Layshia Clarendon of the Minnesota Lynx will be remembered long after they hang up their sneakers for good. Clarendon’s continuous success is timeless: They’ll be remembered as a standout athlete at Cal in the early 2010s, a top-10 draft pick in 2013’s WNBA draft and even more impressively as a member of the Eastern Conference All-Star team in 2017.
But beyond these accolades, Clarendon will be remembered for her bravery in another arena. Clarendon, who became the first openly nonbinary and transgender athlete in the WNBA, has embraced her role as one of the league’s foremost activists with regard to social issues.
Throughout her 2020 season with the New York Liberty, Clarendon who uses she/her, he/him and they/them pronouns interchangeably, wrestled with gender dysmorphia. This internal struggle intensified during the WNBA’s time in “the bubble,” an isolated environment at IMG Academy in Florida where the league’s athletes concluded their 2020 campaign under COVID-safe conditions.
While the bubble kept Clarendon and other members of the WNBA relatively protected from the virus, its isolating nature caused them to face deeply personal issues with inadequate moral support.
“Struggling with gender dysphoria is really difficult, and it was weighing on my mental health a lot, on top of being in a bubble,” said Clarendon of his time at IMG Academy in 2020.
Perhaps the most pressing question that Clarendon faced in the bubble was whether or not to pursue top surgery, a common gender reassignment procedure that changes the size of breast tissue. Within the bubble, they came to the conclusion that they did want to go through with the surgery.
One factor that caused Clarendon’s hesitance about the procedure was the surgery’s possible impact on their career. While she recognized the organization as perhaps the most progressive sports league in the nation, Clarendon still perceived the potential for transphobia within the WNBA community.
“We’re still humans and people,” Clarendon said. “We still breathe the air, even though we’re these amazing, progressive Black women (who) are on the forefront. I was definitely afraid of some of that transphobia coming out because it’s in all of us.”
Throughout their career, Clarendon has been outspoken on topics of LGBTQ+ issues.
In one situation, they showed support for soccer player Mili Hernandez, an eight-year-old who made national headlines when she was kept from playing in a tournament because of her supposedly boyish haircut. Clarendon offered her a personal message via Twitter, encouraging the young athlete to continue to challenge the gender binary.
Their activism hasn’t been limited to matters of gender or sexual orientation; Clarendon has been one of the league’s most prominent figures in the fight against police brutality. Following the shooting of Breonna Taylor, Clarendon aligned with a small faction of athletes that openly demanded police abolition.
As the first transgender and nonbinary player in WNBA history, it is undeniable that Clarendon stands up for what they believe in. They have been not only a trailblazer but a proponent for change. Clarendon is unapologetically themself, and an excellent spokesperson for a league that promotes justice and equality. That is what they will be remembered for long after their playing days are over.