Monday, March 21, 2011

Lesbians and Lingerie Football: No Muffin Tops Need Apply

I have not written about the Lingerie Football League because, well, I find it offensive. I am sure not many regular readers will be surprised by this. The league focuses on everything I find demeaning and insulting about media portrayals of women athletes: They must be perceived as sexy to men to get any ink. The LFL is predicated on this belief. The women are playing in skimpy sexy underwear topped off by shoulder pads and helmets. There is lots of skin, lots of T & A, probably lots of wardrobe malfunctions, which I am sure lure the fans like crashes lure NASCAR fans. The team names are things like Bliss, Desire, Temptation and Fantasy. It seems clear that the players are chosen for their appearance and heterosexiness as much as their football skills. Every one of them on the LFL web site has large breasts and small butts. Not one has muffin top or love handles. This is easy to see because that is what the photos focus on: lots of skin.

The video on the web site shows game action and, I will admit that what they feature there suggests that the women can play ball. There are lots of hard hits too. I worried if the helmets they wear provide enough protection given what we know now about concussions in sport. Hitting the turf in their skimpy “uniforms” looked painful too.

It actually felt a little creepy to watch the video. The uniforms are ridiculous – shoulder pads, helmets, thong underwear and push up bras. Are men really so shallow that this is necessary to get them to go watch women play sports?

So why am I writing about this? Well, one of the players has come out as a lesbian and she and other players from the LFL will be in Palm Springs for “lesbian spring break.” Any lesbian worth her rainbow tattoo knows that thousands of lesbians migrate to Palm Springs to participate in parties and events that go on at the same time that the annual LPGA golf tournament is happening there. This tournament used to be called the Dinah Shore Nabisco and lesbians have been flocking to Palm Springs for years to party during the tournament though it is questionable how many actually watch the golf or even know a five iron from a sand wedge. Anyway, Amber Elizabeth will be there and so will some other players apparently. I guess the LFL sees lesbians as another potential market for their pigskin and woman skin events. Maybe some of us are.

If I sound like a cranky old feminist lesbian, maybe it is because I feel like one. I am usually the first to celebrate when lesbian athletes and coaches come out publicly. It is a good thing for the women who are choosing to live their lives honestly and it helps to challenge the prejudice against lesbians that still lingers in women’s sports. I suppose you could say that an openly lesbian lingerie football player is breaking a stereotype too, I’ll give you that. However, it doesn’t feel like a step forward for lesbians or women’s sports to me when any woman athlete, regardless of her sexual orientation, has to pander to beer drinking heterosexual men’s sex fantasies in order get attention.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Changing the Game: The GLSEN Sports Project: Respect. Are You Bringin’ It?

I am really pleased to share some great news with you: GLSEN (Gay Straight Education Network) has launched “Changing the Game: The GLSEN Sports Project.” The project mission is to make K-12 athletics and physical education safe, respectful and inclusive for students of all sexual orientations and gender identities/expressions. Our primary target audiences are K-12 coaches, athletic administrators, physical education teachers, students and parents.

I’ve been working with GLSEN (as director of the project for several months to design the project and get our web site up and running. We have some exciting resources on the site now and will adding more each month. Here is a short selection of some of the resources you will find on the web site as we continue to add new content:

• Policy and Best Practice recommendations for making sports and physical education inclusive and respectful for LGBT students.
• The Team Respect Challenge: An invitation to school sports teams to take the Team Respect Challenge to be leaders promoting respect and standing against bullying and name-calling on their teams and in their schools. We post Team Respect Challenge team photos on our website.
• The Safe Sports Space Campaign: A campaign to raise awareness of the importance of making school sports spaces (gyms, locker rooms, playing fields and classrooms) safe for students of all sexual orientations and gender identities/expressions. We’ve got Safe Sports Space stickers and some Safe Sports Space Rules to post in schools to remind everyone what it means to have a safe sport space.
• The Game Changer Video Project: An invitation to K-12 coaches, students, parents and friends to make and send us a short video about someone in their school who “changes the game” by taking leadership to make sports or physical education safe and welcoming for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.
• A Changing the Game blog where we will invite students, coaches, teachers and LGBT sports advocates to share their experiences, ideas and perspectives each month.
• Links to other great resources like Athlete Ally, Our Group, NCLR Sports Project, Fearless Photo Exhibit and
• Staff development modules for coaches and teachers as well as on-site training programs that GLSEN sports staff will lead in schools.
• We also have some terrific Changing the Game caps, tee shirts and stickers you can purchase at the GLSEN online store.
• And more.

I’ve had some great help developing the project, not only from the folks at GLSEN, but also from a distinguished advisory group of twenty people who each has a demonstrated commitment to making sports a great place for LGBT people. We also have a wonderful Changing the Game All Star Team of well known sportspeople from professional and Olympic sports who endorse our efforts and are committed to our goals of making sports a great place for all students.

Changing the Game will also have a Facebook page (Join us) and we’ll be on Twitter too (Follow us). If you are in K-12 schools or if you have friends who work in or attend or have children in K-12 schools, send them our web site address – Or send our web address to your high school alma mater. Help us spread the word about Changing the Game. With you help we can do it. Respect. Are YOU Bringin’ It?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Being LGBT at BYU

Brigham Young University recently dismissed star basketball player, Brandon Davies, from the men’s basketball team for violating the school’s honor code. Brandon had sex with his girlfriend. BYU is a Mormon school and the honor code reflects the church’s conservative views on sex and sexuality. After hearing about this, I thought about what it must be like to be an LGBT athlete at BYU. If premarital heterosexual sex is not tolerated, what would the school think of gay sex? Not to fear, the honor code has it covered:

“Brigham Young University will respond to homosexual behavior rather than to feelings or attraction and welcomes as full members of the university community all whose behavior meets university standards. Members of the university community can remain in good Honor Code standing if they conduct their lives in a manner consistent with gospel principles and the Honor Code.

One's stated same-gender attraction is not an Honor Code issue. However, the Honor Code requires all members of the university community to manifest a strict commitment to the law of chastity. Homosexual behavior is inappropriate and violates the Honor Code. Homosexual behavior includes not only sexual relations between members of the same sex, but all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings.”

In a nutshell, gay and lesbian students and staff are “welcome” in the university community as long as they don’t engage in any “form of physical intimacy that gives expression to homosexual feelings.” You can say you are gay, according to the honor code, but you are expected to commit yourself to the law of chastity, just like all unmarried heterosexuals on campus are.

On one hand, given Brandon Davies’ dismissal from the basketball team, it seems that BYU takes the sexual conduct part of the honor code seriously no matter what the sexual orientation of a student is. On the other hand, the honor code devotes an entire section to “Homosexual Behavior” making it clear that even holding hands with someone of the same sex could be grounds for an honor code violation whereas heterosexual couples need to actually have sex in order to violate the code.

What must it be like to be an LGBT athlete at BYU? I am sure they are there. We are, as the slogan goes, everywhere. Outsports asked this question recently and several readers made comments about LGBT athletes they know who have been students at BYU.

Students who enroll at BYU know what they are committing themselves to, but many young people do not identify themselves as gay until after they are in college. What must it be like to come from a Mormon family, identify as a Morman AND be lesbian, gay or bisexual?

As a private school, BYU has the right to determine and enforce its honor code. It certainly is clearer than the ambiguous and unspoken “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that got soccer coach Lisa Howe in trouble at Belmont University. This difference notwithstanding, the insistence that being LGBT and being a devout and honorable person of faith are completely incompatible often leads to dishonesty and secrecy. That is some burden for a young person already dealing with the academic, athletic and social challenges of being away from home for the first time. Who could you talk to? I doubt if BYU has an LGBT Center or that campus counseling services include gay-affirmative staff. Even though you can identify yourself as gay without violating the honor code, it must be difficult to do so. Given the Mormons’ condemnation of homosexual behavior, how could you feel good about being lesbian or gay?

I was recently contacted by a reporter interested in doing a story on this topic who wanted to know if I had any contacts with LGBT athletes at BYU. I don’t. Neither do Jim or Cyd at Outsports. The BYU closet is too deep. The message to LGBT athletes from Brandon Davies’ dismissal from a team headed for the post-season is this: If they would dismiss a star heterosexual athlete for having sex with his girlfriend, there is no way it is safe for an LGBT athlete to come out, much less have a relationship at BYU. All it takes is for one teammate or one classmate or one coach to find out and tell on you and it is over.

The truly sad thing is that even in public universities where LGBT students’ rights are supposed to be protected, all it takes is to have a coach who believes that being LGBT is morally wrong or a disruption to the team and an athlete’s career can be just as much in jeopardy. It happens in women’s sports all the time. Coaches can and do act on their personal prejudices even when school policies and state laws should protect students from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. Too often administrators look the other way or back the coach. At least BYU is being consistent with the values the university and the Mormon religion espouses. We don’t have to like it. As a private religious school, they have the right. I am more upset about public schools that enable, condone, ignore discrimination against LGBT coaches and athletes even as they claim to be committed to protecting the rights of LGBT people on campus. That kind of hypocrisy is really difficult to see and just as painful for the young people who suffer because of it.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Cha-Cha-Cha-Changes at Belmont University

Lots has changed at Belmont University since the December departure of lesbian women’s soccer coach, Lisa Howe. Howe and Belmont parted company by mutual agreement according to official accounts, but this tortured non-explanation of why the popular and successful coach left never made any sense. What did make sense was what her players reported being told by university administrators: Howe was pushed out because she is a lesbian and that was incompatible with the university’s Christian views.

After lots of negative media attention, student protests and public outcry, including a threat to withdraw financial support by a major university donor, it seems that Belmont has seen the light. In quick succession, the university has made two significant policy changes - the university has amended its non-discrimination policy to include sexual orientation as an enumerated category. Bizarrely, the university president still insists that this change is merely making official what the university policy has always been, actions to the contrary. The second change is that the university has bestowed official recognition to an LGBT student group that has previously been denied recognition twice.

You’ll have to forgive my cynicism. I think the only reason Belmont made these policy changes is that they were forced to by the public outcry and, more importantly, the potential loss of a major donor.

The third change is that Belmont has hired a new women’s soccer coach. Despite calls to rehire Lisa Howe, this was not to be. The new coach, Heather Henson, is married to a man so all is right with the world again at Belmont. I am happy they hired a woman to coach the women’s team rather than hiring a heterosexual man to eliminate the possibility of inadvertently hiring another lesbian as some other schools have done. Think LSU post Pokey Chatman.

I am happy that Belmont has been pressured into making these changes and I do hope that the university is sincere in backing their new gay affirmative policies with action and commitment. We’ll see. It just seems a shame to me that Lisa Howe is still out of a job at Belmont, a job she apparently did very well until she made the mistake of being honest and open. I hope that her sacrifice results in actual change in life on campus for other LGBT staff and students. At least then her loss will have meant something. Time will tell.

Perhaps Belmont is part of a new kinder, gentler Christian perspective on homosexuality in which LGBT people can be respected, if not accepted and in which the fact that some LGBT people are Christians too is not viewed as an oxymoron. We’ll see.