* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.While few male athletes come out as LGBTQ+, women's sport has many gay stars like Megan Rapinoe and Brittney Griner
By Lucy Middleton
LONDON, June 16 (Openly) - Cricket is more than a job to English champion Lauren Winfield-Hill - it's also brought her love, acceptance and a sense of ease about her sexuality.
Winfield-Hill met her wife, Courtney, at Australia's Women's Big Bash League in 2015. The couple tied the knot in Australia's picturesque Sunshine Coast in 2020 and Winfield-Hill publicly came out the same year.
"The day we got married was the day I felt most comfortable with who I am and who I've chosen to be with," Winfield-Hill, told Openly ahead of the Women's Ashes, which begin on June 22.
"I had all those people there and they were all so happy and excited for us. It felt like it was then time to go wider with that."
Winfield-Hill is one of several LGBTQ+ women to have played for England, including Natalie Sciver-Brunt, who in 2022 married Katherine Sciver-Brunt - another World Cup winner who retired from international cricket last month.
While it's been rare for male athletes to come out as LGBTQ+, women's sport has historically proven to be a more liberal and accepting environment.
Women's football has the largest representation, with half a dozen LGBTQ+ players among England's Lionesses, who won the Women's Euro 2022 championships - further opening the conversation about visibility on the pitch.
Although men's football has a history of homophobia, the Lionesses - with their out and proud LGBTQ+ players - became national heroes.
In the U.S., women's soccer, basketball, hockey and tennis all have prominent gay stars including Megan Rapinoe and Brittney Griner.
Winfield-Hill, who was a member of England's winning team at the 2017 Women's Cricket World Cup, said the inclusivity of women's cricket made coming out easier.
"Cricket is such as safe space, it always has been for me, especially with my sexuality," she said.
"Everybody just wants you to be happy. It doesn't really matter who that (happiness) comes from as long as they're a good person and they've got your back and they support you."
The couple now live in England where Courtney Winfield-Hill plays rugby league.
Lauren regularly posts about their life together on social media, including pictures of their King Charles Cavalier dog, Wilson.
"Heaps of times, way back ... I would go to functions and it'd be the classic - having small talk with someone and they ask you if your boyfriend is with you," she said.
"It's this real awkward reality check. It's so nice now not having to deal with little bits like that."
The England women's cricket team is supporting Rainbow Laces - a campaign by Britain's largest LGBTQ+ rights group Stonewall to celebrate and encourage more LGBTQ+ participation in sport, in the face of rising anti-gay rhetoric in many countries.
Winfield-Hill said she was happy to support Stonewall's campaign and called for more LGBTQ+ allies to back it.
"Everything is always more powerful as a collective ... The more role models we can have who aren't necessary LGBTQ+, the more powerful it is," she said.
"If someone is growing up and questioning their sexuality and there is somebody out there, not LGBTQ+, showing their support, they still feel like they have a place."