Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Olympics Are Coming!

The London Olympic Games begin in a little over a week so, of course, speculation begins about the number of openly LGBT athletes will be competing.  This Advocate article identifies a handful of openly lesbian and gay athletes who will be competing and I am sure this number will increase as we get closer to the opening ceremonies.  This number has topped out around 13-14 openly LGBT athletes in past Olympics and I hope that number will increase in London. Though the number of openly LGBT athletes is a small percentage of the thousands of athletes who will competing in London, it is safe to assume that there are many other LGBT athletes who will competing from the closet.  

Apparently, a heterosexual married couple who are on the Australian shooting team believe that there are huge numbers of same-sex couples who will rooming together in the Olympic village.  They claim that they are being discriminated against because, as heterosexuals, they are not allowed to room together in the athletes’ village and are making a big deal out of it.  Please.  Is this really how they want to spend their time preparing for their competition? Is this how they are making their mark on the London games? 

Like the Vancouver Olympics there will be a Pride House in London open to all athletes and other visitors. Pride House is not sponsored by the Olympics, but by a local group as was true in Vancouver. Nonetheless it does provide some LGBT visibility at an international sporting event.

Why does it matter if athletes come out publicly or if there is a Pride House at the Olympics? It’s about visibility and role models. It’s about athletes not needing to spend energy hiding and keeping secrets and using that energy to focus on the competition. It’s about being honest with teammates and true to yourself.  It’s about sending a message to young LGBT athletes that the world is changing and their future in sports looks better and better.  

 Oh, and that Aussie couple? Instead of crabbing about sleeping arrangements, they should count the many other privileges they have as married heterosexuals and stick to trying to shoot straight.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Keelin Godsey talks about his experience as transgender athlete

Keelin Godsey is a world class athlete who competes in the women’s hammer throw. Keelin recently placed fifth in the US Olympic Trials, narrowly missing the cut for the team going to London.  Keelin is a transgender man who has not made a medical transition so that he can continue to compete in the women’s hammer throw.  Not making a medical transition means that Keelin is not taking testosterone and has not undergone any surgical procedures as part of his transition.  

Keelin sat down for an interview with Ann Schatz after the trials:


Many people are confused by the thought that a transgender man would want to or be allowed to compete in women’s sports.  Some would say, “Ok, if you are a man, compete in the men’s hammer throw.” One of the many powerful parts of this interview is to hear Keelin talk about the importance of his identification as an athlete, and even more specifically, an elite hammer thrower. He talks about how being an athlete saved his life.  He talk about how being a hammer thrower is such an important part of his identity and a source of his positive feelings about himself.  I don’t see how you can listen to Keelin talk about this and not understand how devastating it would be to take away his opportunity to compete in his sport, women’s hammer throw.  

You also can get a little insight into the process of deciding to transition, whether that is a social transition and/or a medical transition. You also get a small insight into the internal struggles and social obstacles that transgender people face in and out of sport just to live their lives as their truth demands.  You feel the pain, the struggle, the courage and the determination to define yourself in opposition to powerful gender expectations that push us all into little boxes that limit our ability to see ourselves in any way that defies the gender binary we are taught is “normal.”
Keelin’s interview should be required viewing for anyone in sports who wants to learn, up close and personal, what it is like to be transgender and an athlete and to insist on the right to honor both parts of that identity.  

It is also important to recognize that Keelin’s story is his. Every trans athlete has her or his own story and that Keelin’s story is only one of a larger mosaic of transgender experience that is as diverse and personalized as any of our stories.  I recommend taking the 20 minutes necessary to watch and, more importantly, listen to Keelin. I promise you will come away with a deeper appreciation for what it means to be a transgender athlete.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

U.S. Soccer Star Megan Rapinoe to the World: I’m Gay.

Megan Rapinoe, in an interview with Out Magazine, clarified a statement she made in an earlier interview with Kick TV that seemed like she was coming out, but only if you paid close attention.  The thing is she was not really closeted, but she wasn’t public about it either.  That has changed and it’s a great thing she is doing by coming out publicly now before the Olympics.  Megan Rapinoe is a great athlete and a very popular member of the US women’s soccer team. She decided to come out publicly in part because she understands her status as a role model for young people and wants to be part of changing the world for young LGBT people in sports.

She is comfortable with who she is. She has been out with teammates, friends and family for a while. Making the decision to be public about being gay feels like the right next step and why not? I can only hope that more women and men in sport make similar decisions about coming out publicly.  I am not in favor of outing public figures, but I love it when they decide to come out. We need their visibility to help change the sports world top to bottom.

Megan discusses some of her perceptions about the differences between coming out for female and male athletes: She believes that it is easier for women athletes to come out and be supported by their teammates than it is for gay men in sport.  I agree that it seems like women’s teams at the college, professional and Olympic levels are more accepting in general of lesbian teammates and coaches.  However, I think we also need to acknowledge that things are changing fast in men’s sports.  We cannot assume as we did a few years ago that it would be unthinkable for a gay man in a pro team sport to come out.  Cyd Zeigler’s interviews with NFL players indicate a big change among in pro football and these changes are mirrored in comments by other male pro team sport athletes as well. Change is afoot in men’s sports. 

Sometimes the media greet lesbian athletes’ coming out with a big yawn, as if it only matters now when gay male athletes come out.  Witness the incredible media frenzy recently when Wade Davis, a long retired NFL player came out as compared to the coming out of WNBA Star and Olympic team member, Seimone Augustus.  Wade Davis – interviews on CNN and hundreds of articles in the mainstream media.  Seimone Augustus? Crickets chirping in the night.  Do you seriously think her coming would have the same media response if she were an NBA player?

We cannot also assume that everything is cool for lesbians in women’s sports.  That would be a dangerous assumption.  In the last two years, we can point to several instances of discrimination against lesbian athletes or coaches in high school and college sports.  Golf coach, Katie Brenny’s lawsuit against the University of Minnesota is still going through the courts.  Let’s not forget Texas high school softball player, Skye Wyatt, who was kicked off her team and outed to her mother by her coach, whose actions were backed up by the school committee.  Remember Niki Williams the high school basketball coach (also in Texas) who was dismissed before she coached her first game because school administrators realized that she is lesbian.  Oh, yeah, and soccer coach Lisa Howe at Belmont University who was dismissed when school administrators found out her partner was having a baby. 

Negative recruiting based on perceived sexual orientation is still an issue in women college sports.  Sherri Murrell is still the only publicly out lesbian basketball coach in division 1 college hoops.  Only 42% of women’s college teams are coached by women these days. That makes it difficult for lesbian coaches to come out if they think it might jeopardize their jobs or their ability to recruit which will also jeopardize their jobs.

Maybe we do not see the same level of anti-gay name-calling in women’s sports that we do in men’s sports, but it is there.  Among softball players you might have noticed an increase in hair ribbons worn during games? There is a saying among women softball players, “No bow? Lesbo.”  One softball player told me about a straight teammate who freaked out when she realized that she forgot to bring her bow to an away game.  What kind of welcoming climate do you think that makes for a gay softball player?

 I could go on, but I hope you see my point: Megan Rapinoe’s coming out matters.  We still have prejudice and discrimination to fight in women’s sports. Let’s not forget that it still takes courage and a willingness to be in the spotlight for something other than your athletic ability for an athlete who is actively competing to come out, female or male.  Thank you, Megan. Let’s hope your coming out empowers more LGBT athletes and coaches to do the same.

We still have work to do in women’s and men’s sports before any athlete, male or female, coming out is not a big deal.