Monday, January 19, 2009

Tony Dungy: Homophobe and/or Role Model?

It seems appropriate on Martin Luther King Day and the eve of the inauguration of the first Black President of the United States to talk about race and sexual orientation and the significance of these identities among LGBT sports activists and all activists for that matter.

Tony Dungy, the first Black coach to win a Super Bowl, resigned last week as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts. Dungy is respected by many as a man of integrity as well as a winning coach. He is a devout Christian who has been quite public about his opposition to marriage equality for same-sex couples and his support of religious-based organizations that oppose marriage equality, gay parent adoptions and civil rights for gay people. On the other hand, He has devoted much time and advocacy on behalf of programs that help Black young men out of poverty, crime and hopelessness. So, suffice it to say there are things to admire about Tony Dungy and things that provoke condemnation and disappointment.

Last week I read two responses to Dungy’s retirement and his off the field commitments. One article was written by LZ Granderson, a Black gay sports reporter for ESPN Page 2. The other was a response to LZ’s article by Cyd Zeigler, a white gay co-owner of I know, like and respect both Cyd and LZ and I found their takes on Dungy’s anti-gay activities informative about how the gay part of who we are is so “colored” by the rest of what makes us who we are, in this case our racial identity. So, here’s me, a white lesbian, adding my two cents worth –

Cyd cuts Dungy no slack for his anti-gay stance and takes LZ to task for apologizing to Dungy for not coming to his defense when gay groups were attacking him for his anti-gay statements and fund-raising efforts on behalf of anti-gay organizations. For Cyd, the issues are (pardon me) black and white: Dungy should be roundly condemned by all gay people for his anti-gay positions. Whether intentional or not (and I suspect not), Cyd sets up a comparison between the damaging effects of racism and homophobia/heterosexism and assumes that, because of LZ’s failure to completely condemn Dungy, he believes that the plight of Black men is more serious than that of gay men.

LZ’s article is more nuanced. As a Black man himself and a father of a son, he feels the urgency in addressing the discrimination and prejudices young Black men face and knows about it from an inside perspective. He sees Dungy as a role model for Black men and an advocate for Black (heterosexual) families at the same time that he laments Dungy’s anti-gay perspective. Condemning Dungy isn’t so cut and dried for him because he is Black AND gay.

I’m betting that Dungy’s anti-gay public stance hurt LZ all the more because he respects the man so. But, as he says in his article, sometimes LZ just needs to turn it off to get through the day. Racism and homophobia/heterosexism are a double down for LZ, but not for Cyd or I. LZ faces the consequences of racism and heterosexism daily. Cyd and I, and other white LGBT activists/educators, do not. We may call ourselves allies against racism, but we have the privilege of focusing on homophobia because racism doesn’t target us. We have to keep reminding ourselves that our take on homophobia, especially when it collides with race and racism comes from a privileged white perspective.

It’s not that I don’t condemn Dungy for his anti-gay position. It makes me sick and sad to know that he will probably now have more time to devote to anti-gay organizations. However, I believe the lesson for those of us who are white and gay or lesbian is to pause before we assume that our take on gay issues, whether it’s Tony Dungy’s legacy or the role of the Black church in passing Prop 8 in California, is the perspective that all self-respecting lesbian or gay people should have. Our LGBT sisters and brothers of color often see things differently and we could learn much by listening.


Stacey said...

Thanks, Pat, for tackling a difficult but important subject.

Hallam said...

I am hopeful that the new 'Obama era' will help the TLGB community struggle forward into a much less narrow perspective on human rights, focusing first on the common good and second on our own welfare, important as it is. I appreciate your willingness to engage us in that effort.

EC said...

Right on LZ & Pat. I can think of so many examples, especially in the context of marriage equality, where theorizing around race & sexuality are at best unproductive & in the end racist.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for taking on an unpopular cause - to hold our heros up to real life scrutiny. I know someone who adores Dungy, because she went to school with his siblings and really liked them, and likes Dungy's comportment as a coach. But his advocacy for denial of civil rights to gays because of his religious convictions is no better than white Southerners that advocated for slavery because it was the status quo in biblical times.

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