Monday, December 26, 2011

Opening the Last Closet

Dee Mosbacher and Fawn Yawker, the producers of the outstanding video documentary, Training Rules, are at it again. They asked if I would post the following on my blog:

The producers of a web campaign and video project in progress - The Last Closet - are searching for a young gay athlete (Jr. High or lower grade High School) who has dreams of becoming a pro. This young man would be “out” to his friends, family and team.

There has never been, in all of US sports history, a gay athlete in any of the top five professional sports, who has come out publicly while they are still actively playing. Our film and web campaign is a quest to find out why this is so and a vehicle to pave the way for this historic event to unfold.

Our young athlete would act as co-interviewer on some of our strategic shoots, including the commissioners of all five sports. We have already secured interviews with some well known players and others in the sports world.

The Last Closet, is being produced by Woman Vision - producer of ten award winning documentaries, including the Academy Award nominated "Straight from the Heart” and most recently the highly acclaimed “Training Rules”.

If you know of anyone fits the description above please contact us at your earliest convenience.


Fawn Yacker at -

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The N-Word: Not Racist Anymore?

This is a story about insensitivity, stupidity and racism all rolled up in one high school girls' basketball team. It seems that the girls had a pregame locker room ritual cheer which went like this, "1-2-3 N-Word," only they said the N-word rather than using this "polite company" variation. What, you might ask, does this have to do with basketball or getting the team psyched for the game. I have no idea. You'd have to ask the team.

When the one black girl on the team objected to the chant, her white teams told her it was just a joke and that they were not racist. Really? You could've fooled me.

Anyway, the whole thing came to light when the black player had a fist fight with one of her teammates in the school hallway over it. She also told school officials that the team used racist slurs during practice directed at her. The team was suspended for two days. The black player was suspended for fighting for five days. Hmmmm. The team also has to undergo "cultural sensitivity" training. How about a racism awareness training instead.

This news report is interesting in that a former player who is biracial is interviewed in the video and defends her former teammates. I wonder how the reporter came up with the idea of featuring this student excusing the use of a racist slur. It puts an interesting spin on the story. Is this some new and warped kind of "equal time"?

I wonder where the coach was during practice or in the locker room when the pregame chants were used? She was not available for an interview for the article. She should have been front and center making it clear that she would not condone this kind of behavior on her team and saying what she is going to do to make sure that nothing like this happens again. Instead she is MIA. What a missed opportunity for the girls' team to get something right.

After a week of sports news about pedophile coaches, brawling basketball players and performance enhancing drug using baseball players, I guess a little racism on a girls' basketball team rounds out the picture of what's wrong in sports quite nicely, don't you think?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Reflections on the Death of a Young Black Lesbian Athlete

It is difficult to put my white, middle class, middle-aged and lesbian feet in the basketball shoes of a young black lesbian athlete from the projects. I know nothing about what Tayshana Murphy’s life was like. I do know something about keeping secrets. I hid my own lesbian identity for years before coming out in my 20s. However, I had the advantage of class and race privilege to help buffer the effects of the homophobia I faced as a young lesbian athlete. I did not live with violence in my neighborhood on a daily basis. I lived in a home where my parents were comfortably able to provide for my brother and I. When I looked around at my classmates in school, most of their faces were white like mine and their families also enjoyed similar middle class status. Most of us assumed we would go to college. I could afford to be oblivious to the challenges facing the few classmates of color I had.

I wrote about Tayshana's murder in early October when I first learned about it. In this insightful article, Mecca Jamilah Sullivan invites us all to ponder the effects of racism, sexism, classism and homophobia and their interconnected impact on young black women athletes from the projects. The tragedy of Tayshana’s senseless murder is evident in the loss of a talented young woman athlete who had the potential to leave the cycle of poverty and violence that most of her classmates will never escape. The hidden tragedy that Mecca Jamilah Sullivan invites us to think about is that Tayshana’s murder is largely unnoticed outside her local community.

She asks, “What are the relationships between athlete culture and LGBTQ identity for youth of color in 2011? Why does the principle of the open secret persist for youth athletes, even as institutional structures like ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ long convicted in the court of public opinion, have finally fallen away? And what are the roles of race in all of this? We know white men’s lives and deaths get wildly disproportionate media coverage, but what happens when responsible journalism means frank discussions of sexuality, outness, and homophobic violence? If Murphy had been white, or male, would we know more of her story? And would more people know about her in general?”

Advocates for LBGT athletes and coaches must make a commitment to think beyond our own personal experience. Men must understand the role of sexism as it affects the experiences of lesbians and bisexual women in sport. White people must examine how racism mixed with homophobia make the experience of LGBT athletes and coaches different from those of us who can ignore racism even as we benefit from it. Those of us who have enough food, safety, shelter and access to financial resources need to ask ourselves what we are going to do in response to Tayshana’s death? How will we make sure this kind of tragedy never happens again.

We can make all the “It Gets Better” videos in the world, but how will they touch the lives of young women like Tayshana who probably don’t even have access to a computer to watch them? Every time we speak out, we need to consider how race, class and gender filter the experiences of young LGBT people and make sure our interventions take into account the challenges they face. We owe it to the memory of Tayshana and to the future of her sisters whose names we do not even know.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Team Hazing, Respect and Sports

The Andover High School boys’ basketball team began their season this week under a cloud of public scrutiny resulting from allegations about team hazing that occurred this summer while the team was attending a privately operated sleep-away basketball camp.

According to news accounts, two older players initiated a disgusting “game” with younger players in which the loser had to eat an Oreo cookie covered in what the news article delicately described as “bodily fluids.”

The incident is being investigated by school officials and the police. Hazing is illegal in Massachusetts. Those convicted of hazing face up to a year in jail and a $3,000 fine. Anyone who witnesses hazing but does not report it faces a $1,000 fine. The Andover boys’ coach claimed, through his lawyer, that he reported the incident as soon as it came to his attention in mid-November.

Despite school anti-hazing policies and even state laws prohibiting hazing, high school and college athletes, both male and female, continue to participate in these degrading and often dangerous activities. In the name of “team building” and “initiating new team members” many athletes and some coaches fail to see the harm in this enduring sports ritual. Every so often, when a death occurs as a result of hazing, as was the case recently with the Florida A & M marching band, we pay attention for a minute.

Hazing is still an active part of sports (and marching band and Greek) culture that is difficult to eliminate. High school and college athletes see pro teams hazing rookies. It seems like there is mounting pressure each year to top the previous year’s hazing activities to be more disgusting, more humiliating, more dangerous. Plus, there is the “pass it on” revenge mentality of hazees who want to be hazers the next year. A disturbing part of some of these team hazing rituals is the prevalence of simulated sex acts, rape with broomsticks, nudity or, as in the case at Andover, the ingestion of sperm. All of these hazing activities are based on a toxic mix of homophobia, humiliation and the need to exert power over other younger or smaller teammates.

Hazing, though a kind of bullying, has a different purpose than typical bullying. Rather than reinforcing a student’s outsider and inferior status and making it clear that the student being bullied will never be accepted into the bully group, hazing is framed as a rite of passage that must be endured before a student is accepted into the group. Hazing is often defended by both hazers and hazees and framed as a positive activity: team building.

What does it take to change this deeply rooted aspect of sports culture? Laws help. Education helps. Public exposure helps.

The real route to change, however, requires a much deeper change in athletics. Hazing will always be with us unless we can make respect a key underlying core value in athletics. Respect for self, teammates, referees, opponents and the game. As long as sports are thought of as a metaphor for war and the process of competition is framed as battle of masculine domination and subordination, hazing will continue to be an accepted part of sport culture. I am not talking about respect as it is often used in sports. I am not talking about perceived slights to one’s manhood as disrespect or earning respect because of one’s dominance as a feared physical presence on the field.

I mean respect as a baseline expectation of all coaches and athletes in all aspects of athletics. Respect as a core value would mean never tolerating hazing, bullying, name-calling, taunting, stomping or any of the other cheap ways that athletes and coaches seek a superficial imitation of respect.

I love sports and competition. They have been a part of most of my life as a high school, college and adult athlete. I have not always been respectful myself in my interactions with opponents or teammates, but perfection is not the goal. The goal is learning to be respectful when it is most difficult. The heat of competition challenges us to live up to our ideals, but when athletes and coaches do it, they earn a deeper kind of respect. Respect begets respect.

We need coaches who can teach this to young athletes. We need pro athletes who set an example of what true respect looks like. We need to teach young athletes that hazing is not only illegal, it is disrespectful and unacceptable on a much deeper level . I hope every high school coach in the country takes this opportunity to sit down with her or his team to talk about hazing and respect and makes it clear that being a teammate is not about enduring humiliation and degradation or inflicting pain and embarrassment. It is about respect and support. It is about the collective pursuit of excellence with honor.

Sadly, in sports, we too often accept a pale and distorted definition of respect that in its fragility and artificiality, actually promotes behaviors that we profess to abhor.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Why We Need State and Federal Non-Discrimination Laws That Include Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Sorry for the clunky title, but I couldn’t figure out another way to get the point across in a snappy clever way in fewer words. Nikki Williams has been teaching geography for three years and was an assistant volleyball at a public charter school just outside Dallas, TX for three years. She was about to realize a lifelong dream of coaching basketball this season too. From all accounts she is a popular and successful teacher/coach supported by students and parents. She has received positive performance evaluations and a letter of commendation from the superintendent. It all sounds good so far.

But just before basketball season started in October, Nikki was fired. Nikki filed a grievance with the school claiming that she was fired because she is a lesbian. Apparently school officials became aware of this when Nikki’s partner began attending volleyball games this fall.

Students and parents have rallied to support Nikki pressing school administrators to explain their decision. The parents and students are unconcerned about Nikki’s sexual orientation. They are upset that a popular and successful young teacher/coach is suddenly gone. A petition for her reinstatement has been signed by over 100 parents and 50 students. The total school enrollment is 300.

Administrators have denied that Nikki’s “gender preference” (I assume they mean “sexual orientation”) played any role in their decision to dismiss Nikki. Parents and students asked what did prompt her firing. Administrators, hiding behind claims that they are prohibited from discussing the reasons by “privacy concerns” did a little evasive dance justifying their decision and refusing to reconsider it. They later claimed that her firing was due to a single incident in school when Nikki did not report some students who were skipping class. The parents think firing Nikki is an extreme and disproportionate reaction to the incident. I agree. To add insult to injury, administrators have tapped a former football coach to coach the girls’ basketball team. He has never coached basketball or girls and apparently resigned a previous coaching position because a grievance of some kind was filed against him. I guess school officials are reassured that there is probably not much of a chance he is a lesbian. Surely an unqualified man with a questionable professional record must be a better role model for the team, right?

Back to the title of this post – The saddest part of this situation is that Nikki may have no legal protections to challenge her dismissal. Texas is one of 29 states that do no protect its citizens from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. No federal laws prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity either.

Bigotry and stupidity looks like it might win this round in the long term fight to have coaches and teachers evaluated on the basis of their work and personal integrity rather than who they love. Nikki’s students and their parents get this. Too bad the school administrators don’t.

This article includes contact information for the Life School Waxahachie administration if you want to let them know your thoughts on this.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Revival of the Horse’s Patoot Salute!

I haven’t awarded a Horse’s Patoot Salute in a while, but I have a new winner for you. The Horse’s Patoot Salute is my personal award for coaches, athletic administrators, physical education teachers and athletes who demonstrate stunning levels of intentional or unintentional homophobia, sexism and transphobia such that it can only by explained by arrogance, stupidity or some combination of the two.

Drum roll, please….The Horse’s Patoot Salute goes to Pat Lynch, (former) football coach at Buffalo High School in Wyoming.

Ex-coach Lynch earned his way into the Horse’s Patoot Salute Hall of Fame for creating and distributing a “Hurt Feelings Report” to his team before a playoff game recently.

Apparently ex-coach Lynch believes that his athletes should not have hurt feelings because it is not manly. The sarcastically worded “survey” lists several reasons for his athletes to check off as reasons for filing the report of hurt feelings. Among the reasons he included on the survey are:
I am a pussy.
I have woman-like hormones
I am a queer
I am a little bitch
I am a crybaby
I want my mommy

The survey then asks for the “little sissy” filing the report to sign his name and asks for the name of the “real man” who “hurt your sensitive little feelings.”
After Lynch’s survey became public and the school received complaints, Lynch resigned his coaching position, one he had for 13 years, and apologized to the school board. Unfortunately, the superintendent excused the coach’s actions by saying that he “just made a mistake and meant no harm.”

The final irony though is that ex-coach Lynch will remain in his position as a guidance counselor. Really? He’s a guidance counselor? You can’t make this stuff up.

Congratulations, Mr. Lynch, on your Horse’s Patoot Salute.

Thanks to where I first saw this story.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Yet More Dot Connecting By Gwen Knapp

Here's another article picking up on the connections between the current Penn State scandal and the cover up/protection of Rene Portland by the same cast of university officials.

More Dot Connecting On Penn State

Mechelle Voepel writes another excellent article connecting the dots at Penn State.

Connecting the Dots at Penn State

I've been meaning to write a blog post about the Penn State Football Scandal, but life is really crazy right now and I just didn't get to it. However, I found a great article that expresses my thoughts as well as I could have. Luke Cypher, an ESPN writer does a great job here making the connection between Penn State's complicity in allowing a sexual predator free rein in the football complex and and in enabling Rene Portland to discriminate against lesbians on her basketball team for 27 years. It all all reflects the same failure and the same hypocrisy. Thank you, Luke.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Skirting the Issue of Femininity in Women’s Boxing

Just when I think women’s sports are making some progress, some goofball comes up with an Assinine (or Backasswards, take your pick) proposal that reminds me how long the slog toward sex equality in sport is. The step forward in this case is the inclusion of women’s boxing in the 2012 Olympics. The step back is the proposal by the Amateur International Boxing Association (AIBA) that the women’s boxers should wear skirts. They even provided the skirts.

Why skirts you may ask? Apparently some people are having some difficulty telling the difference between men and women in the boxing ring. Thank goodness the AIBA has come to the rescue of the gender confused and disoriented spectators who are panicking about their inability to distinguish men from women in the ring. Skirts should do the trick. That is unless Scottish male boxers decide to wear kilts.

The Polish and Romanian teams were actually required to wear skirts at last week’s European Championships. "By wearing skirts, in my opinion, it gives a good impression, a womanly impression," Poland coach Leszek Piotrowski told BBC Sport. "Wearing shorts is not a good way for women boxers to dress.” Really?

"At the world championships in Barbados, Romania wore skirts from AIBA. We decided to design our own, they're more elegant."

Elegant? That’s the look I am sure women boxers will be going for at the Olympics as they deliver a vicious left hook to the jaw.

It will be a great day when women athletes can just be athletes without having to demonstrate their femininity and heterosex appeal, But, alas, it seems we are not there yet. Not even close.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Respect. Just Do It. Swooshing Toward An LGBT Inclusive Sports World

Last spring just after GLSEN launched Changing the Game, our new sports project, I got an email from Edward Tylicki from Nike. Edward is a member of Nike’s LGBT and Friends Network. Edward sought me out as director for the Sports Project because he wanted to know how Nike could support Changing the Game. My initial reactions were complicated. On one hand, getting the support of a huge corporation like Nike was exciting and held enormous possibilities for helping us to get our message of safety, respect and inclusion in K-12 sports and physical education out there in a big way. On the other hand, I worried about what it would mean to accept the support of a company that had been targeted as a participant in taking advantage of “sweatshop” labor in their factories around the world. I have not bought anything with a swoosh on it for years in my own personal attempt to send Nike a message about this.

So, I did some homework. In addition to going to the internet to read more about this, when I finally met Edward at GLSEN’s Respect dinner in May, I asked him to talk about Nike’s current labor policy and practices and about how Nike responds to these criticisms. What I learned is that, over the last 10 years, Nike has taken some significant steps to monitor and correct the problems that labor advocates have been protesting. In addition, Nike has initiated a “better world” campaign to focus on their “eco-conscious, people- and planet-improving goals” and, most importantly, Nike is putting its money where its mouth is.

Specific to LGBT issues, Nike works in collaboration with GLSEN Oregon to bring GSA students from Oregon schools together at the Nike Headquarters for an annual leadership day. In just the last year, the Nike LGBT and Friends group has sponsored several events at their world headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon including talks with straight ally, Ben Cohen and lesbian and gay college coaches, Sherri Murrell and Kirk Walker.

Nike had a strong presence at Portland Pride Day last spring and donated all of the proceeds from the sale of their pride tee shirts to Changing the Game – 18K, to be exact – an amazing demonstration of support for GLSEN and Changing the Game.
So when Edward asked me to participate on a National Coming Out Week event at Nike headquarters on Thursday, October 13 focused on straight allies and their role in making a sports great place for LGBT participants, I was more than excited to say yes.

In addition to me, representing GLSEN and Changing the Game, Nike also invited straight allies Hudson Taylor of Athlete Ally and Jessica Mendoza, a two time Olympic gold medalist and professional softball player. Hudson also serves on the Changing the Game Advisory Group and Jessica is a Changing the Game All-Star. When we arrived at the Nike campus, we were greeted by a wonderful exhibit of statements on larger colorful posters throughout the Nike complex of buildings. Some posters described what an ally is. Other posters were quotes from Nike executives about what being an ally means to them personally. A TV monitor ran a continuous loop of Hudson, Ben Cohen and me talking about the importance of making sports safe and respectful for LGBT participants.

After an impressive tour of Nike Headquarters, Hudson, Jessica and I did a lunch time talk about straight allies for about 50 Nike employees. Hudson and Jessica talked about how they came to be straight allies and told some personal stories about their experiences. As a lesbian athlete, coach and advocate, I talked about the important roles that straight allies play in eliminating homophobia and transphobia in sport and what straight allies can do to be most effective. We fielded some great questions from the group and enjoyed a great sense of support and interest from the Nike folks who came to hear us speak.

I have to say that for a veteran LGBT sports advocate who has been doing this work for over 30 years, it was an amazing experience to listen to Hudson and Jessica speak with such passion and commitment about their commitment to LGBT inclusion in and out of sport. It bodes well for the future that young straight allies like Hudson and Jessica are providing athletes and coaches with such terrific examples of how to be a straight ally. As I said at the panel, no social justice movement is ever successful without the participation of allies. Whether we are talking about racial equality, women’s equality, the disability rights or any other social justice movement , informed and committed allies fighting shoulder to shoulder with the people who are targeted by injustice make a huge positive difference.

We found out that, in a coincidence of scheduling, Kobe Bryant was also on the Nike campus that day. Our paths did not cross, but Edward gave one of Nike’s ally tee shirts to Kobe’s representative and expressed hope that Kobe would join Nike’s efforts to make sports a better place for LGBT people. You never know. The seeds of change can be planted in all kinds of different places.

Later that afternoon Nike hosted a community reception and invited several LGBT community advocacy groups from the Portland area: GLSEN Oregon, HRC and PFLAG, to name a few. Hudson, Jessica and I again spoke to the group of about 125 people. As part of the event, Edward gave me a check for the proceeds of the Nike Pride tee shirts in support of Changing the Game. We also announced that Nike has awarded a 14K Community Grant to GLSEN Oregon to support training for Portland area K-12 coaches and physical education teachers to be led by Changing the Game in collaboration with GLSEN Oregon. The training, which will occur in the spring, will focus on providing coaches and teachers with information and best practices for how to ensure that their teams and classes are safe and inclusive for students of all sexual orientations and gender identities/expressions.

Throughout the day we were greeted by and talked with Nike employees and leaders who expressed support and genuine commitment to making the sports world a better place for LGBT people. We talked about the ways that Nike is already taking a leadership role in supporting the efforts of LGBT sports advocates and the ways they can take an even more powerful and visible role in the future. The possibilities are amazing. At the end of the day, as I walked back to my hotel room in my new Nike Pride sneakers, I felt that LGBT sports advocates everywhere have a new super star member of our team. I kept thinking of this tee shirt that said, “Respect. Just Do It.”

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A Long Road to Safety, Let Alone Freedom: The Murder of a High School Basketball Star

In mid-September nationally ranked high school basketball star, Tayshana “Chicken” Murphy was shot to death by three young men in the hallway of her apartment building. At first, police assumed the murder was a case of mistaken identity. Tayshana had on a hoodie and police thought she was mistaken for another young man who was the actual target of the murderers.

It was tragic enough that the promising life of a young Black woman was cut short by a senseless case of mistaken identity. It is scary enough that she, like so many other young Black people in urban areas, was not even safe from gun violence in her own apartment building. Now, the police are investigating the possibility that Tayshana’s murder was not a case of mistaken identity, or being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but a hate crime.

Tayshana was, according to “sources” cited in the news account, a lesbian. Her friends had placed candles and memorials in the hallway where she was shot, but recently new anti-gay and threatening graffiti was written on the walls. The messages were apparently so hateful and so violent that they were immediately painted over, but still serve as a warning and threat to other residents in the complex. That someone could so hate lesbians that they would desecrate her murder scene memorial with violent anti-gay graffiti is almost as chilling as the murder.

Pending the investigation of Tayshana’s murder by the NYPD hate crimes unit, it is unclear why a young basketball player’s life was taken. Whether it was a case of mistaken identity or an assassination of a woman who was or was assumed to be a lesbian, we still lost a young woman who was looking forward to a promising future.

If this was an anti-lesbian hate crime committed by three young Black men, the resemblance to the “corrective” rapes and murders of young lesbian athletes in South African that have occurred over the last few years is a reminder that we have lots of work to do right here in the good old USA before we focus our outrage on LGBT hate in South Africa, Nigeria or any other country.

My heart goes out to Tayshana’s family and friends. I am sick of the senseless hate and fear of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

WSF Releases Position Statement on Intersex Athletes

The Women’s Sports Foundation has released a position statement this week on the Participation of Intersex Athletes in Women’s Sports. The primary authors of the position paper, Nancy Hogshead-Makar and Erin Buzuvis, are to be commended for articulating a position that is clear, reasoned and based on the science of what we know about intersex conditions and competitive equity rather than the hysteria, sexism and prejudice that too often guide discussions about the participation of intersex athletes.

The WSF position statement stands in stark contrast to the “improved” policy recently announced by the IOC and IAAF. These organizations have struggled to correct the shameful treatment of South African runner, Caster Semenya, at the 2009 World Championships. Unfortunately the revised policy they have produced requires medical “treatment” of women athletes who have intersex conditions in order for them to be eligible to compete. The IOC and IAAF revision does eliminate the possibility that competitors can challenge an athlete’s sex because of, what they perceive as, masculine appearance or performance. This is a huge step in the right direction, but only a step. Moreover, the policy is inherently sexist because it does not address men’s sports at all. Male competitors who have exceptional athletic performances or who have exceptionally high levels of naturally produced testosterone are not regulated. To the contrary, they are celebrated as stud athletes and champions. Only intersex women who may have higher than typical levels of testosterone are regulated. I wrote more extensively about about the IOC/IAAF policy here and here.

As the WSF position paper clearly states, testosterone levels are only one determinant of athletic performance. In addition, the testosterone levels of non-intersex women athletes (and male athletes) vary widely. To require medical intervention for women athletes with intersex conditions is to pursue a paradoxical goal of competitive balance when achieving a competitive edge is the whole point of trying to win any athletic competition.

The WSF position statement is a sane and humane alternative for sports organizations seeking guidance in formulating their own policies on the participation of intersex athletes. If your school, athletic conference or sport governing organization is contemplating the adoption of such a policy, I highly recommend taking a good look at the WSF position statement.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

NCAA Adopts Trans-Inclusive Policy

The NCAA announced a policy yesterday that clarifies their position on the participation of transgender student-athletes in sex-separated sports. The policy is largely based on recommendations included in On The Team: Equal Opportunities for Transgender Student-Athletes, which I am proud to have co-authored with Helen Carroll of the NCLR Sports Project.

The NCAA should be applauded for being proactive in adopting the policy and for developing comprehensive educational materials for school administrators, athletic directors and coaches to assist them in understanding transgender identity in general and the NCAA policy and medical bases for it. The coupling of the policy and educational materials will be an essential part of ensuring a positive and informed response from NCAA member schools. I’ve found in working with coaches and sports administrators that most have extremely limited information about transgender identity and lots of misinformation and concerns about what it means to enable transgender athletes to participate on sports teams according to their gender identity. The NCAA resources provide college sports leaders with the basic information they need to follow the NCAA policy.

This is especially important because the NCAA policy applies only to post-season competition, which is what the NCAA sponsors. Individual schools and athletic conferences must also adopt policies that govern regular season competition. The educational resources that the NCAA has provided will be extremely important as individual schools and athletic conferences follow the NCAA’s lead in adopting their own policies.

The goal should be for administrators at all levels – individual school, athletic conference and NCAA - to all adopt the same policy. The ball is now in the court of individual schools and athletic conferences to make sure that this happens.
The NCAA policy enables transgender student-athletes to participate according to their gender identity and “maintains a relative balance of competitive equity among sports teams,” as stated in the NCAA press release.

The NCAA can be criticized for getting a lot of things wrong as they work to manage the complexity of the business of college athletics, but they got this one right.

Friday, September 2, 2011

In The Life Episode on LGBT Issues in Sport

In The Life is featuring an episode on LGBT issues in sports in September. Look for the local TV listings for PBS stations in your area to see when it will air or you can watch it here:

Sunday, August 7, 2011

SMU Settles Lawsuit with Former Women's Baksetball Player

Here is a news report on the conclusion of a lawsuit I first wrote about in September, 2008. You can see that blog post here for more specific information about the former player's allegations.

The university and coach Rompola will not comment and the university claims it did nothing wrong in this case. The settlement provides the player, Jennifer Colli, with a $19,213 settlement which is the equivalent of one semester of financial aid.

Who knows what really happened here. I guess we can hope that the fact that a player stepped forward to challenge what she perceived as anti-lesbian discrimination by her coach and the failure of the university athletic department to properly investigate her allegations will serve as a warning to other coaches and schools: Athletes and their parents these days are more likely to object to and challenge what they experience as discrimination in sport based on sexual orientation.

Schools and coaches that hope to avoid discrimination lawsuits should educate athletic staff, adopt policy that protects athletes and coaches from discrimination based on sexual orientation and then follow through to make sure these policies are followed by everyone in the athletic department.

The tendency when an athlete charges sexual orientation discrimination against a coach, it seems to me, is for the athletic department to close ranks around the coach rather than conduct an impartial and thorough investigation of the charges. The same seems to hold true for cases in which coaches charge the athletic department with sexual orientation discrimination: The school closes ranks around the AD, as appears to be the case in the Katie Brenny lawsuit currently on-going at the University of Minnesota. It would be a lot less expensive and result in less negative publicity and attention if schools would take a proactive stance on education and policy development related to discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Hat Tip to Women's Hoop Blog for bringing this to my attention.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Sex And Selling Women’s Sports

The Nation magazine has a special issue on the role and impact of sport on U.S. culture edited by Dave Zirin. One of the articles in this issue is “Sex Sells Sex, Not Women’s Sports” by University of Minnesota sport scholar Mary Jo Kane. Kane has conducted research using focus groups differentiated by gender and age to debunk the common assumption that sexualizing woman athletes or downplaying their athleticism are necessary to sell tickets, especially to the demographic coveted by corporate sponsors who advertise to sport audiences : Young males. You can read her article here and see a short slide show of the different ways women athletes are portrayed in the media here.

Kane’s research shows that sex does not sell women’s sports. Sex sells sex. Young men who think Serena Williams, Lindsay Vonn and Danica Patrick are hot don’t necessarily become fans of women’s sports. They just become fans of sexy pictures of these women. Moreover representations of women athletes in sexy, pornographic or non-athletic poses turn off women’s sports core audience: women and older men.

Some of the comments in reaction to Kane’s article reflect how resistant many men and some women are to the results of Kane’s research. Kane is derided as a humorless feminist who should lighten up and stop trying to take the fun and titillation out of women’s sport.

I want to challenge these folks to watch a replay (if they didn’t watch it live) of the USA matches against Brazil and Japan in recent Women’s World Cup. Depending on your preferences, you might think Hope Solo or Amy Wambach are sexy women, but the riveting, heart stopping, scream yourself hoarse reaction to these games came from the competition itself and how well the amazing athletes on all teams played the game. It wasn’t about the make-up, the pony tails (actually some women actually had short hair), who had a husband and children or who posed naked in Playboy. It was about tough and determined athletes playing their hearts out and keeping us on the edge of our seats (or in my case leaping around the living room trying to help them get the damn ball in the net).

That, my friends, is what sells tickets and garners high TV ratings, not seeing Hope Solo or Amy Wambach lying half-naked on a beach with soccer balls placed strategically in front of her breasts and pubic area. Can we please learn something from the Women’s World Cup and from Dr. Kane’s research: Exciting competition, whether the athletes are men or women sells sports. Portraying athletes in the media as the strong, tough, talented, competitive people they are sells sports.

You young guys who are fixated on seeing women in stale, posed soft porn photo shoots, go somewhere else to get your porn fix. You are not a real sports fan unless you can appreciate excellence regardless of the gender of the athletes you are watching. Plus, athletic women playing at the top of their game are pretty sexy just as they are. One doesn’t exclude the other, but if powerful women are scary to you, it might not be your cup of tea.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Hudson Taylor: An Amazing Straight Athlete Ally

If I were 40 years younger and straight, I would fall in love with Hudson Taylor. What an amazing straight ally. Watch this video and be inspired by him and his message.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Sherri Murrell: Pioneer and Role Model

Here is a great article about Sherri Murrell, the openly lesbian women's basketball coach at Portland State University. The emails that she receives from closeted coaches are particularly moving.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Lessons Sheryl Swoopes Is Teaching Us

Sheryl Swoopes has announced that she is engaged to a man. This news might be confusing to some people who remember that Sheryl revealed that she was a lesbian in 2005 in an interview with LZ Granderson of ESPN. Prior to this public announcement, she had been married to a man and had a son with him before they were divorced.

I remember that, in 2005, Sheryl stated that she believed that her relationship with a woman was a choice and that she did not believe that she was born a lesbian. This created some consternation in some parts of the LGBT world where it is often accepted orthodoxy that we were all “born that way” as Lady Gaga sings it to us. Some folks believe the claim that we are born gay is a good argument for why we should not be discriminated against: After all, if we are born that way, how can discrimination based on an innate characteristic we have no control over be fair?

On the other hand, many anti-LGBT rights activists insist that being LGBT is a choice, not unlike choosing to drink too much alcohol or using drugs or stealing merchandise from a store, and is more akin to an additive unhealthy behavior than a sexual orientation. If you believe sexual orientation is nothing more than a behavioral choice, it is easier to think that, with a little counseling, prayer, change of scenery or, in the old days, a little electro-shock “therapy” you can change your sexual orientation if you reallllllly want to. Of course, it’s a one-way street; only changes from homo to hetero are celebrated. This argument is often based on an assumption that being heterosexual is the default orientation, being lesbian, gay or bi is an aberrant behavior. Also, I’d like to ask any heterosexual folk about there: When did you choose to be straight?

I believe that the “born that way” argument is not a strong position from which to fight for equality. I have no idea if LGBT people are born that way or choose who they are or some combination of factors. No matter how we get to where we are, we have a right to live our lives according to our own sense of what is true for us and we have so many different truths.

I was thrilled when Sheryl Swoopes came out as a lesbian in 2005. I was not one of the LGBT community who was upset by her not adhering to the LGBT orthodoxy that we are all born “that way.” I was thrilled, not because it was another woman coming over to our team, so to speak. I was thrilled because Sheryl Swoopes, as an African-American woman and as an accomplished athlete, is such a great role model for young people. Countering stereotypes and invisibility is an important part of what LGBT athletes and coaches who choose to be public about who they are help us to do. That is what I was happy about in 2005.

I think sexual orientation is way too complex to be characterized in simple either/or ways: We are born the way we are or our sexual orientation is a choice. It also leaves out a huge number of whose sexual orientation does not depend on the gender of the person they are attracted to. Bisexual people are open to relationships with people of any gender. Maybe Sheryl is bi. I don’t know. I have a feeling she, like many people, might be uncomfortable with all of the labels.

I do know that what I fight for as an LGBT rights advocate, in or out of sport, is that every one of us should be free to live our own truth and be respected for whatever that is. Some of us identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual. Some of us are more comfortable with other ways of describing ourselves: same-gender loving, two-spirit, queer and many other equally valid descriptions of our personal truth. Others identify as straight or heterosexual, that’s fine too.

The point for me is that, no matter what our personal truth, we must learn to respect the personal truth of others. Whether we identify as gay, straight, queer, lesbian, bisexual or something else, we should all have the right to legal and social recognition and protection, both individually and for our relationships, both in and out of sport.

Sheryl Swoopes, in choosing to be public about her relationships with men and women, reminds us all that sexual orientation is not simply about being “born that way” or making “a lifestyle choice.” I hope that her personal journey has made her an advocate for equality for everyone regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. That is what I hope for the LGBT community. For Sheryl, hope she is happy and I wish her well.

A hat tip to Cyd Zeigler and for bringing this to my attention.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

More On UMinnesota Discrimination Lawsuit

Former women’s golf coach Katie Brenny and members of the women’s team have widely different accounts of what transpired in their conversations with former director of golf, John Harris and his son-in-law, Ernie Rose about Katie Brenny and her sexual orientation. The university, so far, is defending Harris and Rose in this lawsuit.

The accounts provided by the athletes back up Brenny’s claim that Harris demoted Brenny to secretarial duties when he learned that he had hired a lesbian and promoted Rose in her place. The athletes also say that, before Brenny filed her lawsuit, they told athletic department administrators that they believed Brenny was being discriminated against based on a conversation they had with Ernie Rose in which they say he told them as much. These administrators now do not recall this meeting with the athletes. Assuming the meeting took place, nothing was done to investigate the athletes’ claims.

This is an ugly situation. Rose is accusing the athletes of lying. He claims it was the athletes who raised concerns about changing clothes with a lesbian coach present. Harris claims that Brenny was “insolent,” and defiant. He claims she is an opportunist who filed the lawsuit merely for the opportunity to make a financial gain. He claims she was not a good coach. Harris has quit his job. Both Harris and Rose stand accused of blatant discrimination against a lesbian coach. The university is accused of not acting on concerns expressed by Brenny and two senior athletes.

The University of Minnesota has a lot at stake here. It will be interesting to see if the university continues to back Harris and Rose and the athletic administrators who are being accused of failure to respond to Brenny’s and the athletes’ complaints about Harris and Rose. If they had investigated the situation and addressed their concerns in a timely way and consistent with their own non-discrimination policy, maybe this mess could have been avoided.

The athletes’ account of what happened supports Brenny’s claims. Their account also indicates some serious administrative indifference to allegations of discrimination based on sexual orientation. Are we to believe that both Brenny and the athletes are lying? You have to ask why two young women golfers would lie about this? By stepping forward, they have absolutely nothing to gain and are inviting a lot of serious blowback from Harris, Rose and the University. At a time when they should be enjoying their recent graduation and looking forward to what’s next in their lives, they are embroiled in an ugly discrimination lawsuit in which their honesty and integrity, along with Katie Brenny’s, are being challenged.

It is truly a shame that the athletic department did not address this situation before it came to this. It is difficult to see how anyone truly wins, no matter what the outcome is.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Homophobia and Sexism in Soccer

This is an excellent article commenting on homophobia and sexism in soccer. Given the start of the Women's World Cup games and the recent anti-lesbian rant from the Nigerian women's coach, it is both relevant and right on target.

I particularly want to call your attention to an online petition calling on FIFA to condemn the Nigerian coach's actions. Please consider signing it.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Update on Discrimination Lawsuit Filed By Lesbian Golf Coach

Last December I blogged about a situation brewing at the University of Minnesota in which a lesbian, Katie Brenny, hired to coach the women’s golf team filed a sex discrimination lawsuit against the university and the director of golf, John Harris. Brenny charged that she was demoted from coach to paper pusher and push up leader one month into the school year when Harris discovered that Brenny is a lesbian. He replaced her with his son-in-law in a questionable personnel move at a higher salary that Brenny’s.

Harris has resigned citing the need to (surprise) spend more time with his family. He is adamant that his resignation has nothing to do with Brenny’s lawsuit. All who believe this raise your hands. The university had vowed to back Harris with the stipulation that they would withdraw that support if Harris violated any university policies in his actions with Brenny. Since the U has a strong non-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation, I wonder if Harris had a premonition that he was not going to be able to count on the university’s backing in the long run. He hired his own lawyer.

He is charging that Brenny is “defaming” his reputation “unfairly” and is only out to get her hands on some of the millions he has earned playing pro golf. I am thinking she might be defaming his reputation fairly.

Here’s what I think happened: John Harris came into the position of golf director at the U as a golden boy alum with lots of money and connections. He is used to working in the private sector and being a big wheel. He thought he was hiring a nice attractive straight young woman with great golf credentials to coach the women’s golf team. A month into the semester, he discovered that he had instead hired a nice attractive lesbian young woman with great golf credentials to coach the women’s golf team. Being the BMOC that he is, I think Harris disregarded or was ignorant of university policy and went about correcting his” mistake” by demoting Brenny to secretary/fitness instructor and promoting his son-in-law to women’s golf coach without attending to the niceties of university hiring policies. According to media accounts, Brenny was completely baffled by her demotion. Once she figured out why she was no longer coaching, she got a lawyer and sued. Sounds like a plan to me.

This is speculation on my part, but it makes the most sense to me. I just don’t see how the U can explain Harris’ actions in any way that makes sense other than this.

It will be interesting to see how the U proceeds now that Harris is out of the picture. The AD at University of Minnesota was already under heavy criticism for previous questionable personnel decisions in the athletic department involving coaching hires. The Brenny case is scheduled to go to trial in December. It is currently in the discovery phase. Stay tuned.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Nigerian Women’s Soccer Coach to Team: “No Lesbians Need Apply.”

The Women’s World Cup Soccer Tournament is beginning in Germany and our focus should be on the play on the field. Unfortunately this article about the Nigerian women’s coach and her crusade to rid her team of lesbians calls attention to the nasty underbelly of homophobia in women’s sports. Based on her religious convictions, Coach Eucharia Uche feels entitled and compelled to root out the lesbians on the Nigerian team, even if they are identified only by rumor.

In South Africa, where national laws include protections for LGBT people, young men in rural townships still practice what has come to be called “corrective rape” on young women who are lesbians or are assumed to be because of their masculine gender expression. Perhaps the most egregious example of this brutal practice is the case of Eudy Simelane, captain of the South African women’s football team, who was beaten, raped and murdered because she was a lesbian. I wrote about this in a blog on May 12, 2010.

I think it is important to remind readers who might be thinking that this blatant discrimination is a problem only in African countries that you can change the location to the United States and the race of the coach to white and you can find several similar situations where coaches are discriminating against lesbian athletes based on their religious convictions.

You can make the case that much of the religious-based anti-LGBT sentiment in African countries stems from the teaching of white Evangelical Christian missionaries who export their anti-LGBT beliefs to Africa. The deadly influence of U.S. religious leaders in Uganda resulted in the proposed law that homosexuality should be punishable by death.

Perhaps the homophobia that women athletes in the United States experience is more subtle and less deadly than in many African countries, but it is still there. It keeps straight women silent. It costs lesbian coaches their jobs and it crushes the dreams of women athletes who are kicked off teams because a coach perceived them to be lesbian. Much of our version of homophobia in women’s sport is also based on anti-LGBT religious convictions.

The article about the Nigerian coach is just a reminder that, despite the progress and despite the many straight male athletes speaking up against LGBT discrimination lately, we still have lots of work to do. Sexism and homophobia in sport are a deadly combination that ruin the lives and dreams of many women athletes and coaches. We cannot read this story and just shake our heads in amazement at the blatant anti-LGBT sentiments expressed by a coach on another continent. These are world-wide issues that are just as damaging here in the good ole USA. Let’s not forget that.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Banned Lesbian Kisses at Professional Sporting Events in the News (Again)

This time the offending lesbians are Minnesota Twins fans who dared to indulge in a peck on the lips that was witnessed by a Twins security guard. He promptly warned them that their behavior was unacceptable and that the 10 commandments applied during Twins ballgames. Not kidding. Read about it here and here.

This is not the first time that lesbian spectators kissing at sporting events has created a stir among ball park personnel. In 2001, two lesbian fans were actually kicked out of an LA Dodger game by a security guard for kissing.

Then there was the controversy at Washington Mystics games over the prohibition on featuring lesbian or gay couples in the ever-popular (and stupid) Kiss Cam. Read my blog about that one here.

At a time when pro teams are making It Gets Better videos and sponsoring Gay Nights at the baseball park, maybe professional sports teams need to do some training with their security personnel about the inappropriateness of imposing their personal prejudices on fans at a public event. It would be one thing if a sports franchise instituted a no PDA policy in the ballpark for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation (pretty dumb idea, but fair), it’s entirely another when only same-sex couples are targeted for expressions of affection that are completely unremarkable when engaged in by heterosexual couples.

Nonetheless, this latest incident gives me the opportunity to repost one of my personal favorite blog posts on the topic when the same thing happened to a lesbian couple at a Seattle Mariners game in 2008. Enjoy it here.

Monday, June 13, 2011

New LGBT Coaching Alliance

Roger Brigham, a long-time LGBT sports advocate, sport journalist, high school wrestling coach and athlete in his own right, has formed the Equality Coaching Alliance.

Roger describes the Alliance,

“Equality Coaching Alliance was conceived of as a virtual meeting place for coaches to discuss LGBT coaching issues. Issues that affect our work and our lives and the lives of those we coach. Together we can build a safer and more inclusive world for all athletes, coaches and their supporters.”

Roger noticed that several projects and organizations like Changing the Game: The GLSEN Sports Project, Our Group and Athlete Ally are focusing on making high school and college athletics safer and more respectful for LGBT athletes, but no group focuses on the needs of LGBT coaches. Roger envisions the group as a way to support LGBT coaches through peer education and support.

The Alliance has a Facebook page and a blog. You can visit the blog here.

If you are interested in getting more information about the Equality Coaching Alliance, contact Roger at

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Some Thoughts On Straight Allies in Sport

In recent weeks we have witnessed what feels like a mass coming out of straight male athletes speaking publicly in support of gay marriage, against anti-LGBT bullying and name-calling, and against homophobia in sport. It has been an amazing news cycle unprecedented in my memory and that is a long time, trust me.

NBA former star, Charles Barkley; current NBA players Grant Hill, Jared Dudley and Steve Nash have all spoken out. NHL player Sean Avery has spoken out. Add to this group, recently retired UK Rugby player, Ben Cohen and former NCAA wrestling All-American and now college wrestling coach, Hudson Taylor, and you have quite an array of straight male athletes who are taking a public stance against anti-LGBT discrimination and prejudice in and out of sports. I’m not even counting the straight male athletes who have spoken up prior to the last couple of months, like Brian and Patrick Burke, Scott Fujita and Brendon Ayanbadejo. Members of the San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox are making” It Gets Better” videos.

Ben Cohen and Hudson Taylor, in particular are dedicating themselves to addressing LGBT discrimination and bullying in sport. Each has started his own organization to combat anti-gay bullying and name-calling. Cohen’s foundation, Stand Up, and Taylor’s Athlete Ally have received a lot of media attention from the mainstream sports press and the gay press recently.

Ben Cohen is currently on what he calls an “Acceptance Tour” of the United States talking about his foundation, speaking out against bullying and raising money for selected LGBT organizations. Hudson Taylor is speaking at colleges around the USA asking athletes to sign the Athlete Ally pledge to commit themselves to speak up against anti-LGBT name-calling and homophobia. Both men have been embraced by LGBT organizations and are adored by legends of gay men who are as attracted to their athletic good looks as they are to their affirming message.

These straight male athletes are role models for younger straight male athletes who are hearing a different message than the one too often delivered in sports: “Gay men are not tolerated or welcomed in sports and anti-gay slurs are an accepted part of male sports culture and being called “gay” in sport is the ultimate insult.” After all, no active member of the big four men’s professional sports in the USA has come out as a gay man and we only have to look back two months to read about three high profile incidents of professional athletes or coaches using anti-gay slurs to express their anger at officials or fans. All were fined or suspended, which is progress, but you have to assume that the way the words rolled so easily off their tongues that, in private, it is still ok to call someone an anti-gay slur.

So what’s not to love about all this sudden media attention on straight male athlete allies? Don’t all successful social change movements include allies who stand shoulder to shoulder with people who are targeted by oppression? The answer, of course, is yes. So what is it that is making me a little uneasy about how some of this sudden bounty of support is unfolding.

Part of my unease comes from my perception that this seems to be all about men. Maybe this is ok in this moment. Maybe I should just celebrate the outspoken support of these straight male athletes since we certainly have had a deep silence about homophobia in men’s sports for too long. Maybe I should just be happy that the silence is being broken in men’s sports and that we suddenly have some straight men who are playing a leadership role in breaking it. Maybe, but I am concerned about the inclusivity of the message I am hearing in media coverage of Ben and Hudson and all of the other amazing happenings over the last month or so.

I’m concerned that, in all of the media flurry of attention, homophobia in women’s sports is getting lost in the shuffle. Moreover I wonder if women athletes and coaches are less likely to identify with Ben and Hudson or with some of the other male professional athletes or their messages if it feels like women’s experiences in sport are being ignored. I don’t assume someone is talking about my experience when they use the word “gay.” The message needs to be explicitly inclusive of women and I am not hearing that.

Sports is a male dominated institution and women athletes are still, despite enormous progress, perceived as inferior trespassers by many male fans, athletes and sports administrators. How ironic would it be if homophobia in women’s sports is marginalized within our own LGBT advocacy organizations and media and by the straight male athletes who are speaking up about homophobia in sport. I want our advocates to be mindful of how we perpetuate sexism in the ways we challenge homophobia by making the G count more than the lbt.

Sports media is all about men’s sports so it follows that a discussion about homophobia in sport will probably get framed as about men’s sports. A radio commentator this week said that no professional athlete in the US has ever come out publicly while they were still actively playing. I wanted to say, wait a minute, you mean no MALE professional athlete has come out while still actively playing. The exclusion might not have been intentional, but the assumption that this conversation is about men’s sports is always there just beneath the surface. We cannot let homophobia in women’s sport be an afterthought in this amazing public conversation about homophobia in sport.

Discrimination against lesbian athletes or any women who is perceived to be lesbian is alive and well in women’s sports. The lesbian label is still used as a way to keep women athletes and coaches in line and in the closet. It’s not like we have come anywhere close to winning the war against homophobia in women’s sports so we can just move on and now turn our attention to men’s sports.

It is also troubling to me that I do not hear many voices of straight women athlete allies in this conversation. Where are the women’s professional sports teams making It Gets Better videos? Where are the individual straight women athletes of any sport who will speak out against anti-LGBT bullying and name-calling in schools and for marriage equality? I think the silence from straight women athletes on these topics is a testament to the pervasive effects of sexism and homophobia in women’s sports and to the marginalization of women’s sports in general. I think women athletes believe they have more at risk in speaking up against homophobia in sport. As long as the lesbian label can still be used to silence and intimidate any women athlete, it will be more difficult for lesbian, bi or straight women to speak up publicly against homophobia. Speaking up as a straight ally is a privilege that is mediated by the effects of sexism in sport. Nonetheless, we need more straight women athlete allies to make public their private commitment to inclusion and respect in sport and in schools. We need some women to stand shoulder to shoulder with the straight male athlete allies who are speaking up. I am calling out straight women athletes on this. We need your voices in this public conversation.

Then there is the “hunk factor.” In one article Ben and Hudson were called “swoon-worthy.” Ben Cohen’s tour is sponsored by gay men’s rugby teams in each of the cities he is visiting. His popular “Beer with Ben” events take place in gay men’s bars and are attended by, surprise, a lot of gay men. I guess it should be no surprise that in many pictures Ben is shirtless with accompanying text commenting on his “hotness.” Shirtless guys with perfect physiques in sexy poses predominate in a lot of gay men’s media so I guess I should not be surprised that Ben Cohen is featured this way too.

However, I wonder if the propensity for gay media to focus on a straight ally’s sex appeal diminishes the power and reach of his message and how seriously it will be taken beyond the gay male community. Also, I wonder about how appropriate it is focus on beefcake when the primary goal for these campaigns is to stop young people from being bullied. Anti-bullying messages delivered with beer and hot bodies probably will not make it into the schools. Call me a prude if you like, but I have plenty of company among educators and parents in schools.

I also have some concerns about how the term “ally” is used and what it means to the people who call themselves allies. This term has a long history in social justice movements. The definition of ally that has always made the most sense to me is: A member of privileged social groups (males, whites or heterosexuals, for example), who speaks out to end discrimination and oppression toward members of social groups targeted by discrimination and oppression (females, people of color or LGBT people, for example).

However, more is required of allies than speaking out against anti-GBLT bullying or name-calling, though this is an essential part of being one. As we move forward into this new world of celebrating and working with straight allies in sport, I have some thoughts I hope our straight allies, bless them all, will take to heart.

1. Allies need to understand and be mindful of the privilege they have as they speak out. There is a disturbing benevolence that reinforces inequality when well-intentioned allies do not understand that they too are part of the oppression equation, whether they like it or not. They benefit by being heterosexual in a heterosexist world. Allies need to understand how their privilege is part of what enables them to speak out and be heard. Challenging homophobia is a great way to use privilege, but it is privilege nonetheless. It isn’t as if they are speaking from some place outside the system of oppression they want to challenge. Failure to understand their own privilege and participation in a system of oppression seriously diminishes the effectiveness of their message and can ultimately result in disempowering the groups that allies claim to speaking in support of. I cringed a little when I heard that Ben Cohen’s travel in the USA is called the “Acceptance Tour.” Acceptance implies inequality. It is certainly better than calling it something like the “Tolerance Tour,” but “acceptance” implies that some people have the power to confer “acceptance” on others. It implies having the privilege to confer acceptance. Like many LGBT people I really don’t care about acceptance or tolerance from heterosexual people. I want equality. I want respect. Those are concepts that challenge privilege rather than reinforce it. I want to know that my straight allies understand this difference. I don’t want my allies to “help” me by conferring acceptance. I want them to stand beside me in this campaign because they believe it makes a better world for all of us.

2. Being an ally requires a commitment to on-going work on self-awareness in relationship to the complicated dynamics of oppression. It isn’t just about calling for an end to anti-LGBT bullying and name-calling. Being an ally means understanding how intersecting issues of race, gender, sexuality, sex, class and other social justice issues affect the message and the messenger. It diminishes both when, for example, women are left out or people of color are ignored. I want allies to use the words “lesbian,” “bisexual” and “transgender.” I want them to understand the differences in our identities and experience. Allies need to demonstrate a commitment to learning and speaking out about how anti-LGBT oppression affects all factions of the LGBT community, not just the gay one.

3. Allies need to work alongside of LGBT people and organizations, not out in front of them. Straight allies need to understand the importance of not speaking for LGBT people or deciding what they think is best for LGBT people or usurping the roles and voices of LGBT organizations and people who have been actively advocating for LGBT rights and against bullying long before it became “cool” to be an ally. Allies play an important role in challenging LGBT oppression and discrimination, but that role must be played in collaboration with LGBT organizations and people. To do otherwise is an exercise in unacknowledged privilege and misguided benevolence that disempowers LGBT advocacy organizations and advocates.

I realize that writing this blog may lead some folks to see me as ungrateful for the incredible work that straight allies in sport are doing. I do appreciate their efforts and see the active participation of straight allies as extremely important in making sport and schools more respectful and inclusive places for LGBT people. I am a huge fan and friend of Hudson’s and, though I have not met Ben, I am thankful to have him on our team standing up against bullying. As we appreciate the efforts of our straight allies, we also need to challenge them to examine their privileged position as men, as heterosexuals, as white people to make sure that they are delivering an inclusive message of empowerment that is based on an understanding of the complicated power dynamics of being an ally.

I just want this media moment we are enjoying to translate into tangible and lasting change in men’s and women’s sports and beyond. I want our allies to understand the importance of them doing their homework so they can most effectively work with us to make it so.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Spread The Word To End The Word

Maybe we should be thanking Kobe Bryant and Joakim Noah. Their use of the double F bomb anti-gay slur on national TV has certainly provided the opportunity for a national conversation in Guysportsworld about the causal use of anti-gay slurs by professional athletes. That “FF” so easily rolls off the tongue of male pro athletes like Kobe and Joakim tells us something about the culture of the men’s locker room and what happens when the TV cameras are off. Stressed and pissed off, “caught in the heat of the moment” both athletes dug down into their little bag of verbal insults and dragged out the one that they think carries the most sting and the one that is so common that it is right there on the tip of the tongue.

Thanks to GLSEN, the Ad Council, the NBA, Grant Hill and Jared Dudley another point of view is also out there airing during the NBA play offs and finals. Depressingly though, Grant Hill received some pretty ugly tweets from “fans” about his participation in the Think B4 You Speak PSA. He responded by pointing out that these reactions just illustrated the need for the message in the PSA. Grant Hill and Jared Dudley are giants to me. I cannot express my gratitude strongly enough for their willingness to speak out. Charles Barkley is another former NBA star who is speaking out against anti-slurs and prejudice in sports. I hope they paving the way for others to follow their lead.

These two articles, here and here, are interesting reactions by African-American sportswriters about the use of anti-gay slurs by African-American athletes. Casey Gane-McCalla is concerned about “scapegoating” young Black athletes. He seems to think that, because the use of anti-gay slurs is part of male sports culture from Pee Wee football to the pros as a way to put someone down as weak or soft, we should use let it go. Therefore, it isn’t really about gays, he seems to say. Really? He then shifts the blame to gay athletes who will not come out for the prevalence of homophobia in men’s team sports. Seriously?

Mike Freeman presents the position that Black athletes should know what it feels like to be targeted by slurs and should be able to make the connection that the N-word and F-word are both unacceptable. Unfortunately, some of us still get caught up in the oppression Olympics (can I use the word Olympic in this context without getting sued by the USOC) by arguing about who is more oppressed, Black people or LGBT people. Freeman makes the point, which I agree with, that it is not about determining whether the F-word or the N-word is more offensive. They are both offensive. Period. Plus, just because the two most recent and most publicized examples of athlete homophobia are Black men doesn’t mean that the use of the F-word is any more prevalent among Black athletes than white athletes. I am sure that Black and white athletes are equal opportunity users. It’s about changing sport culture for all athletes.

Let’s just hope that the media attention and the anonymous ignoramuses who call Grant Hill the F-word for taking a stand help sports organizations and individual athletes to better understand the need to set some higher standards of conduct for professional athletes, even in the “heat of the moment.” Young people are watching and learning. Young people are using the same words uttered by Kobe and Joakim to torment their classmates. Young people are killing themselves and getting beat up at school as a result. Professional athletes are role models. What they say and do matters. They can be part of the problem or part of the solution. Increasing numbers of straights athletes are choosing to be part of the solution. Let’s hope it catches on.

Here’s a cool PSA about name-calling from a campaign called Spread the Word to End the Word. Maybe we should play this for NBA rookie camp.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

May: A Great Month for Gay Good News in Sports

Wow, it is difficult to even know where to start with all the gay happenings in sports this month. And I mean gay as in happy and gay as in sexual orientation. I’m talking about men’s professional team sports here for the most part: The place where some people think that a gay athlete could never come out and be accepted, where a gay athlete who is still an active player has never come out. I don’t think I can remember a month when it seems like there is so much happening that I can’t keep up. What a great feeling. OK, so here are some (I am sure I missed something) of the gay happenings in May (in no particular order):

Roger McDowell, Atlanta Braves coach, is suspended for some really stupid and homophobic remarks addressed to some fans in San Francisco. OK, the incident wasn’t so great, but the response was.

Former Olympian, Peter Vidmar, resigns as Chef de Mission for the London Olympic Games after his activism against marriage equality is revealed.

The New York Times features an article about straight ally athletes, Hudson Taylor and Ben Cohen, who are making major efforts to enlist straight athletes to stand up against homophobia in sport.

New York Ranger, Sean Avery, makes a public endorsement of marriage equality.

A Public Service Announcement by GLSEN and the NBA for the Think B4 You Speak Campaign featuring Grant Hill and Jared Dudley stands a stand against anti-gay name-calling in sports airs during the NBA play offs.

Phoenix Suns President, Rick Welts, comes out as a gay man and the Suns organization in general is cited for taking progressive stances on immigration reform and on anti-gay name-calling in sports with their participation in the GLSEN/NBA PSA.

Finally, Sean Chapin, who has been a persistent and effective LGBT rights advocate with his wonderful videos, has succeeded in getting the San Francisco Giants to make a video for the It Gets Better project.

It kinda makes you wonder what June will bring. Women athlete allies are you listening? May was for the guys, can we hear from more women athletes and women’s sports organizations in June?

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Peter Vidmar Steps Down, Jessica Mendoza Steps Up

Peter Vidmar resigned yesterday, just eight days after being named chef de mission by the USOC for the London Olympic Games. Vidmar’s active participation in anti-marriage equality campaigns made his choice more controversial than either he or the USOC anticipated. Public reaction to his appointment made it clear that his anti-gay activism would make him and the USOC lightning rods for controversy and criticism. Vidmar has every right to express his views and support whatever causes he chooses. He just needs to understand that there are consequences to speaking out against people’s rights when you are asked to represent a diverse group of athletes, some of whom are the very people you would like to deny rights to.

One of the really gratifying aspects of this story for me is that Jessica Mendoza, Olympic medal winner and professional softball player, former President of the Women’s Sports Foundation and current Changing the Game All-Star, really stepped up to the plate and hit one out of the park (pardon the pun) on this. She wrote a column in ESPNW and proved herself to be an amazing ally to LGBT people in and out of sport.

I am sure Jessica got some negative reactions to her strong and public stand on this and I appreciate her courage and willingness to speak her mind. She is willing to take the criticism from those who disagree with her that Vidmar apparently did not see coming. Everyone who supports LGBT equality should thank Jessica Mendoza and let her know how much we need and appreciate the actions of allies like her. Thank you, Jessica!

Friday, May 6, 2011

USOC Chooses Anti-LGBT Activist as Chef De Mission

The United State Olympic Committee (USOC) has named former gold medal winning gymnast Peter Vidmar as chef de mission for the 2012 London Olympics. Vidmar, a Mormon, is a public opponent of extending the right to marry to lesbian and gay people. He donated $2,000 to the successful Prop 8 anti-gay marriage initiative in California in 2008 and spoke at a public rally opposing same-sex marriage. Johnny Weir, an openly gay Olympic figure skater criticized the USOC choice in an article in the Chicago Tribune.

Apparently the USOC was not aware of Vidmar’s public role in opposing same-sex marriage rights when they appointed him chef de mission. Now that it has been brought to their attention, the USOC has defended their choice of Vidmar citing his views as part of his protected freedom of religion rights and acknowledging that many Americans do not share his views.

The USOC might want to be a little more careful in the future in vetting the candidates for such a highly visible position that is supposed to represent all US Olympians at the Games. The impression is that the USOC does not consider opposition to LGBT rights that big of a deal. Certainly, it is not a disqualifier for being named to a very prestigious position. I don’t like to make comparisons between LGBT civil rights and other civil rights movements, like the Black civil rights movement, the women’s movement, or the disability rights movement to try to make the point that opposition to these civil rights issues would be a disqualifier. However, it is an indication, however faulty, of what the USOC priorities are. I don’t believe they would have supported a chef de mission who opposed these civil rights movements.

Let’s not forget that in the early 80’s the USOC sued what was then called “The Gay Olympics” over the use of the word “Olympic.” That quadrennial event is now called the “Gay Games” as a result. Never mind that the USOC had no objection to the use of “Olympics” to describe other competitions like hot dog eating contests, the Police Olympics or the Special Olympics.

Yes, Peter Vidmar has a right to his anti-gay views. I even support his right to express them, but please, don’t try to have it both ways. In the Tribune article Vidmar claims, ``I fully respect the rights of everyone to have the relationships they want to have. I respect the rights of all our athletes, regardless of their race, their religion or their sexual orientation. I will cheer and do all I can, passionately, for every athlete on the U.S. Olympic team.'' If he really “respected the rights” of LGBT people, he wouldn’t spend thousands of dollars and be speaking out publicly to prevent us from having equal marriage rights.

The USOC has made a public statement in choosing Vidmar: They don’t consider public opposition to LGBT rights in or out of sport to be of great importance. It’s just a matter of personal opinion and religious freedom. That the USOC is comfortable with an anti-LGBT activist representing the USOC and all USA Olympians in London is a sad commentary on their commitment to LGBT equality in sport. No wonder so many LGBT Olympians choose to compete from the closet.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Update on U of Minnesota Lesbian Golf Coach Discrimination Lawsuit

Here is an update on the lawsuit filed by former University of Minnesota Women's golf coach, Katie Brenny. I first wrote about this situation on December 13.

I do not know the facts of the case, but it is preposterous to me to think that a young lesbian coach would put herself in the public spotlight in this way just to get a payday from a well-heeled professional good ole boy and Minnesota favorite son who is the golf director. This is what Harris' lawyer is claiming in his call to have the case thrown out. At the very least, this case should be heard, not thrown out at this stage.

It is far more believable to me that Harris hired, what he thought was an attractive straight woman to coach women's golf, and then flipped out when he realized that he had actually hired an attractive lesbian to coach women's golf. Because of his status as a former athlete, a professional golfer and general big dog in Minnesota sports, I believe he thought he could impose his personal prejudice on the golf program with impunity.

I hope the judge rules that this should be allowed to play out in court and see what a judge or jury thinks after hearing all the evidence.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The IOC Draws A Line in the Sand of Sex (But Only for Women)

On April 5 the International Olympic Committee released new rules for determining whether or not women who have higher than usual levels of naturally produced testosterone will be eligible to compete in women’s sports. Though the IOC denies it, it seems likely that this clarification is motivated by the embarrassing and shameful handling of the challenge to South African runner, Caster Semenya, two years ago at the World Championships.

The new rules, which will be in place for the London Olympics in 2012, state that a “panel of independent medical experts” will examine any woman found through a blood test to have “hyperandrogenism” and then make a recommendation about whether she should be eligible to compete. These situations will be handled on a case by case basis and the athlete will be referred to “specialist medical centers around the world” where they will be checked to see if they have any conditions that are a health risk that need treatment.

This process will be triggered in three ways: an athlete can request an “evaluation.” (Pause). I am trying to imagine a woman stopping by her nearest “specialized medical center” to ask, “Can you tell me if I am a woman or not? I can run so fast, I’ve begun to question” The second trigger is if during routine urine testing for performance enhancing drugs, the required observer notices that the athlete has “male characteristics.” This would be a penis, I assume. The third trigger is that drug testing results reveal “abnormal” testosterone levels. One good thing about these new rules is that it will no longer be possible for competitors to trigger an investigation on the basis of their perception that a woman is “too” masculine in appearance or performance. The IOC promises “strict confidentiality” for this process.

If the athlete is ruled ineligible, she would be informed of what “conditions she needs to meet in order to return to competition.” Presumably this could include forcing the athlete to take some kind of drug that suppresses her natural level of testosterone. (How can that be normal?) Athletes who are ruled ineligible for competition as women will also be ineligible to compete with men effectively banishing them to a “third sex freak” category athletically.

There is no question that determining sex is a very complicated process. The IOC is determined to draw a line that separates the men from the women for the purposes of determining athletic eligibility when most medical experts who specialize in this area agree that drawing a hard and fast line is pretty tricky.

The IOC claims that their focus on drawing this line separating men from women is about insuring a “level competitive playing field.” However, as Alice Dreger points out, far more eloquently than I can, the IOC only seems concerned about level playing fields for women only. Their new rule is inherently sexist. No one on the IOC medical panel seems at all concerned about male athletes with “abnormally” high testosterone levels having an unfair advantage over their less “manly” competitors. The IOC seems only concerned about policing women’s bodies and insuring that only “normal” women are allowed to compete. Of course, they get to decide who is normal.

Will we next rule ineligible women who are “too” tall, or have “abnormal” oxygen update capacities or “too many” fast twitch muscle fibers? Once we start excluding women athletes based on their naturally occurring physiological differences and labeling those who have exceptional capacities “not normal,” where does it end?

I am especially concerned that this policy could be adopted by college and high school athletic governing organizations. Policies that stigmatize girls or women with exceptional natural physical characteristics or athletic abilities as abnormal will not promote inclusion, fairness or excellence in women’s sports and will only serve to perpetuate the belief that only some women athletes, those deemed “normal” by arbitrary social standards, are welcome.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

LA Lakers Do A PSA on Name-Calling (Kobe Apology Part 3)

Okay, I hope this will be my last post about Kobe Bryant’s anti-gay slur. The LA Lakers have made a public service announcement featuring Kobe and several other players condemning name-calling of any kind. You can see it here.

Good for the Lakers for doing this. The PSA certainly won’t win any prizes for production quality or originality, but the message is clear.

Cynics will say the Lakers and Kobe just want to put this controversy behind them and this PSA is merely an attempt to do that. That may be. I’m choosing not to be cynical though and hope that this is just the first step for the NBA in setting a better example for young people when it comes to respect, even in the heat of the moment when you are really angry about an official’s call or an opponent’s action. We’ll see.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Kobe Apologizes: Part 2

In response to reactions to his use of an anti-gay slur during a game last Tuesday,which was caught on national TV, Kobe Bryant sat for an extended interview on ESPN to talk more about the incident. Because I have been one of Kobe’s critics on this incident, I want to say that, for the first time, what Kobe says feels like a step in the right direction. What is most important to me is that he appears to understand the negative impact on young people that his comment has and he talks with more understanding about his responsibilities as a role model for young people.

He also says that he thinks it is important to take some actions to raise awareness about anti-gay slurs and turn what has been a negative event into a positive learning experience, “I believe it's our responsibility as athletes and those in the spotlight to bring awareness of these issues. It's coming from a negative light, but it's our responsibility to make it into a positive and raise awareness as much as we can and say it's not okay to insult or discriminate. It's not the right thing to do.”

This sounds great. I hope that, after the media attention fades, that we can count on Kobe to turn this stated commitment into action. He has such a great opportunity here to do something really important for young people. Let’s hope he follows through.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Thoughtful Responses to Kobe O’Bryant’s Anti-Gay Slur

Here is a New York Times editorial response by gay ex-NBA player John Amaechi to Kobe’s use of an anti-gay slur. Please read it. It is an eloquent explanation of why what Kobe said is unacceptable.

This link is an article about the PSA shot by GLSEN, the Ad Council and the NBA with current NBA players Grant Hill and Jared Dudley directed at young people with the message that using anti-gay slurs is “not cool.”

The PSA was filmed coincidentally on the same day Kobe dropped his double F-bomb. What a different message to young people Grant and Jared are sending. This PSA will be part of the Think B4 You Speak series which has so successfully called attention to the negative effects of the ubiquitous school put down, “That’s so gay.” The NBA shoot is part of GLSEN’s efforts to focus on K-12 school sports and physical education through their new project, Changing the Game (which, in the interests of full disclosure, I am directing).

Friday, April 15, 2011

An Open Letter to Kobe Bryant: Kids Are Watching and Listening to You, Dude.

Dear Kobe:
You are an amazing athlete. You get paid a lot of money to play basketball and endorse sports shoes. You get lots of media attention. People watch what you do and listen to what you have to say. People wear your jersey and root for you. Many of these people are young and they look up to you.

Whether you like it or not, some realities come with the privileges you have as a wealthy marquee sports star. One of them is that you are a role model whether you like it or not. You can choose to be a good one or a bad one, either way young people take note of what you do and many want to emulate you.

That is why it is so painful for those of us who are working to make sports, schools and society safer and more respectful places for everyone, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to watch you use your celebrity platform to send such a careless and dangerous message to your young fans. Using anti-LGBT slurs is never excusable. I don’t care how mad you were at that referee. It doesn’t make any difference that it was “in the heat of the moment” or that you issued the standard non-apology afterwards. There is simply no excuse for what you said.

A mother of a 14 year old boy who is one of those young people I mentioned who look up to you said this about your nationally televised slur: Thanks, Kobe (with loads of sarcasm), I’ve worked for two years to get my son to stop using anti-gay slurs and you, in one thoughtless explosion of temper, undid it all. He thinks if Kobe uses this language, it must be ok.

Kobe, you do not get a free pass on this. It’s a good thing that the NBA fined you $100,000, but that’s like telling most of us we have to forfeit our morning coffee for two days. Instead of appealing the fine as you apparently plan to do, why don’t you show us that you really have learned something from this. Why don’t you show us in a meaningful way that you really are sorry and understand how dangerous the words you used are?

In the last year at least 10 young people have killed themselves because classmates tormented them with ant-LGBT slurs and those are only the ones we know about. Words matter, Kobe. As a young African-American man in America, you should know this. Where do you think young people learn that it is ok to hurl these cruel and dangerous words with the intent to hurt and humiliate: From people like you, dude. What. You. Say. Matters. Think before you speak; especially when you are in the “heat of the moment.”

Ironically on the same day you were having your little homophobic hissy fit, the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network was filming a PSA in conjunction with the NBA to discourage young people from using anti-LGBT slurs. Grant Hill is featured in the PSA. Grant Hill is a star athlete who understands that he is a role model and uses his celebrity status in a positive way to send a different message to young people. We need a lot more highly visible athletes like Grant Hill to step up. We can only hope that the PSA Grant is making with GLSEN attracts as much positive attention as the negative attention your comments have.

So, in conclusion, Kobe. Save your phony apology. Forego the ritualized meeting with the head of some LGBT rights organization who bestows “official” forgiveness on you. I don’t give a rat’s ass about these “performances.” The only thing that speaks to me is if you did something that really makes a difference. Donate your time, as Grant Hill has, or donate some of your fortune to support organizations that work to undo the damage your carelessness causes. Be a different kind of role model: One that stands for respect and inclusion. Young people are looking to you. Don’t let them down.