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,