a teenager came home with a hickey. In the ESPN interview, her mother, Kim Augustus, remembers the ensuing scene.

"I said, 'What is that on your neck?' Kim Augustus says. "And she says, 'Oh, uh, I don't know.' And I said, 'Who did that?' And she was like, 'Uh, you know.'"

Her daughter then takes over the flashback, and continues, "She was like, 'So, you're telling me what I think you're telling me,' and I was like, 'Yes ma'am.' She was like, 'So you're gay,' and I said, 'Yes ma'am.'"

Kim Augustus then recounts her reaction to the news. "I was like, 'Oh, okay.' And I turned around and went on back outside."

In 2006, Augustus was drafted first overall by the Lynx, and not long after, met Varner in a Minneapolis nightclub. According to The Advocate, the budding couple had their first date at Six Flags. In 2009, Varner was by Augustus's side through a grueling season, when
Augustus injured her knee and found out her father had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Augustus continued to struggle in the 2010 pre-season, enduring an emergency hysterectomy.

By late 2010, Augustus proposed on a beach in Miami, but the couple only shared their news with family and friends. That year, Augustus had a breakout season, one that her parents partially attribute, in the ESPN interview, to her new-found personal happiness.

However, Augustus waited to speak publicly about her sexuality, she told ESPN. "I'm 28 years old and I still have yet to see a gay or lesbian couple, you know, walk down the street and be openly gay in the south, at least where I'm from," she said. "We're still getting over black and white issues down south. So to think that they're ready to accept open gay and lesbian people would be, uh, a bit of a stretch."

Despite this perception, Augustus does say that she thinks professional sports are becoming a "warmer environment, especially for females." "We tend to be those sensitive, nurturing beings that want to try to help you through tough situations, whether it be personal or basketball or whatever," she says.

Augustus notes that, when she did decide to be come out publicly, she had "no concern about it impacting my career."

Later in the interview, she says, "Before, you're a little bit afraid, like, 'well maybe I'll lose some fans, or maybe people will look at me in a negative way,' but the people that love you want to be a part of who you are."

The responses, she says, have been only positive, including those from the WNBA and her sponsor, Nike. She and Varner plan to have a ceremony at the Walker Art Center next May, regardless of what happens with November's marriage amendment vote, and are considering getting legally married in another state.

Here's the full video:

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