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?

No comments: