Billie Jean King in town for LGBTQ advocacy benefit

Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights in San Francisco, is looking forward to talking with tennis legend and gay rights activist Billie Jean King.

“I am beyond excited. For the first time in 57 years, I will be able to meet her face-to-face, and I’m sure I’ll gush appropriately like a schoolgirl,” says Kendell, who’s appearing in “Serving Up the Ace,” a benefit for NCLR, a legal LGBTQ advocacy organization, at Brava in The City on Thursday.

The program includes a conversation between King and Kendell and a screening of “Battle of the Sexes,” the 2017 movie with Emma Stone and Steve Carell about the famed 1973 match between World No. 1 tennis star King and ex-champ and hustler Bobby Riggs.

In her talk with King, Kendell says, “I want to find out how she had the fortitude to blaze the path that she did, when really she stood alone. At the time, there were very few other female tennis players beating drum about pay equity.”

Kendell also plans to ask King about her interior life — what drove her motivation — and find out first-hand “about all of the hullabaloo surrounding the match with Bobby Riggs.”

She also wants to know more about King’s life as a lesbian activist working on behalf of the LBGTQ community.

The commitment to civil rights is a point of commonality between King and Kendell, who grew up in Utah, in the Mormon church.

“I came to consciousness believing I was going to hell, but also coming to terms with the fact that this was who I was,” she says, adding, “When I left, it was not without angst or emotion, I just knew I couldn’t live an authentic life if I couldn’t be out and open.”

Attorney-activist Kate Kendell of the National Center for Lesbian Rights speaks with Billie Jean King in an event also featuring a screening of “Battle of the Sexes.” (Courtesy photo)

Kendell, who remembers the 1981 day when King was outed by her ex-lover, says she herself survived thanks to her mother, who loved the church and loved her daughter and “saw no conflict between the two.”

It’s critical, she adds, that gay people, not just celebrities, are open about their orientation. She says, “Invisibility kills.”

Pointing to today’s political climate in which everything NCLR has fought for, for decades, is at risk, Kendell says, “We also know that our entire 41 years were necessary for us to be prepared for this moment.”

Currently suing Donald Trump for his proposed transgender military ban, NCLR continues to work toward legal recognition for gay- and lesbian families across the country.

Noting that same-sex marriage became legal in the wake of a “fraught and perilous” moment when George W. Bush in 2004 called for a constitutional amendment to ban its recognition, Kendell says, “We are fighting those who want to take us back two generations. But we are not going to allow what we have gained to be eroded.”

IF YOU GO
Billie Jean King and Kate Kendell
Where: Brava, 2781 24th St., S.F.
When: 7:30 p.m. April 12
Tickets: $51 to $161
Contact: www.brava.org
Note: A VIP reception precedes the program at 7 p.m.

Leslie Katz

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