Monday, December 27, 2010

Smear the Queer: When Tradition Needs to be Changed

Why are some elementary school administrators in Utah upset about a backyard sign facing the school playground that reads, “Stop Gay Suicide. Tell the Truth. Gays are Born Gay?" They believe the sign is “adult content” for one thing. They associate the word “gay” with sex (but not the words “Mommy” and “Daddy”). Some parents and school officials believe that bringing up anti-gay name-calling and bullying is just part of the “Homosexual Agenda” to turn all kids gay. Others believe that the word “suicide” is inappropriate for elementary school students to know about. Never mind that children, some in elementary school, do commit suicide because they are targeted by anti-gay bullying.

Some folks in this Utah community are also upset that Mr. Ridley, the guy with the backyard signs, also wants the school to stop allowing children on the playground to play Smear the Queer. In other words, it’s ok to for children to play Smear the Queer, but not ok for them to see the words “gay” and “suicide” while they play Smear the Queer. Apparently school officials are not even concerning themselves with his complaint about Smear the Queer.

Remember Smear the Queer from your childhood? I remember playing it in my backyard with all the neighborhood guys only we called it Maul the Man with Ball. I don’t know why we were so enlightened, but it was the same game. In case you missed it, the gist of the game is that one child has the ball, often a football, and everyone else chases him down (it’s most often played by boys) and everyone piles on top of the queer. He can toss the ball to someone else and the mob turns on that queer and so on. There are variations. One used in some physical education classes is that, instead of chasing and piling on the queer, everyone else has balls which they throw at the queer with the football, kind of like stoning.

What do you suppose is the disconnect between being upset about school children seeing the words “gay” and “suicide,” but not having a problem with them playing Smear the Queer during PE class or recess? Some people believe that children do not understand the negative association between “queer” and gay people. Other people believe that, because Smear the Queer has a long tradition as a harmless childhood game, it is political correctness run amok to banish it from schools.

Because a children’s playground game has a long tradition, does that make it harmless? Do young children understand the meaning of “queer” when it is used as a putdown for gay and lesbian people? Even if school officials decide that the game is not associated with anti-gay sentiment, what about the educational value of the game? It makes you wonder why some PE teachers can’t think of better, more educational games to play. It also makes you wonder who is supervising the playground during recess when Smear the Queer is being played.

I admit that when I was in elementary school (and junior high too) I loved violent dodgeball and chase games like Maul the Man with the Ball or something our PE teacher called Artillery Ball or Bombardment where the objective was to hit as many of your classmates on the other team with a volleyball as you could before they ran to the safety of the “home base” on the opposite gym wall. The game was wild, chaotic and fast. If you were a good dodger, thrower and physically aggressive, the game was fun. If you weren’t, not so much and too bad for you. Your only hope was to either intentionally get hit early and therefore eliminated from the game or to hide behind the bleachers until class was over. Kids in my class did both. I’m betting they still hate PE class and, listen up Phys Ed teachers, are not inclined to support daily physical education for their children.

So, to my way of thinking, there are two strikes against Smear the Queer. One, it is not a game that is educationally justified either in a PE class or on the school playground. Two, the symbolism and underlying text of the name, Smear the Queer, is chilling in the context of anti-gay bullying in schools and suicide among young people because of anti-gay bullying. Elementary school children today DO know what “queer” means. They hear anti-gay epithets every day and, when teachers or coaches let it go or allow games called Smear the Queer, children learn that it’s ok. Go ahead, Smear the Queer.

Another thing, can you imagine school administrators allowing children to play games with equally offensive names like, “Get the Het” or “Trigger the N-----“ or “Bop the Wop” or “Stew the Jew”? Why is Smear the Queer ok? I say it’s time for the third strike against Smear the Queer. Let’s get it out of the schools altogether along with anti-gay bullying and name-calling.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Lesbian High School Softball Player Files Discrimination Lawsuit

Here is one of the many reasons why we need to do a lot more educating of high school administrators, athletic directors and coaches about coach abuse of power and discrimination against student-athletes because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Lesbian Coaches, Christian Schools: It’s Gut Check Time at Belmont

The controversy over the departure of women’s soccer coach, Lisa Howe, from her position at Belmont University raises lots of interesting questions about the collision of religious freedom, LGBT rights and cultural change and Belmont is right in the middle of it all. Belmont is a private Christian school that has experienced tremendous growth and received increased national recognition in the last few years. After severing its ties with the Southern Baptists, Belmont has portrayed itself as a progressive Christian school that welcomes a diverse student body and faculty. They have been particularly noted for their music program’s connections with the music industry based in Nashville.

However, it seems like there is a disconnect between what Belmont students, faculty and many Nashville community leaders believe Belmont stands for and what the Belmont Board of Trustees and Administration stand for. Lisa Howe’s departure by “mutual agreement” (Resign or we will fire you, seems to be the basis for the mutual agreement), brought this disconnect out in full public view.

Belmont, as a private school, has the right to set its standards for employment. If they want to discriminate against LGBT employees based on the religious beliefs the school stands for, they have that right. The LGBT rights movement does not need to force private religious institutions into accepting us to achieve equality. I would argue that advocates for LGBT equality should respect Belmont’s right as a private Christian school to discriminate based on the tenets of their faith. However, they can’t have it both ways.

If Belmont chooses to discriminate against LGBT people, man up about it. Have the courage of your convictions. Don’t employ LGBT people and celebrate their excellence (as they did with Lisa Howe) only under the condition that they lie about and hide their sexual orientation. By making it impossible for Lisa Howe to continue in her position (resign or we will fire you) for the sole reason that she had the audacity to be honest about how she is, a Christian lesbian, you have put yourself in a real quandary, Belmont.

Belmont leaders appear to want their cake and to eat it too. They want all the acclaim, recognition and financial support they have received recently for advertising themselves as a progressive Christian school. They also want to remain true to the not so progressive religious belief that LGBT people are an abomination, sinners who are unfit for employment at Belmont. As one person, interviewed on Outside the Lines this weekend, described Belmont’s position, “They have one foot on the dock and the other foot on the boat and the boat is leaving the dock.” Belmont leaders are on their way to a full immersion baptism into the consequences of hypocrisy.

President Fisher tried to continue the charade of claiming that Belmont welcomes LGBT people in his press conference the day after Mike Curb, one of Belmont’s biggest financial supporters, threatened to withdraw his support unless Belmont changed its discriminatory policy. As they say somewhere in the south, Mr. President: “That dog don’t hunt.” Actions speak louder than words.

Belmont leaders now have a choice they have to make. The unofficial “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy will not work anymore. It won’t even work in the military anymore, Belmont. They will no longer be able to use claims of “mutual agreement” to mask anti-gay discrimination. The cat is out of the bag: Belmont wants to be seen as a progressive Christian school, but they may not actually want to be one. Belmont can choose to stick with the “no LGBT people” position and take the consequences of that position: Loss of community support, loss of big donors, loss of reputation as a progressive school, loss of faculty and students. Or they can do some deep soul searching and consider change. They could choose to enact a new non-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation and gender identity. Whatever they do, it is their right as a private religious school.

True, if they maintain an anti-gay position, they will gain the respect of anti-gay hardliners on the Christian right, but larger cultural changes are working against Belmont on this. More people in national surveys every year support non-discrimination laws that include sexual orientation and gender identity. Over 50% of people surveyed now support same–sex marriage. More people have close friends, colleagues and family members who they know are LGBT. Almost everyone believes that anti-gay bullying in schools is unacceptable and that LGBT students deserve protection. These changes are taking place among Christians as well as non-Christians. The young generation of Christians, many of whom have been protesting the loss of a lesbian coach at Belmont, may not fully embrace homosexuality, but they clearly don’t condone discrimination against LGBT people as an expression of their Christian values. They get the complexities here. Lisa Howe is a Christian AND a lesbian. The younger generation gets this. Her team gets it.

So, Belmont leaders, what will you do? What would Jesus do? As Christians throughout the world prepare to celebrate his birthday this week, maybe it’s a good time to reflect on that.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Lesbian Coach Discrimination at the U of Minnesota?

Belmont University is not the only school in the news for alleged discrimination against a lesbian coach. You don’t have to be a Christian university to be charged with discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The University of Minnesota is being sued by Katie Brenny for the same reason. She was hired as an associate golf coach and expected to coach the women’s team, but instead was assigned to clerical and conditioning duties instead. She was only allowed to work with the first year players and forbidden from talking with the upper class players and did not travel with the team to out of state matches.

Meanwhile, the son of the director of the golf program, coached the women’s team. He was hired as an “independent contractor” not subject to the university hiring requirements. How is this possible? To add insult to injury, his salary was higher than Brenny’s. A little nepotism in action, perhaps. Purportedly the reason for this switcheroo is that Brenny is a lesbian.

Read this story for the many hinky twists to this situation. Brenny has a lawyer and has filed a lawsuit against the university. At the very least, it seems that the athletic administration and the director of the golf program at U of M don’t feel constrained by either university non-discrimination policy or state non-discrimination laws.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Push Back at Belmont University Continues

The uproar at Belmont University in Nashville, TN continues a week after women’s soccer coach, Lisa Howe, was dismissed because she is a lesbian. The university denies that she was dismissed and the university president in a statement from outer space last night claims that lesbian and gay students, staff and faculty are welcome at Belmont. He states that, "In the 10 years I have served as Belmont's president, sexual orientation has not been considered in making hiring, promotion, salary or dismissal decisions. I need for you to hear that clearly."

Really? Is that why an LGBT student group was denied official recognition. Is that why another lesbian professor has come forward to describe how the tenure track position she was offered at Belmont turned into a one year contract when administrators learned that she was a lesbian? She turned it down. Lisa Howe, a lesbian coach, is without a job today. If this isn’t because of her sexual orientation, then why? By all accounts she is a great coach, well liked, and judging all of her press statements about this controversy, a dignified and classy person.
Is the university president unveiling a new non-discrimination policy for Belmont? That would be great.

In the meantime, the uproar in Nashville just won’t die down. The women’s soccer team is keeping the pressure on, students are staging protests and sit-ins, faculty members are speaking out, city counselors in Nashville are objecting. It seems like the entire city is up in arms about the dismissal of a lesbian coach at a private Christian school. A major Belmont donor, board member emeritus and big player in the Nashville music scene has publicly attacked the university’s position. This is Nashville. A city in the south. The Bible Belt. Imagine. Let us all learn from these outraged southerners and Christians.

Meanwhile Lisa Howe’s dismissal has received national attention from major newspapers, bloggers and even Sports Illustrated, not known for their focus on social justice issues, has weighed in against Belmont’s actions.

It seems like Belmont students and faculty thought they were affiliated with a “progressive” Christian school that welcomed diversity including sexual orientation diversity, but university administrators and university board members are intent on enforcing that old time religion that says no gay allowed. Maybe that is changing if we are to believe the university president’s press statement. Or not. We’ll see.

The exciting thing is that the actions of the students and faculty at Belmont indicate that younger generations of Christians have different ideas about what it means to be a Christian than their elders do. They look at Lisa Howe and see a dedicated, popular and successful coach. Though she had never told them, they knew she was a lesbian and that was fine by them. The university administration looks at Lisa Howe and sees a sinner who must be purged from the campus. The hypocrisy here, of course, is that the administration was fine with Coach Howe until she told the team her partner is pregnant thereby outing herself. Then she became unsuitable for employment at a Christian school.

I can’t wait to see what happens with this story tomorrow. Today I bet Belmont administrators wish they had just congratulated Lisa on her coming motherhood and stuck their heads back in the sand.

Monday, December 6, 2010

LZ on Gender and Sport

Here is another quickie post courtesy of ESPN columnist, LZ Granderson. It's a thoughtful piece on gender and sport that ties this issue to racism in sport and our collective discomfort with social change, racial diversity and gender variance. Quote alert - LZ talked to me about this column and quotes me in it.

Lisa Howe Responds to Media Attention

Lisa Howe, through her attorney, has released a statement reacting to the media attention and support from the Belmont community she has received since her dismissal as the university's women's soccer coach. I hope the Christian leadership at Belmont reads this. Lisa Howe, a lesbian, can teach them something about true Christian values.


Lisa Howe, the former soccer coach at Belmont University, will not comment on any topic related to the University other than to respectfully disagree with the suggestion in the Sunday Tennessean article made by the chair of the Belmont Board of Trustees that being gay or lesbian is somehow “immoral” or compromises Christian values at Belmont . However, Howe is willing to share her personal perspective of the reactions that have unfolded.

“I cannot adequately express my thanks to the many, many students, faculty members, parents and friends who have shown and expressed their support of me and my family, or to the people and organizations I didn’t even know before this series of events who likewise are getting in touch and offering encouragement,” she says. “I am deeply touched and will be forever grateful to them.”

Howe admits it isn’t easy being the center of media attention. “No one wants their private family life made public or likes to think that people are talking about them,” she relates, “but I feel like I need to explain just a little about myself, for I have always held my head high and will continue to do so. I believe I am a good, moral person, who cares for others. Those and other basic Christian tenets are important to me, to how I live my life, including as a coach, and to what I want to teach my child as he or she grows up. I have never intentionally detracted from the goodness or holiness inherent in any person or institution, and I do my best not to judge people based on personal characteristics such as race, gender, religion, ability, or sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Howe explains that the past few days have been distractions in her otherwise happy, fulfilled life. “I am a dedicated, respected, and successful soccer coach. I was a good student athlete recruiter, had an organized and professionally run program, and was one of Belmont’s best employees. None of that changed when I acknowledged that I am a lesbian and that my partner and I are expecting a baby. I am proud of who I am and my family and our future, and I want every person - no matter what race, religion, nationality or sexuality they represent - to feel the same way. Yes, I would have preferred not to be in the headlines, but if my situation leads to one person beginning to feel acceptance now, or one more person becoming more understanding of diversity, and if people can begin to talk openly and honestly about topics they never broached before, then this unfortunate situation will have served a positive purpose. While the past several days have been difficult, I can compare this period to something familiar to student athletes - the summer workout. While that is exhausting and painful, it prepares us to be able to accomplish something great in the future.

“As a collegiate soccer coach for the last 17 years, my goals have always been to make my players better and to give them the tools they need to reach their potential. I believe that I am continuing to do that, although more indirectly now. This is an educational experience for all of us–including Belmont University.”

In conclusion Howe adds, “I respectfully ask members of the media to turn their attention away from me and toward the broader issues at stake that affect so many people in the Belmont community–such as what it means to be a diverse Christian community and how we can support and respect each other despite our differences. I refer you to my attorney, Abby Rubenfeld, from here in Nashville who is a pioneer in this field, and to the organizations who share my belief that understanding is a Christian value and a most worthwhile and needed goal.”

Howe About Equality – Belmont University Students, Faculty and Alums Protest Lesbian Coach’s “Resignation”

Students at Belmont University are protesting the so-called “resignation” of women’s soccer coach, Lisa Howe, who is a lesbian (See my previous blog post for more information).

Affirming my faith in a younger generation of Christians, students, faculty and community members who staged a protest yesterday at Belmont and another is planned for Wednesday. In addition, a letter writing campaign is underway led by the unofficial LGBT group on campus (they were denied official recognition by the administration) and new Facebook groups in support of Coach Howe are popping up, one is called “Howe about Equality.” The faculty at Belmont is preparing a resolution protesting Howe’s dismissal to be presented to the college president.

If you want to support these protests, check my previous blog post for contact information for the Belmont President and Athletic Director.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Belmont University’s Christian Hypocrisy: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Get Pregnant

Women’s soccer coach, Lisa Howe, either resigned on her own or was pressured to resign depending on who you believe in this sordid story. She was a lesbian coach at a self-described “progressive Christian” school. Last year her team won the Atlantic Sun conference title and her overall win/loss record for her six seasons at Belmont was 52-48-16.

Apparently Belmont University is ok with lesbian coaches as long as they abide by a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. However, when Lisa’s partner got pregnant and rumors started circulating on the soccer team, Lisa decided she wanted to tell them directly about the happy coming event in her life. She wanted to be honest, in other words. She asked the athletic administrator more than once for “permission” to tell the team that her partner was pregnant, but he never responded to her. So, when it became apparent that women on the team were beginning to find out, Lisa told them without the “permission” of the athletic director.

According to accounts by players on her team, Lisa was pressured to resign because as soon as the baby was born, the AD told the team she would be fired anyway since beng a lesbian mother violated the school’s hypocritical policy asking lesbian and gay staff members to lie and hide in order to keep their jobs.

Belmont is a private Christian school and there are no laws in Tennessee protecting the employment rights of LGBT people so it might be that there is no legal recourse for what Belmont has done. Plus the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), the federal law that could provide this kind of legal protection for LGBT people in every state, is stalled in the political wars in the U.S. Congress.

What Belmont is doing might be legal, but it sure is not moral. From all accounts, Lisa Howe has been an exemplary coach. She even abided by the don’t ask, don’t tell policy imposed on LGBT employees at Belmont, at least until becoming a mother prompted her to tell her team out a desire to be honest and open. She even asked permission first, but faced with administrative silence, she did want she thought was best for her relationship with her team.

Among the many disgusting aspects of this story is the complete hypocrisy of Belmont University and its administrators. I have no doubt that Belmont administrators knew Lisa Howe is a lesbian. It was apparently fine to have a lesbian coach as long as she lied about and hid her sexual orientation. They obviously weren’t concerned about Lisa’s character or moral fiber. They were comfortable with her in a leadership position with the young women on her team for six years…as long as she was dishonest. How Christian of Belmont University. It’s enough to make me wonder if “Thou Shalt Be A Hypocrite” is a new the 11th commandment or something?
This would be a great time for Christians who believe that this kind of hypocrisy is wrong to stand up publicly and reclaim some of the moral high ground that the folks at Belmont University apparently are not familiar with.

In the meantime, the women’s soccer team just wants their coach back. They don’t understand what the big deal is here. They knew she was a lesbian and apparently were finding out she was about to become a mother too and it doesn’t seem to have been a problem for them. Maybe this is the silver lining, if there is one in this story: Younger generations of Christians are beginning to broaden their acceptance of different sexual orientations and gender identities or at least learning to live more authentically with the “diversity” that is only a buzzword for the leaders of Belmont University.

Save us from this brand of Christianity.

You can contact President Fisher at and 615-460-6793. The Athletic Director, Mike Strickland can be reached at or 615-460-5547 if you feel compelled to express your thoughts on their hypocrisy.

Here and here are two follow up articles about this.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

An Open Letter to the LPGA

Dear LPGA:

Thank you for voting last night to change your by-laws by deleting the requirement that members must be “female at birth.” I know this change was prompted by a lawsuit, but nonetheless, I applaud your decision to join other sports organizations that have eliminated policies that bar transgender athletes from participating in their self-identified gender. I know you have not made any decision yet about what specific policy will be put into place and I would like to encourage you to give this some careful thought. Many other professional sport organizations have adopted the International Olympic Committee policy known as the Stockholm Consensus. These organizations include the United States Golf Association, USA Track & Field, USA Rugby, the Australian Women’s Golf Association, the Ladies European Tour and the British Ladies Golf Union to name some.

The Stockholm Consensus, enacted in 2004, is a pioneering attempt to set criteria under which transgender athletes may participate in their identified gender. However, it is also, in the opinion of some transgender advocates, medical doctors who specialize in transgender issues as well as other LGBT advocates like me, a flawed policy. I hope you will seek some guidance from some of these experts as you determine how to craft your policy instead of adopting a well-meaning but flawed policy that needs to be revised.

The IOC policy requires that “surgical anatomical changes have been completed, including external genitalia changes.” This surgery has nothing to do with athletic performance. Moreover, many transgender people choose not to have surgery at all or only some surgery. Genital surgery for M2F and F2M is markedly different in that the F2M surgery is not nearly as advanced or satisfactory. Not to mention that surgery of this kind is expensive and not many athletes will be able to afford it.

The IOC policy requires that “legal recognition of their assigned sex has been conferred by the appropriate official authorities.” In the United States, the process for obtaining “legal recognition” is different in each state. Imagine what this would look like world-wide. Gaining legal recognition is impossible in some countries and extremely difficult in some states in the USA.

The IOC policy requires that “hormonal therapy appropriate for the assigned sex has been administered in a verifiable manner and for sufficient length of time to minimize gender-related advantages in sport competitions.” This wait time is defined as “eligibility should begin no sooner than two years after gonadectomy.” Again the surgery requirement. Plus, the focus on M2F transitions.

In addition, the medical experts that we consulted in writing our report, "On The Team: Equal Opportunities for Transgender Student-Athletes” recommend a one year wait period saying that research shows that this is sufficient time for a trans athlete’s hormone levels to be in the range for their transitioned gender. I have even been part of a meeting where one of the people who developed the IOC policy acknowledged that the two year waiting period requirement was a conservative“best guess” not based on any research.

So, this is my plea for you to be thoughtful in determining what policy will replace your “female at birth” requirement. Please do not just adopt the IOC policy. It would be the easy thing to do, but not necessarily the right thing to do.

Dear LPGA, I have one more plea: Please provide your leadership and your membership with some good education about transgender identity and the issues related to transgender athletes. Also, provide some guidelines and information for the golf media. We do not want to see LPGA players making ignorant comments in the press about the unfairness of having to compete against “men pretending to be women” or referring to transgender women as “he.” Understanding transgender identity is new for many of us, but we can all learn if we have the opportunity to get some accurate information and informed guidance.

In closing, I want to say again, good for you for changing your by-laws. Now, take the next step: Institute a policy that is based on the latest research and medical information, not one that is already out of date and inherently discriminatory. Most of all, be your best selves. Welcome your new transgender members into your sisterhood and may the best golfer win.

Thanks for Listening,


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Changing the Game: The GLSEN Sports Project

When my position as director of It Takes a Team with the Women’s Sports Foundation was eliminated last February, I knew I still had a lot of energy and passion for working on LGBT issues in sport. It was just a matter of finding the best venue for continuing the work. Well, I found it.

Since the middle of September I’ve been working with the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN) to create and lead a sports project which we are calling “Changing the Game.” I’ve always had enormous respect for GLSEN and the work they do as an education and advocacy organization committed to making K-12 schools safe and respectful places for students of all sexual orientations and gender identity/expressions. Now I am honored to be working with them to develop a sports project that focuses on K-12 athletics and physical education.

So far, we have identified a terrific national advisory group for the project and we are having our first meeting this Friday. We plan to have a Sports project web page on the GLSEN site that we will unveil in January. So, I am happy as a clam doing what I love to do – developing resources for schools, athletic administrators, coaches, parents and students – and working with the fabulous GLSEN staff to implement our plans. I’ll be doing some speaking to various sports, education and advocacy organizations as well. I’ve got some fun ideas for new resources and, thanks to the generosity of the Women’s Sports Foundation, I will be taking some of the resources I developed for ITAT and adapting them for K-12 settings.

I’m happy to be back in the game…and working to change it.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

LPGA Set to Allow Transgender Women to Play

On October 13, I posted a story about Lana Lawson who is a transgender woman suing the LPGA for the right to play in LPGA sponsored events. Currently LPGA competitions are restricted to golfers who are “female at birth” effectively excluding transgender women. The LPGA added this to their by-laws in the 1970s following transgender tennis player Renee Richards’ successful legal challenge of similar discriminatory policies on the women’s professional tennis tour.

According to an article written by Randall Mell of the Golf Channel, the LPGA is preparing to change their policy to enable transgender women to become members. In a players’ meeting on November 30, LPGA players will be encouraged to vote for a constitutional amendment eliminating the “female at birth” requirement. The change requires a two-thirds majority, but players have been advised by legal counsel that the “female at birth” provision will not stand legal scrutiny. The vote is in direct response to Lana Lawson’s lawsuit.

The LPGA has been out of step with several other golf organizations that have amended their policies to include transgender golfers who meet the requirements identified by the International Olympic Committee in 2004. The U.S. Golf Association, the Ladies European Tour and the British Ladies Golf Union all have allowed transgender golfers to play for 4 or 5 years.

I hope that the LPGA membership will have an opportunity to get some information about the participation of transgender golfers before and after they vote. If they believe they are being forced into a change in policy that they do not want, I fear we will be hearing similar ignorant comments from them that we heard from Caster Semenya’s competition after her eligibility was reinstated.

If the LPGA membership believes that this policy change threatens the “level playing field” by enabling a “man” to compete against them, it will result in prejudice and resentment for everyone. It is really important that the LPGA provides its membership with some good information about transgender identity and the latest information about the effects of gender transitions on physiology to help them make their own transition from an organization that discriminates based on preconceived prejudice to one that will accept transgender women competitors with grace and respect.

We’ll see what happens with the November 30 vote and how the LPGA moves forward into a new era.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Godliness of Pink and Blue

Randi Foster is a 12 year old middle school student in Mississippi. After a meeting of the Fellowship of Christian Students in the school, several of her Christian classmates attacked her. They verbally abused her, kicked her, hit her and threw her into a table in the cafeteria. What, you may ask, provoked this attack? Apparently, these good Christian children think Randi is a man’s name and that enjoying sports, as Randi does, is something that only men do. You can read this story here.

Based on these incredibly narrow gender beliefs, the children felt entitled to teach Randi a lesson by verbally and physically attacking her. They must have been absent from Sunday school for the discussion about assault, bullying and harassment being not so consistent with Christian values. They were there for the discussion about the Godliness of pink and blue, I guess.

The entire assault was caught on school surveillance videos and the school principal has vowed to deal with the good Christian thugs who attacked Randi. Unfortunately, it seems no one from school has made an effort to help Randi get over her fear of returning to school. You have to also wonder where the advisor for the Fellowship of Christian Students is. Shouldn’t this adult be speaking out against violence and bullying? Did the advisor somehow give the children the impression that assault and battery is just desserts for girls named Randi or boys named Sue? Are they going to discuss this at the next meeting? Don't any of the Christian girls play sports at this school?

Children don’t just spontaneously hate gender non-conformity. They don’t just spontaneously feel entitled to beat up a classmate just because they think her name is a boy’s name and because she likes sports. They learned this from adults. It makes you wonder about the adults in this school and in the Church these children attend.

Coming on the heels of so many highly publicized suicides of school-aged young gay men who endured similar abuse and bullying from classmates, this incident is one more reminder that Christian groups who fight tooth and nail to prevent anti-bullying education in schools because they think it “legitimizes” the “gay agenda” need to take a good long look in the mirror and ask themselves, “What would Jesus do?” I don’t think he would be happy with what his followers did at this middle school in Mississippi.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Challenge to Heterosexual Women Coaches and Athletes: Speak Up and Out

On October 26 I wrote about a feature in the Portland Monthly on Portland State head women’s basketball coach, Sherri Murrell. Sherri is the only publicly out lesbian Division 1 basketball coach. As hard to belief as that is, it is true. Happily, Sherri’s experience at PSU with administration, colleagues, athletes and their parents has been totally positive.

In a couple of email exchanges, Sherri told me that you can ditto that for the reactions to the Portland Monthly article: Totally positive. She has been receiving lots of emails and phone calls from coaching colleagues around the country about the feature and, yep, totally positive.

At least one closeted lesbian coach told Sherri she was inspired by the PM feature to come out to her parents and to her athletic director. This is part of what Sherri had hoped for: that other coaches who have been living a double life, keeping secrets, even lying about themselves might be inspired to follow Sherri’s example and be more open too. Totally positive.

Sherri’s openness and her willingness to use her visibility to challenge homophobia in women’s basketball ARE inspiring and it makes a difference. The support she receives at PSU and the success her team is having challenge long held assumptions that lesbian coaches cannot be open without suffering serious professional consequences. It is true that not every out lesbian coach would receive the kind of support Sherri has and it is important to respect the more cautious decisions these coaches make about how much to share about their personal lives. However, I think there are lots of coaches who want to and can be more open and I hope Sherri’s experience helps them to take that step.

I know it must be terrific for Sherri to get such a positive response from so many of her coaching colleagues and good for them for taking the time to let Sherri know how they feel. However, I have a message for these coaches: Your private support for Sherri is great. Thank you. And your show of support would be much more effective if you would speak out publicly.

One of the problems that we face in women’s sports is that if heterosexual coaches who believe homophobia and discrimination against lesbian coaches and athletes are wrong remain silent in public, it leaves too many other coaches, athletes and parents with the impression that homophobia and discrimination against lesbians in sport is fine and dandy. We need more coaches who privately express their support for lesbian coaches and athletes to speak up in publicly and do it more often.

I’ve been noticing lately how many heterosexual men in sport – coaches, athletes, pro team GMs have been speaking out to support LGBT athletes, school anti-gay bullying programs and broader LGBT issues like marriage rights. NFL players Brendan Ayanbadejo, Scott Fujita, Antonio Cromartie, Drew Brees; NBA players, Manu Ginobli and Steve Nash; MLS player, Mike Chabala; Ohio State Football coach, Jim Tressell, NCAA Wrestling Champ, Hudson Taylor; Toronto Maple Leafs GM, Brian Burke; former NLF commissioner, Paul Tagliabue; and others I have missed have all spoken out publicly.

When I try to name one heterosexual coach of a woman’s team or college or professional athlete who has spoken out in similar ways, I am stumped. The silence is deafening. What does this mean? Is it part of the broader media attention given to men’s sport? Is it that women in sport are more concerned about being perceived as gay or jeopardizing their sport by association with lesbians or being lesbian-positive? Are women in sport more apolitical than men in sport (except for fighting breast cancer, of course)? All I know is that I’d like to see a lot more heterosexual women’s coaches and athletes speaking up publicly against anti-gay bullying in and out of sport and in support of lesbian coaches and athletes right to fair and respectful treatment in sport.

Private support is great. Public support is much more powerful. Some heterosexual men in sport are beginning to get this message. Where are the heterosexual women? I’d love someone to challenge me on this perception. Where are the heterosexual women in sport speaking out about anti-gay bullying and discrimination?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Including Transgender Athletes on School Teams: A Story We Will Hear More Often has just posted a story about a player on the George Washington University women’s basketball team who identifies as a man. The story is Kye Allums’ public coming out as a transgender man. The team and coach have known of and accepted Kye’s transition for awhile. It’s a great story of a school, coach and team making room for a transgender athlete and trying to do it in a way that is respectful to everyone involved.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

LGBT Student Athletes Taking On Homophobia in College Athletics

I am really excited by several recent news reports about LGBT and ally student athlete led groups on college campuses. Groups at Eastern Michigan, Yale and UPenn have all been featured in recent stories. Other schools that have organized similar groups include Vassar, Purdue and the University of Michigan. There could be more. Those are the ones I know about.

In addition to providing support and visibility for LGBT athletes on campus, these groups are doing trainings for athletes and helping to organizing training for coaches and athletic administrators on their campuses. These campus-based groups join Our Group, a national group of LGBTA student athletes who have similar goals.
I cannot stress enough how important these groups are in making college athletics programs more welcoming and respectful for LGBT athletes. I developed a resource for student athletes who wanted to start a group like this on their campuses which is available here.

If you are a student athlete at a school without one of these groups, I encourage you to contact some of the schools who have organized one and also contact Our Group to see how you can start a group at your school. I think I see a trend here and I really like it.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sherri Murrell: A Game Changer, Indeed!

Here is a wonderful profile of Sherri Murrell, the women’s basketball coach at Portland State University. Sherri is not only a winning coach whose team made into the NCAA tournament last year, she is also the only publicly out lesbian NCAA Division 1 women’s basketball coach.

Read the article. Learn about what it takes to be a game changer. The great thing about Sherri’s experience is that her sexual orientation is pretty much a non-issue at PSU. What makes it a big deal is that she is out and it isn’t a big deal. Does that make sense? That’s the way it should be. Sherri is a good coach and that is what her team, their parents and the PSU administration care about. Come to think of it, they are game changers too.

It is so fun to write about some good news and this story is definitely good news.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Love and Basketball: Not Always a Happy Ending

On September 15, a couple sat in their car outside a Popeye’s restaurant in Milwaukee. They may have been arguing over one partner having received a phone call that made the other partner angry and probably jealous. Family members said the couple, who had been together for 14 years, had been having troubles. One of the two had a gun in the car. During the argument, the gun was pulled, pointed and fired. The jealous partner shot and killed her lover.

Sadly, this is not a rare story. Violence between lovers, married couples and dating partners is far too commonplace and always tragic. In this particular case, however, the unexpected twist is that the partners were women. Both were former basketball players who starred on their college teams. One, Rosalind Ross, played in an NCAA Championship title game for the University of Oklahoma and was drafted by the WNBA. Her long-time companion, Malika Willoughby, has been charged with first degree murder. Both women are African American. Rosalind was 30. Malika is 27. They have known each other since they were teenagers. Rosalind and Malika’s families knew about their relationship and the families were friends. Everyone is devastated by what apparently happened in the car that night.

In many ways violence in lesbian and gay relationships is no different than violence in heterosexual relationships. Sexual orientation has nothing to do with how well we deal with relationship conflict, infidelity, or just growing apart. Our ability to cope with the anger, jealousy, anguish and depression that often go with a break up has nothing to do with whether we are gay or straight. Though we hear more about violence in heterosexual relationships, relationship violence of any kind, whether the relationship is straight or gay, is a problem.

On the other hand, many gay relationships must be negotiated without the institutional and personal support that are taken for granted by heterosexual couples. Coping with the relationship issues that are inherent in being in one are often exacerbated by isolation fear, and discrimination that many LGBT people face every day in a culture that tells them they are sick, sinful, immoral or crazy.

I don’t know anymore about the specific circumstances of the relationship between Rosalind and Malika than what I read in the media accounts of Rosalind’s death, but it is reflective of the ambivalence and uncertainty with which same-sex relationships are viewed by the media that it took awhile to understand the intimate nature of their relationship. At first, Associated Press articles said Rosalind and her suspected killer “knew each other.” They were described as “roommates” in another story. Later articles said the killing was related to a “domestic dispute.” Rosalind’s mother cleared things up in a later article by saying Malika and Rosalind were “partners.” Later still, articles revealed that they had been partners for 14 years; a long-term relationship by most standards whether heterosexual or gay.

I don’t know if Rosalind and Malika’s relationship faced additional challenges because they were two young Black women who loved each other. I wouldn’t be surprised. Many conservative Black churches condemn homosexuality and so cut many LGBT people of color off from this source of community and support. I know that many LGBT people of color hide their sexual orientation to avoid isolating themselves from family, friends and churches. I do know that this is yet another tragedy in a month already tainted by so many suicides by young gay men who lost hope.

I try to keep track of LGBT sports news and I almost missed this one. My heart goes out to the families of both Rosalind and Malika.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Does Supporting your Team Require Demeaning Gays?

Last week I wrote about Yankee fans singing homophobic lyrics to the Village People’s YMCA. In the past I’ve written about homophobic fan chants, anti- gay slurs directed at opposing players, anti-gay signs held up by fans, you name, some groups of sports fans from the high school level to the pros seem to think it is amusing, insulting and completely acceptable to express support for their teams with organized group ridicule of gay people.

It has happened often enough to say that it is part of the culture of being a fan. Not to say all or even most fans participate, but somehow it has become acceptable for some segment of fans, usually called things like the “bleacher creatures” to be a little over the top as they root for their team. Often coaches or school administrators compliment this group for getting the home team fans into the game and exploiting the home team advantage.

It is usually a boys’ or men’s team sport event. It is usually mostly boys or men shouting anti-gay epithets at opposing players or fans. The use of anti-gay or anti-woman “cheers,” songs and slurs at sporting events, I suppose, are attempts to insult the “manhood,” the toughness, the mettle of opposing players and fans. These insults, unfortunately, often do get a rise out of other men and boys. Such is the fragile nature of men’s sense of comfort with their masculinity and heterosexuality, I guess.

Here is another example of this at a high school football game outside Cleveland, Ohio. The fans are chanting “Powder Blue Faggots” at the opposing team whose uniforms are light blue. You can hear the chants here. The band is even adding a little musical accent to the chant. Apparently this happened throughout the game and has been going on for years. The other team’s fans also have their own anti-gay chant that they chant back in response.

The TV report included in the link makes a point that there is a huge sign outside the stadium listing expectations for good fan behavior, but like so many of these signs or announcements at the beginning of a game, no one pays much attention. School administrators at this game claimed that they intervened. Did they intervene at all the other games over the years when the chant was used? If so, it seems clear that something else needs to happen to make it stop.

In a month when we have heard more than enough tragic stories of young gay men killing themselves, many because they have been bullied and brutalized by peers shouting anti-gay slurs, isn’t it time that school administrators, parents, coaches and classmates start to make some connections between these homophobic expressions of “school spirit” and the deaths of young people who attend these schools and may be sitting in the stands at these games? What do they learn about themselves when anti-gay chants, songs, shouting of slurs is commonplace at school sporting events? When young people are already in a fragile and isolated place, who knows what could be the final cold breeze that extinguishes their will to resist the hostility another day?
It is not just “boys being boys” (I hate that rationalization) or being “overly sensitive” or “politically correct” to expect school officials to step up and insist that this kind of abuse stop. It is their responsibility and that of every other adult attending the game to step up. I wonder if anyone would have taken this incident seriously had it not been for a young woman with a sense of outrage and a phone camera who filmed the fans chanting and posted her video on YouTube?
Does your school have a code of conduct for behavior at school sporting events? Is it taken seriously? Is it safe for young LGBT people or anyone else, for that matter, to attend sporting events at your school without being subjected to mean-spirited and dangerous expressions of “school spirit” that suck the joy and fun out of being a sports fan?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Yankees Promise to Stop Fan Anti-Gay Singing

Yankees management promised GLAAD that they will not tolerate anti-gay chants or singing and fans who are identified engaging in these activities at Yankee games will be ejected.

Well, that was fast action after several bloggers called attention to this ugly tradition. Thank you, GLAAD and thank you, Yankees, for taking such swift action. I might even root for the Yankees for one game in the post season as a thank you…but that’s all. For a Red Sox fan, that’s the best I can do.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Male or Female? Where Do We Draw the Line in Sport?

Here is an excellent ESPN Outside the Lines feature on intersex athletes. Alice Dreger’s comments, in particular, are thought-provoking and a must read for anyone in athletics grappling with policy development related to the participation of athletes who are intersex.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Young Male Yankee Fans and Homophobia

I haven’t made a Horse’s Patoot Salute for awhile so here is my latest nominee –Homophobic Yankee Fans. Here’s why –

The Village People’s song, YMCA, has become a traditional crowd diversion at many sports events. At some point during the game, everyone stands up and sings along with the Village People over the loud speakers. We all know the arm motions, right? Y-M-C-A! It’s fun and, of course, a little ironic to be singing a song parody by gay men parodying gay male icons at the most masculine of manly events: a professional men’s sports event.

I introduce this section by confessing that I am a Boston Red Sox fan and it follows that the Yankees are not my favorite team. However, it seems that, for a number of years, some male Yankee fans have taken the fun out of singing YMCA and turned it into an ugly display of homophobia.

When YMCA is played, large groups of male Yankee fans scan the seats for men wearing caps or tee shirts from the other team or anyone in Red Sox garb. They all point at their target and sing YMCA at that person or persons. The problem is that they have changed the words to the song. I’ll give you a little sample, their version starts out, “Why are you gay? I saw you sucking D-I-C-K.” It degenerates from there to "clever" new lyrics about disease and sin. All sung with drunken, adolescent leers and plastic beer cup schloshing.

Given the recent outrageous number of young gay men killing themselves after being bullied by classmates, the gang sodomizing of three gay men with sticks by upwards of 10 young men in NYC this past weekend and gubernatorial candidate, Carl Paladino’s public anti-gay comments, the insensitivity of the Yankee YMCA perversion is especially outrageous. No one ever said the combination of testosterone, alcohol and a male professional sports event was a recipe for respectful behavior, but this is really disgusting.

Sean Chapin who I have never met, but is one of my Facebook friends, has made a powerful video in response to the Yankee fans homophobic display.

What do you think is the responsibility of the professional teams and their stadium security staff here? Especially when this news follows the report last week of a lesbian couple asked to leave a Baltimore Ravens game because they kissed each other while waiting in line for an order of French fries.

Definitely a two steps back few weeks.

Transgender Woman Suing LPGA for Right to Play

Lana Lawless is a 57 year old transgender woman who is suing the LPGA for the right to play in LPGA sanctioned events. The LPGA policy states that a competitor must be “female at birth” to be eligible to play in LPGA events. They adopted this policy in the late 1970’s after Renee Richards successfully sued the USTA for the right to play in women’s professional tennis events. In 2008, Lawless won the women’s division of an annual Long Drive competition with a 254 yard drive. The Long Drivers of America, who sponsor this competition has since changed their eligibility rule to match the LPGA’s “female at birth” requirement. Lana is suing them too.

The United States Golf Association, the Ladies Golf Union in Britain and the Ladies European Golf Tour have all adopted the International Olympic Committee policy which enables transgender women athletes to compete in women’s competitions if they meet several criteria, including competition of sex reassignment surgery, two years of hormone therapy and changing the sex designated on official identity documents. Mianne Bagger, another woman who has undergone gender transition, has been playing in Europe and Australia for several years without incident.

The LPGA has, despite some pressure to address the participation of transgender golfers, failed to change their policy, which specifically prohibits transgender women from competing in LPGA events. It was only a matter of time before this day came. The LPGA’s failure to address this issue proactively now means they will do it in the glare of media and in reaction to a lawsuit. Not the best way to consider policy change.

In an unexpected twist, Renee Richard, in an interview in the New York Times article, is ambivalent about whether or not she supports Lawless’ goal of playing in LPGA events. Richards believes that “physically strong” transgender women have an advantage over other women competitors and seems to think that decisions about whether or not transgender women should play should be made on a case by case basis. This reservation mirrors the IOC and IAAF policies on the participation of intersex women that were in effect when Caster Semenya’s eligibility to compete as a woman was challenged in the 2009 World Championships and then affirmed this fall. We have seen what a mess the “case by case” policy can be.

Having just spent the better part of a year working on a report that includes policy recommendations to colleges and high schools about the participation of transgender athletes, I have read a lot about and talked to several physicians about the question of whether or not transgender women athletes have an unfair physical advantage in women’s competition. We based our recommendations on the best information available at this time. We can only hope that this, and any other lawsuits like it, will also be decided on the basis of science and medical research and not on prejudice and fear. Time will tell.

Monday, October 11, 2010

National Coming Out Day 2: Lauren Lappin, Out Lesbian USA Softball Player

Here is a good ESPN National Coming Out Day story on Out lesbian USA softball player, Lauren Lappin.

Happy National Coming Out Day!

Today is National Coming Out Day. An event celebrated by LGBT people and our friends and allies since 1988. NCOD was started after the second march on Washington for LGBT rights in 1987. The purpose of NCOD is for people of all sexual orientations to “take their next step” to empower themselves and make the world a safer, more inclusive and just place for all, with a particular focus on LGBT folks. This year NCOD takes on added significant in light of the recent rash of bully-assisted suicides of young gay men, the brutal violent attacks on three gay men in NYC, and the shameless and inexcusable harassment of a gay student government association president at the University of Michigan by an assistant district attorney in that state. These are only the events that have received national attention. Events like these occur in communities every day without the spotlight of the news media to call them to our attention.

These events are important reminders, especially for those of us who live in relative safety in states where our civil rights are protected, that we still have a long way to go. None of us can truly afford to feel safe as long as the events of the last few weeks are happening to young people all across the country. If we broaden our perspective to account for the international status of LGBT people, we recognize that for LGBT people in some countries, living openly risks a death sentence sanctioned by the state in addition to being targeted by violence from community members or families.

NCOD is a reminder that coming out is a multi-faceted process , not a single event. Coming out involves many stages and not everyone is in a position to come out publicly. Coming out means many things: We come out to ourselves, our trusted friends, our families, our co-workers and classmates. Some of us leap out of the closet with bold public announcements while others inch the closet door open step by carefully considered step. Both are important and life-changing.

Coming out takes on added risk when we factor in money. Can I afford to lose my job? Can I risk being kicked out of my home and losing my parents financial support? Will I be ostracized and bullied at school? Coming out for LGBT people of color is often complicated by racism and the added burden of dealing with homophobia and racism. Parents with children must consider custody issues and how best to protect their children in a world where LGBT parents’ rights are not universally protected. Real threats of violence, discrimination and isolation keep the closet door closed for many LGBT folks, both young and old.

Research does tell us that straight people who know openly LGBT people (family members, friends, colleagues, classmates, teammates, neighbors) are more likely to be allies who support LGBT rights. We also know that coming out enables LGBT people to live our truth, to be authentic in our relationships with the people we care about and interact with every day. Most LGBT people I know do not regret the decision to be more open about who they are. A few friends, even family members, are sometimes lost, discrimination might be an issue, but even in these situations, feeling the integrity and honesty of owning our truth is worth the rough patches that we sometimes must get through after coming out. I’ve never met an LGBT person who said he or she would rather be back in the closet after coming out.

NCOD is not just for LGBT people. Perhaps even more importantly it is a day for heterosexual allies to be more public about their support for LGBT people in their lives and for LGBT rights more broadly. NCOD is a time for heterosexual allies to ponder the importance of speaking out publicly – in your family, in your workplace, at your school, on your team, in your place of worship- about your support for LGBT people and our rights. For the LGBT people for whom coming out is too much of risk right now or for those who are still struggling with who they are, the visibility and public support of heterosexual allies is essential.

I don’t want to sound too dramatic here, and the recent spade of suicides, violence and harassment certainly help to drive this point home, but the decision to be a more vocal heterosexual ally is a life-saving decision. Private support of LGBT family members, friends and colleagues is fine and appreciated, but when heterosexual allies choose to stand up and speak out publicly, in their schools, families, workplaces, places of worship, communities, we can begin to change the world. No movement for social justice has ever achieved success only through the efforts of the people who are targeted by the injustice. NCOD is a day for LGBT people to take our next steps, but it is equally a day for our heterosexual allies to take theirs. We are all in this together and we all must take the opportunities we have to stand up and speak out. What are you planning to do today?

What are you planning to do tomorrow to make this world a safer, more loving, more life-affirming place for everyone, including LGBT people?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Transgender Student-Athlete Think Tank Report Released

I am really proud to announce the public release of the report from the October, 2009 Transgender Student-Athlete Think Tank that the Women’s Sports Foundation and the National Center for Lesbian Rights co-sponsored. Helen Carroll, the director of the NCLR Sports Project and I wrote the report with the support of many other folks with far greater expertise on this topic than we have. You can access the report here. The report will also be available here.

Helen and I have worked on this report for past nine months and the birthing process has been challenging, educational and inspiring. It also represents my final task as director of It Takes A Team. I’m very proud of what we have to offer the intercollegiate and interscholastic athletic world in this ground-breaking report.

The report focuses on high school and collegiate athletics and includes specific policy recommendations for including transgender student-athletes on high school and college teams. The guiding principles of the think tank and report emphasize the importance of viewing transgender student-athletes’ opportunities to participate on school sports teams as an issue of social justice demanding that schools adopt inclusive participation policies that are fair for all. We based our recommendations on the most current medical and legal information available and on our understanding of the particular competitive contexts of high school and collegiate athletics.

The report, entitled, On the Team: Equal Opportunities for Transgender Student-Athletes, builds on the excellent Canadian report on transitioning and transitioned athletes released in early 2009. The Canadian report provides a comprehensive foundation for understanding the issues and challenges related to the inclusion of transitioning and transitioned athletes on sports teams, but does not offer specific policy recommendations. Our think tank report does provide overall policy recommendations in addition to best practice recommendations for athletic directors, coaches, student-athletes and parents, an overview of the legal status of transgender people in the United States, an overview of medical issues related to transgender participation in sports and a list of resources on transgender issues.

The release of the report comes none too soon as over the last year I’ve been alarmed that some state interscholastic athletic associations (Connecticut, Rhode Island, Colorado, for example) have adopted the 2004 International Olympic Committee policy. The IOC policy, though pioneering, has several flaws which make its adoption by other sport governing organizations problematic: The mandatory two year waiting period after beginning hormone treatment has been challenged by recent research, the requirement that a transgender athlete undergo genital reconstructive surgery is not a choice for many transgender people or even possible for low income families, and the requirement that the athlete’s official identity documents be changed places an impossible burden on many athletes because of the wide disparity in state laws enabling alterations of official identity documents.

In addition, our perspective is that school-based sports, as an integral part of education, requires an emphasis on assuring equitable participation opportunities for all students and that competitive goals in athletics must be viewed through the lens of educational goals that reflect broader educational institutional values such as fairness, inclusion and non-discrimination.

I want to thank all think tank participants and consultants who provided invaluable input into the writing of this report. Your knowledge and expertise as well as your passionate commitment to equality in sport for all student-athletes are inspiring. In particular, I want to thank the transgender and genderqueer student-athletes who participated in the think tank for sharing your experiences and providing such important insights so that the rest of us could better understand the value of sports in your lives and the pain of having it denied unfairly. Because of your openness and commitment, future generations of transgender student-athletes, with their parents support, will have opportunities to play the sports they love in an athletic climate where they are respected and understood by coaches, teammates and opponents.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

When Homophobia Kills

This has been a tragic week of news:

Four young boys killed themselves after enduring anti-gay bullying from school classmates. Seth Walsh, 13; Asher Brown, 13, Justin Aaberg, 15; Billy Lucas, 15 could not face another day of relentless cruelty at the hands of their peers.

Tyler Clementi, an 18 year old college freshman at Rutgers University jumped off the GW bridge after his roommate of three weeks and a friend placed hidden cameras in Tyler’s dorm room and broadcast on the internet a video of Tyler kissing a man.

Tyler Wilson, an 11 year old, who, because he chose to be a cheerleader for a community sports league, had his arm broken by bullies from the football team who assaulted him because they didn’t approve of a boy cheerleader. After the incident received media attention, bullies have threatened to break Tyler’s other arm because he “told on them.”

Chris Armstrong, a gay man, was elected president of the student body at the University of Michigan is being harassed and defamed at his home and on the internet by a Michigan assistant District Attorney and Michigan alum who claims to be a “concerned Christian.”

I am speechless with despair over the senselessness of these news stories.

The Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network 2009 School Climate Survey reports that almost 9 out of 10 LGBT students experience some kind of harassment at school because of their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. This tells me that what these students experienced is not out of the ordinary.

Dan Savage has put up a web site on youtube called the It Gets Better Project where young and older adult LGBT people have posted videos talking to LGBT youth telling them that life does get better. I hope that these videos do provide some hope for young people who are experiencing harassment in schools or who are experiencing such despair and loneliness that they are contemplating taking their own lives. It is a good emergency intervention.

But why do young people have to wait for it to get better? Every young person should be able to go to school and feel safe and be treated with respect by teachers, coaches and classmates. It seems to me that this is a basic human right all children and young people should have. It is a national shame that we are not demanding that schools and communities take the steps necessary to make this happen. It appears that we have, in fact, left lots of children behind.

If you are a teacher, a coach, a parent, a teammate, a classmate – what are you doing to make the schools in your community safe and respectful places? I want you to consider that, if you are doing nothing, you are complicit in the deaths of some young people and the psychological terrorizing of others that will affect them the rest of their lives. This is a problem that requires all of us to pay attention and act. Go to the GLSEN web site if you are not sure what you can do. We are all part of this.

Friday, September 24, 2010

IUPUI Fires Women’s Basketball Coach

In a follow up to my July 29 blog on this, IUPUI has fired women’s basketball coach, Shann Hart “without cause.” This means that they do not plan to make public the reasons for the coach’s dismissal. Hart will also receive the balance of her contract through 2013 - $300,000. The allegations against Hart, all of which she denies, included a range of outrageous behavior including snooping into the personal sex lives of her athletes to identify lesbians on her team. The climate of fear resulting from the coach’s behavior was the cause for 29 players and assistant coaches leaving the program over the last four years. After the players’ allegations were made public in July, former players at American University where Hart previously coached also came forward with similar allegations of abuse. Hart has not commented publicly on her dismissal yet.

An important object lesson is lost because IUPUI is not making the results of their investigation and the cause for Hart’s dismissal public and because Hart will still get her salary, which is quite a lot of money. Outrageous behavior by coaches, both men and women, has been tolerated in college and high school athletics for far too long. Psychological and physical abuse of athletes by coaches who lead with fear and intimidation is not acceptable in any context, especially one that is affiliated with an educational institution. We need schools to stand up and be specific about reasons for dismissal when questions of abusive and discriminatory behavior are involved rather than leave the reasons for a coach’s dismissal unknown. Firing a coach accused of abusive behavior “without cause” rather than making the reasons public sends an ambiguous message. What was she fired for then? Why aren’t they making the reasons for her dismissal public?

Open discrimination against women athletes because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation, which is part of the allegations against Hart, has also been tolerated or ignored by school leaders. I had hoped that after the very public lawsuit against Rene Portland at Penn State, that other coaches and administrators would have gotten the message that there are serious consequences to anti-gay discrimination in college athletics. Unfortunately, this situation is a reminder that there are still coaches who believe that fear, abusive treatment and discriminatory practices are acceptable coaching behaviors. I hope they are reading the newspapers today.

Here is a follow-up article on IUPUI's refusal to make public the reason for Hart's dismissal.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

NCAA Eliminates the Office of Diversity and Inclusion in Restructuring Move

USA Today reports that the NCAA has eliminated the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and the VP position directing that office held by Charlotte Westerhaus. This is one of 17 positions eliminated in the restructuring.

The Office of Diversity and Inclusion was created by the former ED of the NCAA, Miles Brand, who died of pancreatic cancer last year. This unit in the NCAA was responsible for providing education programs to NCAA member schools on race, gender and sexual orientation issues in athletics. Executive Vice President Bernard Franklin will become the NCAA's chief inclusion officer in the restructuring.

I was immediately concerned that these changes might signal that the NCAA was backing away from the commitment to diversity and inclusion described on their web page. However, after talking to some colleagues within the NCAA, I am hopeful that these and other structural changes might be a good thing. I am hopeful that the changes will enable the NCAA to broaden their focus on race and gender equity to include more programming on LGBT issues, disability issues and other aspects of diversity and inclusion.

I guess as we learn more about the changes going on at the NCAA we’ll know more. In the meantime, I am choosing to be optimistic about the restructuring as it affects the NCAA’s diversity and inclusion commitment.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Update on Former SMU Basketball Player’s Lawsuit Against Women’s Basketball Coach

I first blogged about this situation in September, 2008 and then again in October, 2009. Well, finally after two years a judge has ruled that the lawsuit can go to trial. A quick summary: Jennifer Colli, a player on the SMU women’s basketball team, alleged that her scholarship was revoked after she complained about coach Rhonda Rompola’s inappropriate interest in players’ sex lives. In particular Colli, backed by signed statements from four teammates, charged that Rompola was anti-gay and particularly hostile toward lesbians in relationships on her team. The irony here was that apparently it was fairly common knowledge on the team that Rompola had been in a relationship with one of her female assistant coaches (she subsequently married a male assistant coach for the men’s team, who now lives and coaches in North Carolina, makes you go hmmmmm). Anyway, an internal school investigation of Colli’s accusations found that they had no merit.

SMU asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit, but the judge has cleared the way for a trial finding problems with SMU’s internal investigation. Specifically, the athletic director never talked to the other players about Colli’s accusations and apparently the school did violate school and NCAA regulations in revoking Colli’s scholarship. Also, the four players who backed up Colli’s charges were suspended from the team. Instead of investigating the accusations, the SMU athletic department focused on investigating and discrediting Colli.

I noticed that in the most recent article about this situation all references to the lesbian content of Colli’s accusations have been deleted. Earlier news reports here indicated that Colli was a lesbian and that Rompola was specifically making anti-gay statements. The recent article only says that Rompola “constantly made sexually charged comments about the players' personal and intimate relationships” and asking them if they “had sex the night before.” I’m curious about why the specifically anti-lesbian nature of the accusations has been omitted. Of course, Rompola’s alleged comments would be completely offensive either way, but I’m just curious to see if future reports of this situation are “straightened up” as well.

Jennifer is currently pursuing a modeling career in California. You can google image her name and see some of her modeling. Maybe Jennifer has straightened up too. I'm just sayin'...

I’ll let you know as soon as I hear more about what happens next.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Review of Unmatched: Martina and Chris

Here is an excellent review of Unmatched, an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary about the friendship and tennis rivalry between Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert. I don’t know if ESPN will be airing this again, but it is worth checking your local listings if you missed it last week. It was a unique documentary in that it was as much about their relationship off the court as it was about their on-court rivalry. Of course, the two are intertwined so it is difficult to separate them. I loved that the documentary was actually a conversation between the two of them. It was two old friends taking a weekend in a beach house together to talk about old times (on camera, of course). They chatted over tea on comfortable couches, in the kitchen, while jogging together, walking on the beach. They hit a few tennis balls. They drove around in a cool Mercedes convertible. All the while sharing memories, sometimes their separate takes on the same event, sometimes observations on themselves and each other. These chats were interspersed with footage of their matches and still photos of each of them growing up.

They talked briefly about Martina’s coming out in 1981. Chris already knew and said she admired Martina’s honesty. Chris met her former husband, Andy Mill, through Martina. Andy and Chris even slept for the first time in Martina’s bed in Aspen. Chris shared that she and Martina had a double date once. I thought it was going to be a lesbian/straight date, but alas, it was Martina and Dino Martin with Chris and Desi Arnez. Martina shared that this was before she was sure what her sexuality was. It seems that Dino was quite attracted by Martina’s muscles, much to Chris’ chagrin since she was the one who though Dino was cute. Funny story.

It was also interesting to hear Chris talk about how hurt she was during the time that basketball player/analyst, Nancy Liebermann, was Martina’s coach (and lover). While Nancy did spur Martina to train on a level that took Martina’s game to a higher level, Nancy’s philosophy was that you needed to hate your opponent in order to beat them. Her insistence that Martina view Chris as an enemy broke up their doubles partnership. Her poisonous perspective threatened what would become a sports friendship for the ages. Let’s all be thankful that Chris and Martina’s friendship survived Nancy’s attempt to ruin it.

It was touching to hear them each say that the other is one of the first friends they contact when in crisis or when something important happens in their lives. Such an enduring friendship between two women who are so different from each other, yet so bonded and connected by their athletic careers reminds us what sports can be in addition to competition. It can be about relationships and how competition doesn’t need to be about winning at all costs, especially the cost of a friendship. Relationships among competitors, even at the top of their careers can spur each one to greater accomplishments and deeper understanding and appreciation for a rival.

Chris and Martina share experiences only the two of them can truly understand. Watching Unmatched, I felt privileged to be invited to share a glimpse of their apparent affection and respect for each other. Nancy Lieberman was wrong and I for one am thankful. I hope you get a chance to see this documentary.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Unmatched: Martina and Chris Rivalry

Tuesday night, September 14 at 8 pm EDT, ESPN will air a documentary entitled, Unmatched. The film follows the tennis rivalry and friendship between Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert. Martina and Chris discussed their relationship on and off the court for the first time. You can also read about their rivalry and friendship in an excellent book by Johnette Howard called The Rivals.

Martina and Chris represented two opposites both on and off the court. Martina was a serve and volley specialist with powerful strokes and a beautiful athleticism that was a joy to watch. She tended to be emotional and wore her heart on her tennis dress sleeve during matches. Chris was the cool baseline machine. She was steady, relentless, keeping her emotions below the surface. Martina is a lesbian who came out in 1981. Let me repeat that, 1981, when the only other woman who had come out was Billie Jean King and she did not come out voluntarily. In fact she denied that she was gay for years after.

Martina came out not long afterwards and they both paid the price in loss of commercial endorsements and popularity for a long time until the world caught up. Chris’ image was “the girl next door.” She had highly publicized relationships with Jimmy Connors and other well known male celebrities and athletes. Because her image was more sellable and more conventional, the feminine, heterosexual girl next door, she raked in the commercial endorsements. The truth was that the private Chris was a lot more x-rated than her public image, but the fans loved “Chrissy” as the tennis commentators insisted on calling her. Some media pundits called their rivalry, “Beauty and the Beast:” Martina, the gay muscular, powerhouse coached by the transgender former player Renee Richards vs. the demure self-contained, feminine Chrissy. It often seemed like the only ones rooting for Martina when they played were the lesbians scattered throughout the stadium. Martina was honored at the U.S. Open last week. It was a long time coming.

Off the court they were and remain close friends crossing sexuality, cultural and competitive boundaries. I have immense respect for both of them. I’m looking forward to hearing them talk about their relationship over the years. Check it out – Tuesday 8pm EDT ESPN.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

When Coaches Teach Bigotry in the Name of Christianity

Excuse me, but I thought the primary goal of coaching girls' or women’s basketball teams was, well, coaching basketball . That would not be the case for Jaye Collins, however. He is the coach of the Louisville Legends. The Legends are part of a network of independent girls basketball teams affiliated with Elite Basketball Family. EBF’s goal according to their web site is as follows: The EBF is a 501©3 non-profit organization designed to ensure the future success of hundreds of young ladies each year by giving them chances to earn college scholarships to play basketball.

But if you go to the Legends web site and click on the coaches tab, here is what Coach Collins has to say about his goal:

I started the Lady Legends program with the support of my wife, Kari, in hopes of encouraging young girls to be proud and secure in not being part of the lesbian and homosexual lifestyle which is so prevalent in woman's/girl's athletics. Many girls, as early as middle school, are being influenced or "tested", or converted and convinced that if they play sports, specifically basketball, they must be, should be, or need to be gay.

I believe that we should encourage girls to glorify God and please Jesus Christ in their decision making processes. I know this is not the socially accepted or politically correct perspective, but our goal is H.O.O.P.S.....Helping Others Obtain Personal Salvation.

If you go to the Legends home page, you find that it starts off with a Biblical quote in huge letters and then, secondarily, if you scroll down, features photos of team members and where they will be playing college ball.

I don’t know if independent teams like the Legends are governed by any rules or policies about either Christian proselytizing or anti-gay discrimination under the guise of coaching a girls’ basketball team so maybe what Coach Collins is doing is perfectly legal, but it isn’t right. Maybe it is a good thing that he is so completely transparent about his beliefs and his goals. Let the buyer beware, so to speak.

It just makes me sick and sad and angry that such ignorant propaganda can be so blatant and, apparently acceptable. And that young girls who play with the Legends are subjected to the coach’s religious and anti-gay rhetoric. Collins is teaching prejudice and fear under the guise of making girls basketball “safe” for straight, Christian girls. What about Legend players who are questioning their sexuality or who know they are gay? He is teaching them to hate and fear themselves. He is teaching them shame and denial. What happens to Legends players when they are recruited to play college ball and find that they have lesbian teammates or coaches whom they are expected to treat with respect? Will the example set by Coach Collins’ anti-gay and pro-Christian beliefs make it more difficult for Legends players to adjust to a team where player and coach diversity is valued and respected? Where lesbians are not assumed to be drooling child molesters or out to convert all their teammates to their “homosexual lifestyle?”

Coach Collins claims to be providing some kind of Christian refuge for basketball players from the “tests” they need to endure presumably from evil lesbian teammates and coaches who try to “convince or convert them” that they need to be gay to play women’s basketball. Clearly Coach Collins has a personal problem with lesbians in sport. This hysterical and bigoted perspective is an important reminder that homophobia is alive and well in girls and women’s sports, particularly basketball.

Far from being a principled or courageous stance, I believe what Coach Collins does is a kind of abuse of power wrapped up in self-righteous bigotry masked as Christian concern. Providing girls with opportunities to play basketball and get college scholarships is a terrific goal and volunteer coaches who are committed to working for young women in this way are to be applauded. However, coaches owe it to their team members to check their personal prejudices at the gym door and do the best they can to create a climate of respect and safety for every team member – gay, straight, Christian, Jew, atheist, black, white.

Many Christian coaches live their religious values without pushing them on their teams. Most lesbian coaches live their life without any thought of “converting” players. It is wrong for Christian and lesbian coaches to impose either their religion or their sexuality on their athletes. Both Christians and lesbians can be great coaches. Neither religious belief nor sexual orientation has much to do with being a good coach though (or a good basketball player either). Great coaching is about Xs and Os, but it is also so much more. It is about living your life with integrity and confronting prejudice and bigotry in any guise. It is about modeling and teaching athletes about self-respect and respect for people who are different from you. It is about confronting one’s own stereotypes to avoid passing them on to young women. It is not about conjuring up a lesbian bogeywoman and then claiming to protect your team from her. That’s working your own personal agenda and calling it coaching.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Reflections on Caster Semenya’s Return to Competition

The IAAF has declared that South African runner Caster Semenya can resume competing in international women’s events. After an 11 month wait for this clearance Semenya has competed in three track meets in the past several days. She won two of her 800m races and finished third this past weekend.

The problem is that some of her competitors in the 800 meter race are complaining publicly to the press about her participation. Clearly this grumbling is not likely to go away soon and I am sure other competitors who are not speaking publicly share the perspectives shared by two particularly vocal athletes, British runner Jemma Simpson and Canadian Diane Cummins.

Two themes run through their comments. Their comments reflect the belief that Semenya, despite her clearance to participate, is not a “normal” woman. As Diane Cummins opined, "Even if she is a female, she's on the very fringe of the normal athlete female biological composition from what I understand of hormone testing. So, from that perspective, most of us just feel that we are literally running against a man."

Commenting on the perception that their comments are just sour grapes because they were beaten by Semenya, Cummins adds, “Jemma and I have been beaten tons of times by athletes who we feel are doing it in the realm of what is considered female.” Cummins also said, "There are guys who can challenge Usain Bolt but nobody can challenge Caster Semenya. She is four or five seconds better than any of us and that's incredible.” They do not consider Semenya in the “realm of what is considered female” even though Semenya was beaten by two other women last weekend.

The second theme in their comments is that they feel that their rights and voices are being ignored and that Semenya’s participation threatens the “level playing field.” It’s just not fair from their perspective. Jemma Simpson commented, "It's obviously a human rights issue but human rights affect everyone in the race, not just one person. The rest of the field just gets ignored." Cummins added, "As athletes we feel frustrated because everyone is allowed to give their opinion except us. If we give an honest opinion, we're either seen as bad sports or we're not happy because we're being beaten.”

Simpson notes a PC element to the conversation that she obviously feels silences the voices of the “normal” women, "No way is it a personal issue but it's a debate about what is right and fair for everyone. It's a really tough subject and a lot of people are very careful about what they say. You have to be.”

Simpson again, reflecting some conflict in her perspective, “She's just been allowed to come back on the scene and we're expected just to get on with it. It's fair to an extent but I think we all just want a fair level playing field out there. It would be nice to just – I know it's really none of our business – but it would just be nice to be reassured more than anything."

To be fair to these women, this is a challenging issue. Gender is way more complicated than the nice neat little separate boxes we are invited to check off on forms. Nonetheless most of us operate as if it were just that simple. Certainly the sports world does. You have your men’s sports and your women’s sports. Unfortunately, it isn’t so simple and never has been. It is not surprising that some of Semenya’s competitors are confused and feel that they are being asked to accept a competitive situation that puts them at a disadvantage. They train hard and rely on having a “level playing field” on which to compete and apparently no one has provided them with any information to challenge the prejudices they have about Semenya.

It is interesting to note that outstanding performances by women athletes throughout history have opened these athletes to gender criticism that, as in Semenya’s case, focused on whether or not they were ”normal” women. Babe Didrikson was vilified as an “unfeminine muscle moll.” Sports writers commented on her “masculine” appearance all the time. She intimidated her competitors too and won most of the golf tournaments she entered. In her prime, some of her opponents characterized the experience of facing Martina Navratilova’s powerful game as “like playing a man.” The legendary rivalry between Navratilova and Chris Evert was called “Beauty and the Beast.” Guess who was the beast. Amelie Mauresmo was called “half a man” by rival Martina Hingis. Though Serena Williams was not compared to a man, racist perceptions of her muscular black body created similar reactions that she was somehow not a “normal” woman and had a physical advantage over her less muscular white opponents.

Of course, it wasn’t just about femininity, it was about sexuality too. Babe, Martina and Amelie played their sports too well. They did not conform to feminine and heterosexual expectations. What does it say about women’s sports that we vilify our outstanding performers who do not easily fit in the gender and sexuality box they were assigned at birth?

The problem is that Semenya’s competitors’ comments reflect belief in a gender/sex binary that doesn’t exist. The two separate boxes most of us check off to describe who we are do not reflect the realities of gender as it is lived by many people or the bodies that some of us inhabit. Determining who is eligible to compete in either men’s or women’s sports is a matter of drawing a line somewhere along a spectrum of gender. Where that line is drawn must be based on the best information we have about gender and athletic performance. That is the only way to maintain the integrity of a sports model that is based on separating most sport competitions by sex. The alternative is to eliminate sex as a sports participation category altogether: A step I am not ready to take. I believe more girls and women have opportunities to participate in sport when sports competition are divided by sex, at least starting in high school, than would so if we eliminated sex as a participation category in sport.

The level playing field these athletes refer to in their comments about Semenya is a relative thing. Some would say it is a myth. Athletic competition is about gaining a competitive advantage. It’s what all athletes do to win. It’s just that we have deemed some advantages to be within the realm of fairness and “normalcy” and others not. We recognize and accept as part of the game some genetic advantages that make a few athletes exceptional, but not others, perhaps especially when those characteristics are related to gender.

Just as Babe, Martina, Amelie and Serena challenge normative gender expectations about athletic performance and how we define “woman”, Caster Semenya’s participation in women’s sport is challenging us to acknowledge the reality of a gender spectrum that contradicts the myth of a gender binary. How we respond to Caster Semenya’s self-affirmed identity as a woman and how we make room for her in women’s sports says a lot about how far we have to go in challenging sexism, homophobia and racism in sport. My sense is, judging by the reactions of some of Semenya’s competitors, that we have a long way to go (baby).