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Renee Richards

tennis player

Alias: She was born as name of Richard Raskin.
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Bio Renée Richards is an American ophthalmologist, author and former professional tennis player. In 1975, Richards underwent sex reassignment surgery. She was denied entry into the 1976 US Open by the United States Tennis Association, citing an unprecedented women-born-women policy. She disputed the ban, and the New York Supreme Court ruled in her favor in 1977. This was a landmark decision in favor of transsexual rights. Through her fight to play tennis as a woman, she challenged gender roles and became a role model and spokesperson for the transgender community.

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". Richard grew up in an all-American home in Forest Hills Queens in New York City. Richards' 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. Because of her parents' career choices, it was expected that she would go to medical school as well. Her sister, Josephine, was a tomboy when they were young and was never very accepting of the choices that Renée made for herself; she still continues to refer to Renée as "he" and "my brother".

Richard married model Barbara Mole in June 1970. They were divorced in 1975. Richards' son, Nicholas Raskind, was born in 1972 and has never really forgiven Renée for leaving when he was a child. Nicholas has developed addiction problems and has struggled to hold down a job, and Renée feels as though it is her fault

She 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. Her baseball skills even got her scouted by the New York Yankees, but she decided to focus on tennis.

After high school she attended Yale University where she was captain of the Men's Tennis team. She was considered by some to be one of the best college tennis players in the country. After graduating from Yale she then went to the University of Rochester Medical Center where she specialized in ophthalmology. She graduated from Rochester in 1959 and then served a two-year internship at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. After her internship she served two years of residency at the Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital in New York. She played competitive tennis for a while and during the time in which she was moonlighting she was ranked sixth out of the top 20 males over 35. After her internship and residency, she joined the United States Navy to continue her medical training and played tennis for the Navy during her time there. While playing for the navy she won both the singles and doubles at the All Navy Championship. During this time she was ranked as high as fourth in the region. She had a very lethal and recognizable left hand serve that followed her everywhere and later led to the discovery of Renée.

Beginning sometime during college Raskind began cross-dressing, which at the time was considered to be a perversion and transsexualism was classified as a form of insanity. Raskind named the female alter ego Renée, which is French for reborn. Raskind's struggle with sexuality created sexual confusion, depression, and suicidal tendencies. Raskind began seeing Dr. Charles Ihlenfeld who specialized in endocrinology, transsexualism, and sexual reassignment. Upon seeing Dr. Ihlenfeld Raskind began getting hormone injections with the long-term hope for a life change. In the mid-1960s Raskind 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, Raskind ultimately decided against it and returned to New York. There, Raskind married a woman, Barbara, whom she divorced after five years of marriage and together they had one son. In the early 1970s, Raskind again decided to undergo sex reassignment and was referred to surgeon Roberto C. Granato, Sr., by Harry Benjamin, successfully transitioning in 1975. After hormone treatment, extensive psychological counseling, and sex reassignment surgery, Renée finally became a reality. After surgery, Renée went to Newport Beach, California and started working as an ophthalmologist with another doctor.

Richards applied to play in the US Open and was denied the right to play in 1976. 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 refused to take the test, and so was barred from USTA tournaments. She wasn't allowed to play 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. Judge Alfred M. Ascione heard the case.

Richards 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 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 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.

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 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.”

After four years of playing tennis, she decided to return to her medical practice, which she moved to Park Avenue in New York. She then became the surgeon director of ophthalmology and head of the eye-muscle clinic at the Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital. In addition she served on the editorial board of the Journal of Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus. Renée now lives in a small town north of New York City with her companion Arleen Larzelere. Renée still goes and watches the sport she enjoyed all her life, tennis, at the US Open. In 2014 a wooden racket used by her was donated to the National Museum of American History, which is part of the Smithsonian.
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