For 26 years Martina Navratilova has been a bright beckon of hope for gay athletes as she faced criticism, controversy and scrutiny over her decision to come out to the world.

This month, the outspoken advocate voiced her opinions about the political climate in the United States in Tennis Magazine after a reporter jokingly said she should go back the Czech Republic.

In her career, she has captured 18 Grand Slam Singles Titles, an all-time record of 31 Grand Slam Doubles Titles, and 10 mixed doubles championships.

She holds the almost untouchable record of singles titles won with 167 under her belt, and holds the longest winning streak in tennis history.

Fellow out tennis champion Billie Jean King once said: “Martina is the greatest singles, doubles and mixed doubles player who’s ever lived.”

Martina came out publicly just after she defected to the United States in 1981.

She is one of the greatest tennis champions ever, but it took years to earn the much-deserved respect that her tennis counterparts did because of her sexuality.

“I lost a lot of money because of that, but it didn’t occur to me that I would deny who I was because of money,” Navratilova told the Washington Blade.

The fifty-one-year-old retired player will be receiving the National Gay Lesbian Chamber of Commerce/American Airlines Extra Mile Award next week.

It is “given to a person who has gone the distance for LGBT equality despite incredible odds,” explains co-founder of the NGLCC Justin Nelson.

Despite her earned respect and her impeccable reputation, Navratilova still faces criticism.

Last month, a journalist in Tennis magazine “jokingly” said that Navratilova was leaving the United States because of the current political climate and was returning to the Czech Republic.

Navratilova, who has worked so hard to establish herself within the tennis community took great offence over the comment and was given a full page to respond to the statement.

In an interview with Metroweekly, Navratilova explained,

“I was really upset that my own tennis community would comment on me like that. It was obviously a [person of a] politically opposing view who wrote that and let their personal feelings get in the way of proper reporting.”

Martina explained that she has issues with both sides of the political fence, but her criticism of the government does not take away from her love of the United States.

“In 2001, Bill O’Reilly was saying that I if I didn’t like it here why don’t I just go back and live in the Czech Republic.

“And the whole point of democracy is that you can speak your mind. Dissent doesn’t mean being unpatriotic,” she stated in the interview.

As a community leader and role model, Martina has always been outspoken about politics even criticising the Bill Clinton administration for their weak stand on the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, but explained that “the whole point of living in this country and why this country is so great is that we can speak our mind without repercussions, without being demonised.”

Martina has stated she hoped that the 2008 presidential election would change some of the negativity that has been surrounding gay issues, but said that currently she was less than impressed with the front runners for the Democrat candidacy.

“I’m disappointed with [John] Edwards, he seems uncomfortable,” she told the Blade.

“Hillary [Clinton] is best qualified but she doesn’t thrill me on gay rights.”

As an advocate for gay rights, Martina has been an active voice within the gay community holding press conferences and involving herself with gay events such as helping to organise last years inaugural Outgames in Montreal.

“Being gay was never a big deal to me,” she says.

“I couldn’t figure out why it was a bad thing.”

Like many other gay advocates, Martina Navratilova has been instrumental in creating awareness about the gay community and has demonstrated the successes that are possible in our free country.

Her willingness to be open and speak her mind has helped other athletes who have come out of the closet to be met with more acceptance.

She explains that her criticism of the government is not a bash on American society, but rather an obligation and a necessity for all citizens to help better our society.

As a citizen and as a public figure, it is her duty to speak against injustices and to help make the USA a better place for all Americans.

Dylan Vox © 2007 GayWired.com; All Rights Reserved.