An interview with Women’s Professional Soccer players Joanna Lohman and Lianne Sanderson

Finding “out and proud” queer athletes to admire can be difficult, especially for American fans. During the 2011 Women’s World Cup, for example, Dorothy Snarker blogged about the many openly lesbian and bisexual women on the world soccer stage, though she acknowledged that “there are no officially out Team USA players.” While this may be true for the national team, the same cannot be said for Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS), the “highest level women’s soccer league in North America.” Several WPS players are openly gay, and I had the chance to meet two of them at the league’s semi-final in mid-August.

American Joanna Lohman has won numerous awards throughout her soccer career including Big Ten Player of the Year (2003) and Pennsylvania’s NCAA Woman of the Year (2004). She was the captain of the U.S. Under-21 squad, and she trained with the Women’s National Team in preparation for the 2004 Olympics. Currently, she plays for the Philadelphia Independence, which has placed second in the league for two years in a row. Her teammate and girlfriend Lianne Sanderson, who hails from Lewisham, England, played for the English national team from 2006 – 2010. Over the course of her two seasons with the Philadelphia Independence, Lianne has scored eight goals. Prior to joining the Independence, she played for the Arsenal Ladies in England.

The WPS season will begin next spring. Until then, Jo and Lianne are playing for RCD Espanyol, a team based in Barcelona, Spain. In between games and practices Jo and Lianne are working to establish JoLi Academy, which seeks to extend the reach of women’s soccer around the world, particularly in developing nations. Happily, they agreed to take time out of their busy schedule to tell us about their relationship, what it’s like to be out as a professional athlete, and their future plans. How did you meet?
Joanna Lohman: We met on the first day of preseason for the 2010 Philadelphia Independence.  I walked into the team room and [Lianne] was sitting in a chair with bleach blond hair, a neon-checkered backpack, and a sexy English accent. I thought, “Who is this chick?” Ha-ha.  I knew nothing about her but would get to know much over the next coming months.

Lianne Sanderson: The first time I met Jo was when she was sitting at a table doing her commercial real estate work in the Independence practice facility.  I was with my dad at the time and I walked away from the situation very intrigued and wanted to know more about her. Also, I had heard her speak Japanese to a fellow teammate and I thought she was a genius

AE: Could you share a fun—or poignant—story about how you fell in love?
LS: Although we met for the first time in March 2010, it was like we had known one another for a long time, purely as friends.  Most people would think we didn’t have much in common but there was an understanding and a connection that was undeniable. This connection was made even stronger when I went to visit Joanna’s lake house in Deep Creek Lake, MD. I got to spend some time with her parents and also enjoy the luxuries of the vacation home. It may sound like a movie or even really cheesy, but I knew from minute one that Jo was the one for me.

JL: The weekend at the lake house was definitely a time where Lianne and I really got to know one another off the soccer-field. Lianne’s personality lights up a room and that was even more evident when she interacted with my family. I will never forget dancing to P!nk in our living room along with my dearest mother and laughing our heads off. You could tell that Lianne had the ability to put everyone at ease and at the same time, make you feel incredibly special. We had so many great memories that weekend and it ended with us hanging our legs off the back of the boat and gazing at the stars. Like Lianne said, it may make you want to squirm with cheesiness but it was the moment when I realized that together, we had something very powerful.