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

Outsports.com 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.