May 26, 2013

The New 'Gay Pride' In Pro Sports

The New 'Gay Pride' in Pro Sports features Jason Collins, Robbie Rogers and Brittney Griner

Robbie Rogers, Brittney Griner, and Jason Collins are blazing an exciting new trail as gay activists in professional sports.



Coming out and fey gay stereotypes


I was so thrilled to hear that Robbie Rogers, who is a GREAT footballer/soccer player, wasn’t ready to hang up his cleats just yet. He’ll be the first active gay professional athlete to play Major League Soccer, and because of that fact - his play on the pitch will be scrutinized by some - who are looking for evidence that Robbie fits a gay stereotype, and is unfit to play. 

His decision is selfless, because he’s not returning to the pitch to just fulfill his own ambitions and dreams, he’s also doing it for the gay community, and gay athletes across the country. I applaud him for that, and I thank him for that, and I’ll be following the Galaxy to cheer him on.

I’m a big sports fan, and have been all my life. I’ve alluded to that before, but most people don’t come here to read about sports, so I don’t write about it. I’ll share a little known fact that I haven’t shared before, and that’s the fact that I love watching women’s college basketball games. The women’s game is pure and cerebral and more tactical, and I like the contrast with the men’s game.

I’ve gone to Stanford and Berkeley to catch some women’s games, and my alma mater has always had a good women’s basketball team. Rutgers Coach Vivian Stringer is in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, and I’d go anywhere to see Cappie Pondexter play. When Diana Taurasi and Cappie were on the floor together while playing for the Phoenix Mercury, and the US National Team, it was like watching Eugene Ormandy conduct the finest symphony orchestra.


Pioneering lesbians paved the way to enable today


I remember when one of the best players to play women’s basketball came out, over 13 years ago. While playing for Rutgers, Sue Wicks won the Naismith, U.S. Basketball Writers Association, Women’s Basketball News Service and Street & Smith’s National Player of the Year awards. Sue was an outstanding player in college, and in the professional ranks. When she came out, there was barely a ripple. The only people paying attention at the time were the journalists and fans who followed the WNBA’s New York Liberty.

Lesbians playing professional sports isn’t as novel as it is in men’s professional sports, because of the brave women who have long been out. Legends like Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova, and Sue Wicks, have paved the way for other professional athletes to come out today.

Brittney Griner acknowledged that she’s a lesbian on the day that she was the number one draft pick in the 2013 WNBA draft, and became a role model overnight, for other athletes throughout the country. Brittney is a gifted basketball player, and 2 time winner of the Wade Trophy, who played on Baylor’s national championship team. Due to her high profile and success on the basketball court in college, when she said she’s gay, it was covered by the mainstream press, and that’s rare in women’s sports. When I heard the news I cheered, and was thankful that she was so frank and forthcoming.

During interviews, Brittney acknowledged that she’d been picked on and was bullied when she was a kid, and that’s why she’s so committed to combating bullying, and fighting homophobia.

“It was hard, just being picked on for being different, just being bigger, my sexuality, everything,” she said. “I overcame it and got over it. Definitely something that I am very passionate about. I want to work with kids and bring recognition to the problem, especially with the LGBT community. If I can show that I’m out and I’m fine and everything’s OK, then hopefully the younger generation will definitely feel the same way.”

Brittney Griner is a star, and she hasn’t played her first game for the Phoenix Mercury yet, and that’s a testament to her ability, and that's a great thing.


Many LGBT people just want to love and be loved


When NBA journeyman Jason Collins told the masses that he’s gay, it seemed like the floodgates opened up. It was front page news, and the story was extensively covered in the mainstream press, and on the evening news. I know that Jason’s announcement was widely applauded from coast to coast, and for the first time in recent memory, some of the biggest anti-gay critics had nothing to say.

In our celebrity obsessed culture today, we often elevate athletes to mythical proportions, and forget that they’re human - just like you and me. They want the same things we all want, and that’s a partner to love and be loved, a companion and soul mate, and to live happily ever after, like in a fairy tale. (More on the realities of THAT at a later date!)

After reading so many articles about Jason over that week, there was a subtext to his announcement, that no one really explored. Jason admitted that he was willing to be a gay trailblazer in the NBA, but he was also motivated to come out because he wanted a partner, and he wanted to date, and he wanted to catch up to his straight counterparts who had partners and spouses and kids, when he had a dog, and he wanted more. That admission really touched me, and I’m pulling for Jason to sign with a team, and have more success in the NBA next year.  I also hope that he has an easy time meeting people, and that he can explore his sexuality out of the public eye.

Whether you’re 19 or 24, or you’re gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, we all encounter a  learning curve in the wacky and wonderful world that’s so gay. It can be intimidating, thrilling scary, exciting, daunting, uplifting, and demoralizing, at the same time! It isn’t easy, and if straight people knew half of what we’ve had to endure in coming out and coming to terms with our sexuality, and the eccentricities and attendant nuances within the gay community, they’d learn pretty quickly that being gay isn’t a choice.

These three amazing athletes made a choice to tell the public that they are gay athletes. They consciously took a risk, without knowing how the public would react, and they didn’t know if their team and their teammates would continue to embrace them. It’s hard to come out to one’s family and friends, so I can’t imagine what it’s like when you’re a professional athlete. How can we not laud and applaud them?


Gay celebrities coming out were British or about to die


The first gay celebrities that I was aware of were pretty much all British musicians. It was Elton John and Freddie Mercury (Queen), Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe (Pet Shop Boys), and Andy Bell (Erasure). Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova were both out, having been outed by spurned lovers. Then kd lang came out, followed by Melissa Etheridge. Then for years, the public found out about a celebrity who was gay because they were going to die. Rock Hudson, Peter Allen, Michael Bennett, Halston, Perry Ellis, and Rudolf Nureyev, were all outed prior to succumbing to AIDS.

We’ve come so far from those days, and that’s a great thing, and we have to remember that we  still have a long way to go.

Robbie Rogers, Brittney Griner, and Jason Collins, are blazing new trails in the struggle for equality - and there are countless professional athletes who will follow their lead in the future.

At the same time - we can’t rest on the success we’ve had over the past year. While our community has higher visibility, anti-gay hate crimes in New York City doubled over the last year. There are 29 states where you can be fired for being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender - and there’s 34 states where your gender identity can get you fired. Our economic security, and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), is more important to our future than marriage equality.


Celebrating our differences one role model at a time


In a poignant essay that Brittney Griner penned for The New York Times, she wrote:
When the N.B.A. center Jason Collins announced he was gay last week, I was thrilled. Not only was I extremely happy for him, I thought that maybe, just maybe, his courage and the wave of positive reaction meant that we were on the verge of an era when people accept and celebrate one another’s differences. I think that’s what makes life beautiful: everyone is different and we can all learn from one another.
Jason Collins’s announcement, with the support he has received, has already made me more optimistic than ever that people are ready. More important, that the pace of change is picking up. That’s why I have become involved in the It Gets Better project, whose mission is to inspire hope for young people facing harassment and bullying. Because, people, it’s time for bullying to end. Nobody should have to hear the types of things I did or to feel the way I have.
The good news is that I do see change coming. It might be slow, but there are so many positive signs. After being drafted by the Phoenix Mercury and with more media acknowledging my sexuality, I’ve received more hugs, tweets, thank-yous and well-wishes in regard to being “out” than ever.
Countless people have come up to me and thanked me for being proud of who I am.
It’s my job now to, I hope, be a light who inspires others.
And it’s our job to remain vigilant about being a champion for LGBT rights, while we shine a light on Robbie and Brittany and Jason, who will inspire their fans to be a champion too.


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