Friday, April 23, 2010

Are You Gay Enough to Play Gay Softball?

The NCLR has filed a lawsuit against the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Association (NAGAAA) on behalf of three male softball players charging that the NAGAAA violated Washington state law during the 2008 Gay World Series Softball in Seattle by enforcing an NAGAAA rule that each team in the tournament must have no more than two heterosexual players on the roster. Washington state has a non-discrimination law that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in public accommodations and the tournament took place on public athletic fields. The NAGAAA also has a non-discrimination policy that includes “sexual orientation or preference” which apparently means little to them since the rule limiting heterosexual players is in direct contradiction to their non-discrimination policy.

During the championship game, members of an opposing team at the World Series charged that D2, a team from San Francisco competing in the Championship game, had too many straight men on their team. After the game, the NAGAAA called five D2 players in for a protest hearing before 25 people. Following the hearing, during which the five D2 players were subjected to a series of invasive questions about their personal sexual histories and preferences, the panel voted on whether or not each player was gay or straight.

Among other questions, the “suspect” players were pushed to say whether they were “predominantly attracted to women or men.” Three of the players, who were all men of color, were determined to be not gay enough to play. They received “disciplinary” action and were ruled ineligible. The San Francisco league was also disciplined and D2 had to forfeit their second place finish in the World Series. The other two men were white. One of them gave the same answers as one of the men of color who was voted gay. Apparently some or all of the three men declared ineligible identify as bisexual, but that was not gay enough for the NAGAAA.

There are so many things I have to say about this that it is difficult for me to know where to start so I’ll just dig in with no particular order in mind.

Sorry, guys. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t be against discrimination based on sexual orientation in the larger world and then turn around and do just that in your sports league, at least not if you use public fields and other public facilities. If you want to be a completely private league using private facilities, ok, but not if you are using public accommodations. If we don’t think it’s ok for the Boy Scouts of America to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and get to use public facilities, how can we defend the NAGAAA’s eligibility rule?

Ok, I do understand the reasoning behind the rule (sorta). It is difficult for gay men to find a safe, welcoming, gay-affirmative space in mainstream sports. Many gay men just give up sport after too many shoves into a locker at school or being called a “faggot” one last time by a coach, PE teacher or teammate. Others keep playing but carefully hide their sexual orientation. There is a reason that no professional athlete has ever come out as gay while he is still playing: men’s sports teams can be hostile places for gay men.

There is a need for gay sports leagues where players can be out and the climate is gay-affirming. Their popularity and number in every large city in the US attests to the important place gay sports leagues have in the gay community. I played softball in a “lesbian” league for about 25 years and it was great. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. We become a family and we had a lot of fun. We had no eligibility rule that limited the number of straight teammates. We were probably 95% lesbian, but we had straight teammates some years. We had bisexual teammates other years. We had teammates who started the season straight and ended it gay. Sometimes I had no idea what a teammate’s sexual orientation was. What made the difference was the climate, not tallying up the straights and gays. It was understood that it was a place where you could be open about your orientation and your life. Anti-gay (or anti-straight) attitudes and comments were not tolerated. It was about the climate. If you have to set eligibility rules, focus on the climate. Make it clear that anti-gay comments and behavior are not acceptable.

I know part of the argument in favor of limiting straight players is that straight men can find lots of opportunities to play sports in environments that affirm their sexual orientation, but gay men cannot. True. However, I don’t think having more than two straight men on a softball team means that the team climate has to become hostile to gay men. I imagine that the straight men who enjoy playing sports with gay friends in gay leagues are gay-affirmative. Since they do have other choices, why else would they want to play in a gay league? That’s why they are there and I say good on them for it. That’s how you change the world.

I also find it difficult to imagine that without a limit on the number of straight players that straight men will flock to gay leagues and take them over. Sorry, but that feels a little paranoid to me. I don’t know if there is an embedded assumption in limiting the number of straight players that their superior athleticism will relegate the gay guys to the bench. If so, I think this could be one of the more self-hating underpinnings of the rule. The stereotype that gay men are not athletic, competitive and tough-minded is just more confusion about gender expression and sexual orientation and a big stereotype that needs to be challenged for what it is - hooey.

The next thing is that the “either/or” understanding of sexual orientation feels a little 20th century to me. Kinsey gave us his scale in the 1940’s. We’ve known about bisexual men and women for a long time. Where has the NAGAAA leadership been? Ok, so the “gay community” has a sad history of not accepting bisexual people, but we’ve learned a lot over the last 30 years, or so I thought. For those of us who feel rooted in our identities as lesbian or gay, we need to grow up and accept the fact that not everyone experiences their sexual orientation the way we do. Those who identify as bisexual are just as much a part of our community as we are and should have access to sports leagues without pretending to be gay or undergoing an interrogation about their sexual orientation.

Related to this is the whole process of the protest hearing. I cannot even imagine being a part of such a creepy interrogation process as the one described in the NCLR press release. “Are you now or have you ever been part of the Communist Party?” Does that ring a bell, NAGAAA? Enough said.

The LGBT community has come a long way over the 40 years since Stonewall. The NAGAAA rule limiting the number of straight players on a softball team and their process for determining who is gay and who is straight feel like a giant step backwards to me.


Kelly Garrett said...

This story makes me cringe - I'm so disappointed to hear that a gay league would do this. I strongly agree that it's the climate that matters most and not the player's individual identities. Very disappointing indeed! I'm glad NCLR is taking this on.

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Baldwin said...

This can't work in fact, that is exactly what I consider.
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