Megan Rapinoe loves to play soccer, and the Olympic and World Cup champion has had a stellar career in the sport. But as she told employees of Zillow this week, her life’s work is her activism, using her platform as a sports star to advocate for women’s pay equity, LGBTQ+ issues and justice for the Black community, among many things.
Rapinoe spoke this week with Zillow Chief Corporate Relations Officer Dawn Lyon to talk about her journey as an activist. Below are excerpts of Rapinoe’s conversation with Lyon, edited for brevity and clarity.
How is quarantine life for you and your girlfriend, [WNBA star] Sue Bird?
We just settled into it. Now, we do have daily fights over the best Zoom spots. I talk really loud, apparently, during calls, so I feel like I’m constantly encroaching on all of the space in the house. We eventually got a Peloton and some kettlebells. The trainer that we work with did an incredible job of being creative about how to set up our workouts for inside the house.
I met you four years ago at an Equal Pay Day event in a roundtable discussion hosted by Glassdoor. A few months later you took a knee at a game, in support of NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Tell me about that journey as an activist, and where you are now.
Taking a knee wasn’t spur of the moment decision, but I didn’t labor over it either. At the time, personally, I was really starting to connect all these different dots of intersectionality. It always brings me back to the Emma Lazarus quote, “Until we’re all free, we are none of us free.” And so equality and liberation and all of that has to be rooted in the most vulnerable in our society, the most intersectional.
And so for me, it became obvious: If I’m going to ask someone to fight for my freedom and to stand up for me if it comes to gay rights or pay equity, I certainly have to be willing to do the same for them.
What’s your perspective on the movement currently unfolding in our towns and cities around racial inequality?
I feel there is an understanding of what Colin Kaepernick was saying, of what Black people have been saying for hundreds of years. This is also coupled with the pandemic that has really laid bare some policies and systems that are rooted in inequality, that are designed to be unequal, whether it’s women or gays or Black people, they’re systems designed to keep them down.
I feel like white people are starting to connect these other dots; that you might not be able to understand what it’s like to be a Black person in this country, but you can believe them.
Are you feeling that this could be the moment where that action really starts to happen, where companies are accountable, where organizations are accountable, where people are accountable and that we really can affect change much longer term?
I feel very hopeful. In one sense, we’d been given the worst curse ever. We have a pandemic and protests, violence, police brutality against Black people in this country. But on the other hand, this could literally be a once in a multiple generation opportunity for us to hit reset.
We have this opportunity to reimagine a better world. And I think this is the moment for it, but we have to do it. We have to commit to it, not just like, “Oh, I’m in this fight,” because a fight implies that eventually there’s going to be an end. It’s committing to a new way of life, a new way of thinking, a reimagination of what success means, of what society can mean, of what equality really truly is.
Zillow just released LGBT Local Legal Protections, a data-powered resource to help people see whether for-sale and rental listings are in communities where state and local regulations explicitly protect LGBT individuals from discrimination. Absent federal protections, what can companies like Zillow do to ensure fair access to housing?
Little things like that information in your home listings say to me that you have my back. I’ve used Zillow before; I get on there and I’m checking all the time about houses. And so just those little things that companies can do – maybe we don’t have the laws yet, but as companies are adhering to those types of practices, it makes a big difference, especially from a company that’s as big as Zillow.
Personal question: Tell me a story where you’ve felt discrimination as a gay woman.
My coming out story is unusual. I didn’t realize I was gay until college, but I didn’t really struggle with it myself. I was like, “I’m living my life and this is so awesome. If you could be a lesbian, you would be, too.”
The closest experience I have to the feeling of discrimination is the hatred I felt when I took a knee, people having such an opposition without actually being able to verbalize what they felt. So I kind of connect that vitriol to the homophobia I know many gay women have experienced.
The platform that I have, to be gay, very out , very safe and very protected – that is not the case for everyone. It is now my job and my responsibility to make it better for as many people as we possibly can.
You recently released the jacket cover for your memoir that will come out right after Thanksgiving. What do you want people to take from your story?
I think it’s for anyone looking to make a difference and maybe not knowing how. I hope it also challenges people to constantly look inward and say, “What can I do, and how can I make it better?” We have systemic problems in this country when it comes to sexism, racism, gender equality and across the board. I think it really is all of our responsibility to try to dismantle that. Hopefully there’s some humor in the book and some fun stuff as well; just kind of a peek behind the veil. Although I don’t really have a veil.