Thursday, July 21, 2011

Hudson Taylor: An Amazing Straight Athlete Ally

If I were 40 years younger and straight, I would fall in love with Hudson Taylor. What an amazing straight ally. Watch this video and be inspired by him and his message.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Sherri Murrell: Pioneer and Role Model

Here is a great article about Sherri Murrell, the openly lesbian women's basketball coach at Portland State University. The emails that she receives from closeted coaches are particularly moving.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Lessons Sheryl Swoopes Is Teaching Us

Sheryl Swoopes has announced that she is engaged to a man. This news might be confusing to some people who remember that Sheryl revealed that she was a lesbian in 2005 in an interview with LZ Granderson of ESPN. Prior to this public announcement, she had been married to a man and had a son with him before they were divorced.

I remember that, in 2005, Sheryl stated that she believed that her relationship with a woman was a choice and that she did not believe that she was born a lesbian. This created some consternation in some parts of the LGBT world where it is often accepted orthodoxy that we were all “born that way” as Lady Gaga sings it to us. Some folks believe the claim that we are born gay is a good argument for why we should not be discriminated against: After all, if we are born that way, how can discrimination based on an innate characteristic we have no control over be fair?

On the other hand, many anti-LGBT rights activists insist that being LGBT is a choice, not unlike choosing to drink too much alcohol or using drugs or stealing merchandise from a store, and is more akin to an additive unhealthy behavior than a sexual orientation. If you believe sexual orientation is nothing more than a behavioral choice, it is easier to think that, with a little counseling, prayer, change of scenery or, in the old days, a little electro-shock “therapy” you can change your sexual orientation if you reallllllly want to. Of course, it’s a one-way street; only changes from homo to hetero are celebrated. This argument is often based on an assumption that being heterosexual is the default orientation, being lesbian, gay or bi is an aberrant behavior. Also, I’d like to ask any heterosexual folk about there: When did you choose to be straight?

I believe that the “born that way” argument is not a strong position from which to fight for equality. I have no idea if LGBT people are born that way or choose who they are or some combination of factors. No matter how we get to where we are, we have a right to live our lives according to our own sense of what is true for us and we have so many different truths.

I was thrilled when Sheryl Swoopes came out as a lesbian in 2005. I was not one of the LGBT community who was upset by her not adhering to the LGBT orthodoxy that we are all born “that way.” I was thrilled, not because it was another woman coming over to our team, so to speak. I was thrilled because Sheryl Swoopes, as an African-American woman and as an accomplished athlete, is such a great role model for young people. Countering stereotypes and invisibility is an important part of what LGBT athletes and coaches who choose to be public about who they are help us to do. That is what I was happy about in 2005.

I think sexual orientation is way too complex to be characterized in simple either/or ways: We are born the way we are or our sexual orientation is a choice. It also leaves out a huge number of whose sexual orientation does not depend on the gender of the person they are attracted to. Bisexual people are open to relationships with people of any gender. Maybe Sheryl is bi. I don’t know. I have a feeling she, like many people, might be uncomfortable with all of the labels.

I do know that what I fight for as an LGBT rights advocate, in or out of sport, is that every one of us should be free to live our own truth and be respected for whatever that is. Some of us identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual. Some of us are more comfortable with other ways of describing ourselves: same-gender loving, two-spirit, queer and many other equally valid descriptions of our personal truth. Others identify as straight or heterosexual, that’s fine too.

The point for me is that, no matter what our personal truth, we must learn to respect the personal truth of others. Whether we identify as gay, straight, queer, lesbian, bisexual or something else, we should all have the right to legal and social recognition and protection, both individually and for our relationships, both in and out of sport.

Sheryl Swoopes, in choosing to be public about her relationships with men and women, reminds us all that sexual orientation is not simply about being “born that way” or making “a lifestyle choice.” I hope that her personal journey has made her an advocate for equality for everyone regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. That is what I hope for the LGBT community. For Sheryl, hope she is happy and I wish her well.

A hat tip to Cyd Zeigler and for bringing this to my attention.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

More On UMinnesota Discrimination Lawsuit

Former women’s golf coach Katie Brenny and members of the women’s team have widely different accounts of what transpired in their conversations with former director of golf, John Harris and his son-in-law, Ernie Rose about Katie Brenny and her sexual orientation. The university, so far, is defending Harris and Rose in this lawsuit.

The accounts provided by the athletes back up Brenny’s claim that Harris demoted Brenny to secretarial duties when he learned that he had hired a lesbian and promoted Rose in her place. The athletes also say that, before Brenny filed her lawsuit, they told athletic department administrators that they believed Brenny was being discriminated against based on a conversation they had with Ernie Rose in which they say he told them as much. These administrators now do not recall this meeting with the athletes. Assuming the meeting took place, nothing was done to investigate the athletes’ claims.

This is an ugly situation. Rose is accusing the athletes of lying. He claims it was the athletes who raised concerns about changing clothes with a lesbian coach present. Harris claims that Brenny was “insolent,” and defiant. He claims she is an opportunist who filed the lawsuit merely for the opportunity to make a financial gain. He claims she was not a good coach. Harris has quit his job. Both Harris and Rose stand accused of blatant discrimination against a lesbian coach. The university is accused of not acting on concerns expressed by Brenny and two senior athletes.

The University of Minnesota has a lot at stake here. It will be interesting to see if the university continues to back Harris and Rose and the athletic administrators who are being accused of failure to respond to Brenny’s and the athletes’ complaints about Harris and Rose. If they had investigated the situation and addressed their concerns in a timely way and consistent with their own non-discrimination policy, maybe this mess could have been avoided.

The athletes’ account of what happened supports Brenny’s claims. Their account also indicates some serious administrative indifference to allegations of discrimination based on sexual orientation. Are we to believe that both Brenny and the athletes are lying? You have to ask why two young women golfers would lie about this? By stepping forward, they have absolutely nothing to gain and are inviting a lot of serious blowback from Harris, Rose and the University. At a time when they should be enjoying their recent graduation and looking forward to what’s next in their lives, they are embroiled in an ugly discrimination lawsuit in which their honesty and integrity, along with Katie Brenny’s, are being challenged.

It is truly a shame that the athletic department did not address this situation before it came to this. It is difficult to see how anyone truly wins, no matter what the outcome is.