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By Dan Woog
It’s the time of year when we show gratitude -Â and LGBT folks (and their allies) have a lot to be thankful for.
Not as much as if the presidential election had gone the other way, of course. From a gay point of view a Vice President Pence is at least as scary as a President Trump. The men (or women, but don’t hold your breath) who could wind up on the Supreme Court may well roll back many of the hard-earned rights the LGBT community has gained over the past few decades. We are in uncharted waters, and the seas are likely to be very, very rough.
Fortunately, there is smoother sailing on the LGBT sports front. Over the past few years – especially during 2016 – gay issues and athletics have moved from a corner of the locker room out into the center of the arena. A tipping point was reached, then passed. Gay, lesbian and bisexual athletes and coaches are no longer seen as rarities, outliers or freaks. Allies are no longer afraid to speak up. Americans understand that we are indeed everywhere. “Gay sports” has moved from oxymoron to ho-hum.
So when we sit down to dinner this year, and say (Will and) grace, let’s give thanks to all the men, women, organizations and institutions that have helped get us where we are today.
For nearly 20 years, for example, Outsports has been the go-to website for LGBT sports news and commentary. Quietly, doggedly – but with spirit, humor and joy – Cyd Ziegler and Jim Buzinski have told stories about out competitors, coaches, referees and administrators. In the beginning, many of those tales were filled with fear and worry. Over time, they brimmed with hope. Now, they’re almost uniformly positive.
Each story is different. Yet taken together – this experience at a religious school, that one on a curling team; this one describing a welcoming lacrosse culture, that one ending with a hug from a formerly unenlightened homophobe – they offer a clear, comforting picture of a segment of society that has changed quickly and significantly. The mainstream media has not taken much notice of the shift, but Outsports has. In fact, Outsports has made those changes possible.
Hot on Outsports’ heels, in terms of value to the LGBT sports world, is Athlete Ally. The brainchild of Hudson Taylor – the straight University of Maryland wrestler whose decision to put a Human Rights Campaign sticker on his headgear sparked first a backlash, then a movement – Athlete Ally has emerged as a potent educational and advocacy force.
The organization provides public awareness campaigns, programming, tools and resources. It’s mobilized an impressive list of “Ambassadors,” at over 80 colleges and including over 100 professional athletes. Through speaking engagements, op-ed columns and social media, Athlete Ally has moved the needle of public perception significantly. In doing so, it’s helped make LGBT people aware of the importance of allyship and intersectionality. We often say that sports teaches lessons of value far away from the playing fields. These can be some of the most important ones.
Sports teams and leagues themselves have hopped aboard the gay athletics train. Nearly every major league club now sponsors some variety of “LGBT Night.” Teams respond quickly to isolated incidents of unwarranted behavior, like homophobic chants or signs in the stands, and intemperate comments by players and coaches. Those are (thankfully) fewer and farther between these days. And while the motive may be partly financial – gay and lesbian fans buy tickets too – it’s also indicative of societal shifts. Change once came slowly to the sports world. Now it mirrors the real world.
For 34 years, the Gay Games has promoted equality in and by sports. Calling itself “the world’s largest sports and culture festival open to all,” the Games (which legally cannot be called anything close to the “Gay Olympics”) are, well, like the Olympics but with broader participation, less commercialism and a ton more fabulousness. Every four years, the Gay Games makes a major statement about the value of diversity and inclusion. Want to be part of the next one? It’s in Paris in August 2018.
That’s a lot of things to be thankful for. But websites, non-profits, teams and organizations are not really what drive change.
The LGBT sports movement would not be where it is now without the courage and conviction of the countless men and women (and boys and girls) who have come out of the closet. By standing up – in their locker rooms, on their fields and in the sports pages – they have enabled countless more to be who they are. They’ve opened the eyes and hearts of their teammates, coaches and fans. They are the true story of gay athletics.
And for that, we are very, very thankful.