Much has been written lately about LGBT athletes. In some ways it reflects the national conversation about the growing acceptance of LGBT equality, but it is also unique in that it shatters the stereotype we have of who plays sports and how they will be received by fans.
While Jason Collins may be today’s “Ellen” in high tops, many athletes who come out in the future will likely be met with a collective shrug of the shoulder pads. While there is still much work to be done, as athletes realize that any downside to endorsements or team unity is minimal compared to the freedom of living without the fear of being outed, conversations will quickly steer back to batting averages and pass completions.
There are now significant efforts to address homophobia and to make sports a more welcoming place. Players are slapped with huge fines for anti-gay slurs and most of the leagues have adopted non-discrimination policies. While the locker room door has not fully swung open, the work of organizations like the You Can Play Project, Athlete Ally, GLSEN and a number of others are clearly changing attitudes.
Close to home, Team DC’s Night OUT Series has helped local professional sports franchises better appreciate the value of working with the LGBT community while creating new fans in the process. We have learned that it is one thing for the Gay Men’s Chorus to sing to 1,000 of their fans at a concert and quite another to sing the National Anthem in front of 12,000 people who never knew that there was a Gay Men’s Chorus.
Indeed, our next step is not about finding another gay athlete to come out; that will happen in time. Our work now is to maximize the collective strength of the LGBT sports community and put that to work. Our individual sports clubs are incredible, but imagine how strong we could be if we were more united.
Earlier this year, I helped create the Equality Sports Association. Its mission is to unite City Teams (such as Team DC), LGBT sports leagues and their governing bodies in an association to maximize outreach, develop new corporate partnerships and build a strong foundation where new sport initiatives can grow and existing programs can flourish.
A handful of sports programs already succeed at a high level, but these are the exception and are often centered in major metropolitan areas. As more people come out, there is a growing need to develop programs in places like Iowa and Idaho because our experience shows that sports offers a positive and healthy alternative to our community that a bar or chat room just cannot match.
There are also niche sports that will likely never grow to a self-sustaining level, so there is a need to work with mainstream sports organizations to educate these clubs about the value of welcoming gay participants.
By working together, organizations can not only learn from each other and maximize resources, but greater visibility will help clubs expand into new areas and communities, including getting more women involved — finally! Such efforts not only help local clubs grow, but support regional and national tournaments and seminal events such as the Gay Games.
Perhaps the most exciting part of the Equality Sports Association is its potential to succeed or fail. But just like in baseball, if you don’t go up to bat, you’ll never know if you could get a hit.
More about the Equality Sports Association, including how you can become involved, can be found at equalitysportsassociation.org.