Sunday, October 31, 2010

LGBT Student Athletes Taking On Homophobia in College Athletics

I am really excited by several recent news reports about LGBT and ally student athlete led groups on college campuses. Groups at Eastern Michigan, Yale and UPenn have all been featured in recent stories. Other schools that have organized similar groups include Vassar, Purdue and the University of Michigan. There could be more. Those are the ones I know about.

In addition to providing support and visibility for LGBT athletes on campus, these groups are doing trainings for athletes and helping to organizing training for coaches and athletic administrators on their campuses. These campus-based groups join Our Group, a national group of LGBTA student athletes who have similar goals.
I cannot stress enough how important these groups are in making college athletics programs more welcoming and respectful for LGBT athletes. I developed a resource for student athletes who wanted to start a group like this on their campuses which is available here.

If you are a student athlete at a school without one of these groups, I encourage you to contact some of the schools who have organized one and also contact Our Group to see how you can start a group at your school. I think I see a trend here and I really like it.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sherri Murrell: A Game Changer, Indeed!

Here is a wonderful profile of Sherri Murrell, the women’s basketball coach at Portland State University. Sherri is not only a winning coach whose team made into the NCAA tournament last year, she is also the only publicly out lesbian NCAA Division 1 women’s basketball coach.

Read the article. Learn about what it takes to be a game changer. The great thing about Sherri’s experience is that her sexual orientation is pretty much a non-issue at PSU. What makes it a big deal is that she is out and it isn’t a big deal. Does that make sense? That’s the way it should be. Sherri is a good coach and that is what her team, their parents and the PSU administration care about. Come to think of it, they are game changers too.

It is so fun to write about some good news and this story is definitely good news.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Love and Basketball: Not Always a Happy Ending

On September 15, a couple sat in their car outside a Popeye’s restaurant in Milwaukee. They may have been arguing over one partner having received a phone call that made the other partner angry and probably jealous. Family members said the couple, who had been together for 14 years, had been having troubles. One of the two had a gun in the car. During the argument, the gun was pulled, pointed and fired. The jealous partner shot and killed her lover.

Sadly, this is not a rare story. Violence between lovers, married couples and dating partners is far too commonplace and always tragic. In this particular case, however, the unexpected twist is that the partners were women. Both were former basketball players who starred on their college teams. One, Rosalind Ross, played in an NCAA Championship title game for the University of Oklahoma and was drafted by the WNBA. Her long-time companion, Malika Willoughby, has been charged with first degree murder. Both women are African American. Rosalind was 30. Malika is 27. They have known each other since they were teenagers. Rosalind and Malika’s families knew about their relationship and the families were friends. Everyone is devastated by what apparently happened in the car that night.

In many ways violence in lesbian and gay relationships is no different than violence in heterosexual relationships. Sexual orientation has nothing to do with how well we deal with relationship conflict, infidelity, or just growing apart. Our ability to cope with the anger, jealousy, anguish and depression that often go with a break up has nothing to do with whether we are gay or straight. Though we hear more about violence in heterosexual relationships, relationship violence of any kind, whether the relationship is straight or gay, is a problem.

On the other hand, many gay relationships must be negotiated without the institutional and personal support that are taken for granted by heterosexual couples. Coping with the relationship issues that are inherent in being in one are often exacerbated by isolation fear, and discrimination that many LGBT people face every day in a culture that tells them they are sick, sinful, immoral or crazy.

I don’t know anymore about the specific circumstances of the relationship between Rosalind and Malika than what I read in the media accounts of Rosalind’s death, but it is reflective of the ambivalence and uncertainty with which same-sex relationships are viewed by the media that it took awhile to understand the intimate nature of their relationship. At first, Associated Press articles said Rosalind and her suspected killer “knew each other.” They were described as “roommates” in another story. Later articles said the killing was related to a “domestic dispute.” Rosalind’s mother cleared things up in a later article by saying Malika and Rosalind were “partners.” Later still, articles revealed that they had been partners for 14 years; a long-term relationship by most standards whether heterosexual or gay.

I don’t know if Rosalind and Malika’s relationship faced additional challenges because they were two young Black women who loved each other. I wouldn’t be surprised. Many conservative Black churches condemn homosexuality and so cut many LGBT people of color off from this source of community and support. I know that many LGBT people of color hide their sexual orientation to avoid isolating themselves from family, friends and churches. I do know that this is yet another tragedy in a month already tainted by so many suicides by young gay men who lost hope.

I try to keep track of LGBT sports news and I almost missed this one. My heart goes out to the families of both Rosalind and Malika.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Does Supporting your Team Require Demeaning Gays?

Last week I wrote about Yankee fans singing homophobic lyrics to the Village People’s YMCA. In the past I’ve written about homophobic fan chants, anti- gay slurs directed at opposing players, anti-gay signs held up by fans, you name, some groups of sports fans from the high school level to the pros seem to think it is amusing, insulting and completely acceptable to express support for their teams with organized group ridicule of gay people.

It has happened often enough to say that it is part of the culture of being a fan. Not to say all or even most fans participate, but somehow it has become acceptable for some segment of fans, usually called things like the “bleacher creatures” to be a little over the top as they root for their team. Often coaches or school administrators compliment this group for getting the home team fans into the game and exploiting the home team advantage.

It is usually a boys’ or men’s team sport event. It is usually mostly boys or men shouting anti-gay epithets at opposing players or fans. The use of anti-gay or anti-woman “cheers,” songs and slurs at sporting events, I suppose, are attempts to insult the “manhood,” the toughness, the mettle of opposing players and fans. These insults, unfortunately, often do get a rise out of other men and boys. Such is the fragile nature of men’s sense of comfort with their masculinity and heterosexuality, I guess.

Here is another example of this at a high school football game outside Cleveland, Ohio. The fans are chanting “Powder Blue Faggots” at the opposing team whose uniforms are light blue. You can hear the chants here. The band is even adding a little musical accent to the chant. Apparently this happened throughout the game and has been going on for years. The other team’s fans also have their own anti-gay chant that they chant back in response.

The TV report included in the link makes a point that there is a huge sign outside the stadium listing expectations for good fan behavior, but like so many of these signs or announcements at the beginning of a game, no one pays much attention. School administrators at this game claimed that they intervened. Did they intervene at all the other games over the years when the chant was used? If so, it seems clear that something else needs to happen to make it stop.

In a month when we have heard more than enough tragic stories of young gay men killing themselves, many because they have been bullied and brutalized by peers shouting anti-gay slurs, isn’t it time that school administrators, parents, coaches and classmates start to make some connections between these homophobic expressions of “school spirit” and the deaths of young people who attend these schools and may be sitting in the stands at these games? What do they learn about themselves when anti-gay chants, songs, shouting of slurs is commonplace at school sporting events? When young people are already in a fragile and isolated place, who knows what could be the final cold breeze that extinguishes their will to resist the hostility another day?
It is not just “boys being boys” (I hate that rationalization) or being “overly sensitive” or “politically correct” to expect school officials to step up and insist that this kind of abuse stop. It is their responsibility and that of every other adult attending the game to step up. I wonder if anyone would have taken this incident seriously had it not been for a young woman with a sense of outrage and a phone camera who filmed the fans chanting and posted her video on YouTube?
Does your school have a code of conduct for behavior at school sporting events? Is it taken seriously? Is it safe for young LGBT people or anyone else, for that matter, to attend sporting events at your school without being subjected to mean-spirited and dangerous expressions of “school spirit” that suck the joy and fun out of being a sports fan?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Yankees Promise to Stop Fan Anti-Gay Singing

Yankees management promised GLAAD that they will not tolerate anti-gay chants or singing and fans who are identified engaging in these activities at Yankee games will be ejected.

Well, that was fast action after several bloggers called attention to this ugly tradition. Thank you, GLAAD and thank you, Yankees, for taking such swift action. I might even root for the Yankees for one game in the post season as a thank you…but that’s all. For a Red Sox fan, that’s the best I can do.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Male or Female? Where Do We Draw the Line in Sport?

Here is an excellent ESPN Outside the Lines feature on intersex athletes. Alice Dreger’s comments, in particular, are thought-provoking and a must read for anyone in athletics grappling with policy development related to the participation of athletes who are intersex.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Young Male Yankee Fans and Homophobia

I haven’t made a Horse’s Patoot Salute for awhile so here is my latest nominee –Homophobic Yankee Fans. Here’s why –

The Village People’s song, YMCA, has become a traditional crowd diversion at many sports events. At some point during the game, everyone stands up and sings along with the Village People over the loud speakers. We all know the arm motions, right? Y-M-C-A! It’s fun and, of course, a little ironic to be singing a song parody by gay men parodying gay male icons at the most masculine of manly events: a professional men’s sports event.

I introduce this section by confessing that I am a Boston Red Sox fan and it follows that the Yankees are not my favorite team. However, it seems that, for a number of years, some male Yankee fans have taken the fun out of singing YMCA and turned it into an ugly display of homophobia.

When YMCA is played, large groups of male Yankee fans scan the seats for men wearing caps or tee shirts from the other team or anyone in Red Sox garb. They all point at their target and sing YMCA at that person or persons. The problem is that they have changed the words to the song. I’ll give you a little sample, their version starts out, “Why are you gay? I saw you sucking D-I-C-K.” It degenerates from there to "clever" new lyrics about disease and sin. All sung with drunken, adolescent leers and plastic beer cup schloshing.

Given the recent outrageous number of young gay men killing themselves after being bullied by classmates, the gang sodomizing of three gay men with sticks by upwards of 10 young men in NYC this past weekend and gubernatorial candidate, Carl Paladino’s public anti-gay comments, the insensitivity of the Yankee YMCA perversion is especially outrageous. No one ever said the combination of testosterone, alcohol and a male professional sports event was a recipe for respectful behavior, but this is really disgusting.

Sean Chapin who I have never met, but is one of my Facebook friends, has made a powerful video in response to the Yankee fans homophobic display.

What do you think is the responsibility of the professional teams and their stadium security staff here? Especially when this news follows the report last week of a lesbian couple asked to leave a Baltimore Ravens game because they kissed each other while waiting in line for an order of French fries.

Definitely a two steps back few weeks.

Transgender Woman Suing LPGA for Right to Play

Lana Lawless is a 57 year old transgender woman who is suing the LPGA for the right to play in LPGA sanctioned events. The LPGA policy states that a competitor must be “female at birth” to be eligible to play in LPGA events. They adopted this policy in the late 1970’s after Renee Richards successfully sued the USTA for the right to play in women’s professional tennis events. In 2008, Lawless won the women’s division of an annual Long Drive competition with a 254 yard drive. The Long Drivers of America, who sponsor this competition has since changed their eligibility rule to match the LPGA’s “female at birth” requirement. Lana is suing them too.

The United States Golf Association, the Ladies Golf Union in Britain and the Ladies European Golf Tour have all adopted the International Olympic Committee policy which enables transgender women athletes to compete in women’s competitions if they meet several criteria, including competition of sex reassignment surgery, two years of hormone therapy and changing the sex designated on official identity documents. Mianne Bagger, another woman who has undergone gender transition, has been playing in Europe and Australia for several years without incident.

The LPGA has, despite some pressure to address the participation of transgender golfers, failed to change their policy, which specifically prohibits transgender women from competing in LPGA events. It was only a matter of time before this day came. The LPGA’s failure to address this issue proactively now means they will do it in the glare of media and in reaction to a lawsuit. Not the best way to consider policy change.

In an unexpected twist, Renee Richard, in an interview in the New York Times article, is ambivalent about whether or not she supports Lawless’ goal of playing in LPGA events. Richards believes that “physically strong” transgender women have an advantage over other women competitors and seems to think that decisions about whether or not transgender women should play should be made on a case by case basis. This reservation mirrors the IOC and IAAF policies on the participation of intersex women that were in effect when Caster Semenya’s eligibility to compete as a woman was challenged in the 2009 World Championships and then affirmed this fall. We have seen what a mess the “case by case” policy can be.

Having just spent the better part of a year working on a report that includes policy recommendations to colleges and high schools about the participation of transgender athletes, I have read a lot about and talked to several physicians about the question of whether or not transgender women athletes have an unfair physical advantage in women’s competition. We based our recommendations on the best information available at this time. We can only hope that this, and any other lawsuits like it, will also be decided on the basis of science and medical research and not on prejudice and fear. Time will tell.

Monday, October 11, 2010

National Coming Out Day 2: Lauren Lappin, Out Lesbian USA Softball Player

Here is a good ESPN National Coming Out Day story on Out lesbian USA softball player, Lauren Lappin.

Happy National Coming Out Day!

Today is National Coming Out Day. An event celebrated by LGBT people and our friends and allies since 1988. NCOD was started after the second march on Washington for LGBT rights in 1987. The purpose of NCOD is for people of all sexual orientations to “take their next step” to empower themselves and make the world a safer, more inclusive and just place for all, with a particular focus on LGBT folks. This year NCOD takes on added significant in light of the recent rash of bully-assisted suicides of young gay men, the brutal violent attacks on three gay men in NYC, and the shameless and inexcusable harassment of a gay student government association president at the University of Michigan by an assistant district attorney in that state. These are only the events that have received national attention. Events like these occur in communities every day without the spotlight of the news media to call them to our attention.

These events are important reminders, especially for those of us who live in relative safety in states where our civil rights are protected, that we still have a long way to go. None of us can truly afford to feel safe as long as the events of the last few weeks are happening to young people all across the country. If we broaden our perspective to account for the international status of LGBT people, we recognize that for LGBT people in some countries, living openly risks a death sentence sanctioned by the state in addition to being targeted by violence from community members or families.

NCOD is a reminder that coming out is a multi-faceted process , not a single event. Coming out involves many stages and not everyone is in a position to come out publicly. Coming out means many things: We come out to ourselves, our trusted friends, our families, our co-workers and classmates. Some of us leap out of the closet with bold public announcements while others inch the closet door open step by carefully considered step. Both are important and life-changing.

Coming out takes on added risk when we factor in money. Can I afford to lose my job? Can I risk being kicked out of my home and losing my parents financial support? Will I be ostracized and bullied at school? Coming out for LGBT people of color is often complicated by racism and the added burden of dealing with homophobia and racism. Parents with children must consider custody issues and how best to protect their children in a world where LGBT parents’ rights are not universally protected. Real threats of violence, discrimination and isolation keep the closet door closed for many LGBT folks, both young and old.

Research does tell us that straight people who know openly LGBT people (family members, friends, colleagues, classmates, teammates, neighbors) are more likely to be allies who support LGBT rights. We also know that coming out enables LGBT people to live our truth, to be authentic in our relationships with the people we care about and interact with every day. Most LGBT people I know do not regret the decision to be more open about who they are. A few friends, even family members, are sometimes lost, discrimination might be an issue, but even in these situations, feeling the integrity and honesty of owning our truth is worth the rough patches that we sometimes must get through after coming out. I’ve never met an LGBT person who said he or she would rather be back in the closet after coming out.

NCOD is not just for LGBT people. Perhaps even more importantly it is a day for heterosexual allies to be more public about their support for LGBT people in their lives and for LGBT rights more broadly. NCOD is a time for heterosexual allies to ponder the importance of speaking out publicly – in your family, in your workplace, at your school, on your team, in your place of worship- about your support for LGBT people and our rights. For the LGBT people for whom coming out is too much of risk right now or for those who are still struggling with who they are, the visibility and public support of heterosexual allies is essential.

I don’t want to sound too dramatic here, and the recent spade of suicides, violence and harassment certainly help to drive this point home, but the decision to be a more vocal heterosexual ally is a life-saving decision. Private support of LGBT family members, friends and colleagues is fine and appreciated, but when heterosexual allies choose to stand up and speak out publicly, in their schools, families, workplaces, places of worship, communities, we can begin to change the world. No movement for social justice has ever achieved success only through the efforts of the people who are targeted by the injustice. NCOD is a day for LGBT people to take our next steps, but it is equally a day for our heterosexual allies to take theirs. We are all in this together and we all must take the opportunities we have to stand up and speak out. What are you planning to do today?

What are you planning to do tomorrow to make this world a safer, more loving, more life-affirming place for everyone, including LGBT people?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Transgender Student-Athlete Think Tank Report Released

I am really proud to announce the public release of the report from the October, 2009 Transgender Student-Athlete Think Tank that the Women’s Sports Foundation and the National Center for Lesbian Rights co-sponsored. Helen Carroll, the director of the NCLR Sports Project and I wrote the report with the support of many other folks with far greater expertise on this topic than we have. You can access the report here. The report will also be available here.

Helen and I have worked on this report for past nine months and the birthing process has been challenging, educational and inspiring. It also represents my final task as director of It Takes A Team. I’m very proud of what we have to offer the intercollegiate and interscholastic athletic world in this ground-breaking report.

The report focuses on high school and collegiate athletics and includes specific policy recommendations for including transgender student-athletes on high school and college teams. The guiding principles of the think tank and report emphasize the importance of viewing transgender student-athletes’ opportunities to participate on school sports teams as an issue of social justice demanding that schools adopt inclusive participation policies that are fair for all. We based our recommendations on the most current medical and legal information available and on our understanding of the particular competitive contexts of high school and collegiate athletics.

The report, entitled, On the Team: Equal Opportunities for Transgender Student-Athletes, builds on the excellent Canadian report on transitioning and transitioned athletes released in early 2009. The Canadian report provides a comprehensive foundation for understanding the issues and challenges related to the inclusion of transitioning and transitioned athletes on sports teams, but does not offer specific policy recommendations. Our think tank report does provide overall policy recommendations in addition to best practice recommendations for athletic directors, coaches, student-athletes and parents, an overview of the legal status of transgender people in the United States, an overview of medical issues related to transgender participation in sports and a list of resources on transgender issues.

The release of the report comes none too soon as over the last year I’ve been alarmed that some state interscholastic athletic associations (Connecticut, Rhode Island, Colorado, for example) have adopted the 2004 International Olympic Committee policy. The IOC policy, though pioneering, has several flaws which make its adoption by other sport governing organizations problematic: The mandatory two year waiting period after beginning hormone treatment has been challenged by recent research, the requirement that a transgender athlete undergo genital reconstructive surgery is not a choice for many transgender people or even possible for low income families, and the requirement that the athlete’s official identity documents be changed places an impossible burden on many athletes because of the wide disparity in state laws enabling alterations of official identity documents.

In addition, our perspective is that school-based sports, as an integral part of education, requires an emphasis on assuring equitable participation opportunities for all students and that competitive goals in athletics must be viewed through the lens of educational goals that reflect broader educational institutional values such as fairness, inclusion and non-discrimination.

I want to thank all think tank participants and consultants who provided invaluable input into the writing of this report. Your knowledge and expertise as well as your passionate commitment to equality in sport for all student-athletes are inspiring. In particular, I want to thank the transgender and genderqueer student-athletes who participated in the think tank for sharing your experiences and providing such important insights so that the rest of us could better understand the value of sports in your lives and the pain of having it denied unfairly. Because of your openness and commitment, future generations of transgender student-athletes, with their parents support, will have opportunities to play the sports they love in an athletic climate where they are respected and understood by coaches, teammates and opponents.