Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Sex Testing at the Olympics

Organizers of the Bejing Olympics have set up a lab to test the sex of women whose femaleness is deemed questionable. This statement raises the hair on the back of my neck. The intention is to catch, what some officials in the Olympic movement call, “man cheats.” They are referring to men who disguise themselves to compete as women.

Never mind that only one instance of such a deception has occurred in the history of the modern Olympics and that was a German man forced to compete as a woman by the Nazis. Never mind that determining a person’s sex by external appearance, chromosomes and genes is not as easy as it seems. Never mind that the test procedure is invasive, humiliating and, according to many medical experts in this area, bad science. Never mind that, rather than rooting out “man cheats,” these sex tests so far have only identified women athletes who have an atypical chromosomal make-up that doesn’t even give them a competitive advantage. Most of the women deemed by these tests to be ineligible to compete as women had no knowledge of their chromosomal difference until they were tested. Medical experts estimate that one in 1,000 babies is intersex, born with atypical chromosome make-up. Many of these intersex people do not have external characteristics that identify them as intersex and live their lives happily without ever knowing.

Prior to the 1968 Olympics sex testing required that women competitors parade nude before a panel of “experts” who decided if the athletes were “really” women based on their physical appearance. In 1968, the testing was “refined” so that all women competitors had to submit to a chromosomal test instead. Finally in 1999, the blanket sex testing of women athletes was eliminated, but the case by case testing of suspect women remains in force.

These “sex verification” tests have done little more than traumatize and humiliate women who have focused a lifetime on competing in the Olympic Games only to find out through a discredited sex test that they are ineligible to compete as women. In almost every case where this has occurred, the test findings were later thrown out. The damage, however, was done, not only to Olympic dreams, but also to a woman’s sense of self and identity. Isn’t there a more effective and respectful means to ensure competitive equity based on current scientific understanding of the complexities of gender and sex than the so-called sex lab in Bejing?

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.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Nike Pulls “That Ain’t Right” Ads

Nike has pulled the “That Ain’t Right” ads that I talked about in my previous post. In my opinion, this is the right thing to do. It shows a little more respect for your audience and a little more social responsibility. Surely they can come up with something more creative that will sell their shoes, but not pander to homophobia in the process.
Apparently the response to the ads was pretty negative. Now, we have to write to Nike to thank them for pulling the ads. I know some folks will howl about “political correctness”, but it seems to me that these kinds of charges are meant to silence people who speak out in favor of equity and justice. Good for you, Nike, for owning up to your mistake.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Homophobia: Coming Soon to a Billboard Near You

Over the last two weeks Snickers and Nike have produced ads that are provoking some discussion about whether or not the ads are homophobic. In the Snickers ad, a male race walker is blown away by Mr T. (That’s right; remember him from a TV show about 30 years ago?) He uses a Gatling gun to shoot candy at the race walker for being a disgrace to the “man race” because of the hip swiveling characteristic of race walking. Mr. T shouts, “Get some nuts,” as he shoots Snickers (which, of course, contain nuts) at the race walker.

The Nike ad, targeting urban young black male basketball players, is for their new Hyperdunks shoe. The ad features several pictures of basketball players getting dunked on. The most “in your face” (so to speak) picture is of the dunker going so high that the defender gets a face full of the dunker’s crotch. The caption reads, “That Ain’t Right.”

Snickers, Nike and the ad companies who created these ads claim surprise that either of the ads is being interpreted as homophobic. What a crock! They are clearly targeting young men in these ads, young black men in the Nike ad. The least they could do is be honest about their obvious intention to play on the homophobia many young men, especially young black men, feel they must express to be seen as “manly” and straight. In the homophobic world of men’s basketball, what better way to humiliate and demean your opponent than to give his face an up close and personal encounter with your genitals? In the Snickers ad, “gunning down” the sissy with nut filled candy will certainly teach him to man up. In these ads the veiled gay inferences are meant to be synonymous with weak and swishy or getting dominated and humiliated on the basketball court. And this sells candy and athletic shoes?

I think you have to be pretty darned oblivious not to see the homophobic double entendres in these ads. You also have to have pretty big smirk on your face when you claim that there was no homophobic intent in either ad. Bull twang! As my friend from Texas used to say.

Ok, here’s the part where I get to be accused of not having a sense of humor. Let’s just set aside for a moment the fact that these kind of “gay is funny” ads targeting adolescent males or men who act like adolescent males are pathetically hackneyed and reflect a mind-numbing lack of creativity on the part of these multi-million dollar ad agencies and Nike and Snickers.

Instead, let’s ponder this week’s cover story in Newsweek about schools, anti- gay bullying and the murder of a gay middle school student by one of his classmates a few months ago. The apparent motivation for the murder was a sense of outrage and humiliation experienced by the murderer because the very openly gay student thought the murderer was cute and told him so (this story is way more complicated than this, but these are the basic facts).

I am not trying to blame Snickers and Nike for violence against gay people, but do they bear any social responsibility at all for how they try to sell their product? Do they ever wonder how it might feel to be a closeted young gay man seeing these ads with friends or teammates who are yukking it up over the “gay” humor in the ads. I guarantee you that they get the anti-gay overtones. The least Nike and Snickers could do is own up to their craven use of homophobia to sell their products rather than sniggering up their sleeves as they profess amazement that anyone saw any hint of anti-gay intent in these ads.

I’ve never been a big Snickers fan anyway and I don’t buy Nike shoes because of the sweat shop issue, but I will write them a letter. If you agree with me on this, I encourage you to do the same.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Listen to Out Professionals Panel on LGBT People in Sport

The podcast of the June LGBT Sports panel sponsored by Out Professionals in New York is now available for listening on the internet or at iTunes. You can listen by going to the Out Professionals web site and following the link to the podcast there.

The panel was entitled, “25 Years of LGBT Sports.” The panel discussion is one hour long followed by about 30 minutes of questions from the audience. The panel took place in NYC on June 18. The panel moderator was author, Eric Marcus. The panelists were:

Sue Wicks, Former WNBA player for the New York Liberty and now a basketball coach at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, NY

Bill Konigsberg, AP sports writer and author of Out of the Pocket

Mark Larson, Mr. International Gay Rodeo Assn. (2002)

Amy Scheer, VP of Marketing & Communications, Madison Square Garden

Cyd Ziegler, Co-Founder of

Donna Lopiano, Former CEO, Women’s Sports Foundation and Softball Hall of Famer

Pat Griffin, Director of It Takes A Team! and author of Strong Women, Deep Closets

Monday, July 14, 2008

Honoring Jackie Walker

Jackie Walker was a two-time All-American football star at the University of Tennessee in the early 70’s. He was also captain of the team. He was the first Black SEC All-American. Why, you may ask, with this outstanding record of accomplishment, has it taken 40 years for Jackie Walker to be inducted in the Greater Knoxville Hall of Fame?

Could it be because Jackie Walker was also a gay man? Though Hall of Fame officials deny that his sexual orientation had any part in their failure to honor this outstanding athlete since he became eligible for induction in 1976, it is difficult to imagine a heterosexual athlete with similar credentials being overlooked in the way Jackie Walker has been.

On Thursday night he will finally receive the long overdue recognition to which he is entitled. Unfortunately, Jackie Walker died of AIDS in 2002 and will not be there to accept the honor.

Read this wonderful column in the Knoxville News Sentinel about Jackie Walker and his induction into the Hall of Fame.

Though times are changing for gay and lesbian athletes and many are more are open with their teammates and coaches about their sexual orientation, Jackie Walker’s story reminds us of how deserving athletes can be discriminated against despite their accomplishments. Jackie Walker was a Black man who broke racial barriers in Tennessee sports. He was an outstanding athlete who broke records on the field. By all accounts he was also a man of great character, but because he was gay, his accomplishments were ignored. Being gay and dying of AIDS were enough to cancel out everything else about his exemplary life.

Being a Black football player in the 1970’s in the Tennessee must have been a challenge. Being a Black gay football player must have been a very lonely life indeed. Jackie Walker had to contend with both racism and heterosexism and this makes his accomplishments on and off the football field even more honorable.

I suppose his posthumous induction, 40 years after he became eligible, is a good sign; a sign that times are changing. I can’t help feel sadness though, thinking about the loneliness and outrage that Jackie Walkers might have felt. A Black gay football player who proved he was tougher and more talented than his heterosexual teammates watching them be honored over those many years while he was passed over again and again. Sometimes things just can’t be completely set right.

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Dangers of Auto-Replace

I know this is a week old now, but I just have to comment on the hilarious story I read while I was away last week about the American Family Association (AFA) and their embarrassing mistake with using the auto-replace function on their computer. The AFA is a Christian anti-gay organization famous for several unsuccessful boycotts efforts to try to force corporate America and media to stop acknowledging that gay Americans are consumers who deserve equal treatment.

It seems that the AFA refuses to use the word “gay” on their news web site. Instead they prefer the quaint “homosexual” when referring to non-heterosexual folks. To save time, they apparently use the auto-replace function to change the word “gay” to “homosexual” in all of the news stories posted on their web site, One News Now. I guess this was working fine for them until they decided to cover the Olympic track and field trials last week.

The problem was that one of the top sprinters for the U.S. is named Tyson Gay. The AFA auto-replace did its job and here are some excerpts from their coverage of the trials:

"Tyson Homosexual was a blur in blue, sprinting 100 meters faster than anyone ever has. His time of 9.68 seconds at the U.S. Olympic trials Sunday doesn't count as a world record, because it was run with the help of a too-strong tailwind."

"Here's what does matter: Homosexual qualified for his first Summer Games team and served notice he's certainly someone to watch in Beijing."

"It means a lot to me," the 25-year-old Homosexual said. "I'm glad my body could do it, because now I know I have it in me."

The AFA quickly took the embarrassing post down, but not soon enough to avoid becoming the laughing stock of bloggers and other media everywhere. It isn’t often when I think these narrow-minded folks are funny, but please add my name to list of folks who got a chuckle out of their little blunder.