Tuesday, July 29, 2008

NCLR Files Discrimination Lawsuit for Lesbian Coaches

NCLR,the fabulous advocacy organization that represented Jennifer Harris in the Rene Portland/Penn State case, has filed a gender and sexual orientation discrimination lawsuit on behalf of two basketball coaches at San Diego Mesa College. The two coaches, Lorri Sulpizio and Cathy Bass are the head and assistant coaches of the women’s basketball team at Mesa. They are also partners in their personal lives.

In a storyline that is becoming all too familiar lately, Lorri Sulpizio lodged a Title IX complaint charging that the women’s program was not receiving equitable treatment. Subsequently, Sulpizio and Bass allege that the AD conducted an investigation to determine their sexual orientation. Finally, in 2007 both coaches were fired without being given any reasons for their termination despite an outstanding record of accomplishment.

The number of retaliation cases in which women coaches allege that they lose their jobs because they complain about Title IX violations in the athletic program has increased dramatically over the last couple of years. In a number of these cases, the retaliation also includes discrimination based on sexual orientation including inflammatory and unsubstantiated charges of sexual improprieties by the women coaches.

It is galling to read about the allegations of blatant discriminatory actions by male athletic directors and coaches in these cases. Thirty-five years after the passage of Title IX women’s programs and women coaches are still facing a wall of stubborn resistance by some male administrators and coaches. In almost every one of these cases, Fresno State, Florida Gulf Coast University, University of California Berkeley, Feather River Community College, the women coaches involved have outstanding records of accomplishments in their sports. This is all the more impressive knowing they have achieved these results despite ill will and a lack of respect from their administrators.

These cases also demonstrate how homophobia becomes a weapon of sexism. In the case of FGCU mixing in homophobic charges of sexual improprieties is intended to discredit women who complain about sex discrimination. In the Mesa College case no such charges have been made against Sulpizio and Bass, but the AD’s alleged attempt to “investigate” their sexual orientation serves the same purpose and clearly shows that he is working on the assumption that lesbian coaches should be purged from athletics no matter how successful and popular they are.

On a related note, as I have written in previous posts, if Sulpizio and Bass were a male/female married coaching team, the Mesa sports information people would probably be falling all over themselves to get the local media to write cute Valentine’s Day stories about the married coaches. No so much for lesbian couples who coach together. Because they are a lesbian couple, this instead becomes a reason for investigation, intimidation and dismissal.

I predict another win for social justice in this case, just as we saw in the Fresno State case. What is it with California anyway? So many of these cases have been in schools there, it makes you wonder. Maybe the women coaches, both heterosexual and lesbian, are just bolder and more inclined to do something about this kind of discrimination. If so, I hope other coaches around the U.S. facing similar situations are watching, listening and feeling empowered to act also.

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