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OutSports’ next play

10 years after debut, gay sports site acquired by SB Nation

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Cyd Zeigler, OutSports, gay news, Washington Blade
Cyd Zeigler, Jim Buzinski, OutSports, gay news, Washington Blade

Cyd Zeigler (left) and Jim Buzinski have guided OutSports through 10 years of change, and see their acquisition by SB Nation as the next chapter in their story. (Photos courtesy Zeigler and Buzinski)

For more than 10 years, OutSports.com has been a leader in sharing stories from the amateur and professional sports world with a decidedly gay point of view.

“OutSports definitely fills a needed niche within the realm of sports,” says avid sports fan and gay man, Ken Nash. “If you’re wanting news about the gay boycott of Sochi or events like the Gay Games, it’s the first site people go to.”

Three years before creating OutSports.com, gay sports enthusiasts and flag football players Cyd Zeigler and Jim Buzinski met playing in the Los Angeles league in the late 1990s. They bemoaned the lack of an LGBT voice in coverage of sports news, and it dawned on them to fill the void themselves.

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“Why don’t we just do this thing called a website,” Buzinski told the Blade, who said Zeigler came up with the name “OutSports” when the pair discovered gaysports.com was taken. “Once he said it, it was like ‘oh, that’s it,’ and we never went back.”

In March, OutSports — which has grown from a small site with pages dedicated to the promotion of gay sports into a reputable news source that covers all aspects of LGBT issues in sports — was acquired by Vox Media, a Washington, D.C.-based web publishing company, and became part of their flagship site, SB Nation. Buzinski and Zeigler maintain creative and editorial control.

“People were afraid that becoming part of a mainstream publication would mean that OutSports is going to be de-gayed, and that has not been the case,” Zeigler told the Blade about SB Nation — a massive site of sports-related community-driven editorial content. “The fact that a mainstream publication wanted to acquire a very gay website says a lot about where sports media is today and where this company is today.”

Buzinski and Zeigler began to consider joining a larger organization several years ago, and reached out to several other LGBT publications, but after the New York Times profiled the pair in April 2011, SB Nation reached out to the two pioneering gay sports bloggers.

Sports fans are coming out of the closet en masse in the LGBT community recently, and cities like Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Chicago and New York have seen an explosion of amateur LGBT leagues in every sport imaginable. But when the duo met in 1998, gay sports fans were less open about their passion.

“It’s an area that older gay people shunned for a variety of reasons, a lot of it legitimate,” Buzinski says about why organized sports were not considered a part of the LGBT identity in the early years of the site.

“It felt like you almost had to defend yourself for being a sports fan. Because people would talk about how bullying the culture was, and you felt like ‘I just love the sport, I love the action, I love the players,’” Buzinski continued. “They just didn’t feel a part of it or accepted — except for sports like softball, which has had gay teams forever — but now it seems that every city has dozens of teams of active gay clubs. So I think at the recreational level, people are saying, ‘Hey, we can be in any field. We’re not restricted.’”

Buzinski and Zeigler say the Internet, and sites like OutSports have helped change the perception of organized sports in the LGBT community, as well as change the perception of LGBT athletes in the community of athletics.

“As a huge gay sports fan growing up, [OutSports] seemed like one of the only places where you could actually find sports news from an LGBT perspective, and also find other openly gay sports fans,” Change.org senior campaign director and longtime reader, Michael Jones, told the Blade. “I definitely think the site has had a tremendous amount of influence in getting outlets like Sports Illustrated, Sporting News, ESPN and more to cover LGBT issues in sports.”

Buzinski and Zeigler see the partnership with SB Nation as a sign of a changing landscape in sports media, where a general sports audience is more open to and interested in stories of LGBT athletes, and gay sports fans will continue to be “de-ghettoized,” as Zeigler says.

“I think having a partner like SB Nation gives us more resources to do things that we’ve not been able to do until now,” Buzinski says.

The vibe and feel of OutSports has changed since it was acquired by SB Nation, and it now has a much more polished, Grantland-esque feel to it than a charming and scrappy blog,” says Change.org’s Jones. “But looks aside, I’ve still enjoyed the content, still visit the site multiple times a week, and still hope that the exposure stories on OutSports get among the fans of SB Nation open up LGBT sports coverage to even greater numbers of readers, particularly straight readers, who haven’t been used to reading about the lives of LGBT people in the sports world.”

Zeigler says that as LGBT sports issues change, OutSports will continue to evolve at its new home.

“We cover things differently than we did 10 years ago, and five years from now we’ll cover things differently,” he tells the Blade. “With SB Nation, we’re not just read by a mostly gay audience anymore, we’re now read by a lot of straight people. ”

That means the ability to expose a mainstream audience to new issues, and bring wider attention to ways athletics is adapting to an era of the out and open athlete.

“Transgender people are misunderstood, but transgender athletes have the furthest to go [in terms of acceptance in sports],” Zeigler says about one of the next LGBT issues needing to be tackled. “I think we need education in terms of what it means to transition in the sports world.”

Zeigler also sees casual homophobia as a problem.

“I think this is the No. 1 problem. I think systemic homophobia is not really the issue here, it’s the perception of homophobia in sports,” Zeigler says. “And heterosexism.”

OutSports avoids trying to be all things to everyone, but concentrates on shedding light on issues of interest of LGBT athletes and fans.

“For more substantive game-by-game analysis, I prefer ESPN but that isn’t what OutSports tries to be,” sports fan Ken Nash says.

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Sports

Washington Mystics to hold annual Pride game

Team to play Dallas Wings on Saturday

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Washington Mystics will be having their upcoming Pride game on Saturday against the Dallas Wings.

The Mystics Pride game is one of the team’s theme nights they host every year, with Pride night being a recurring event. The team faced off against the Phoenix Mercury last June. Brittney Griner, who Russia released from a penal colony in December 2022 after a court convicted her of importing illegal drugs after customs officials at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport found vape canisters with cannabis oil in her luggage, attended the game. 

Unlike the NBA, where there are currently no openly LGBTQ players, there are multiple WNBA players who are out. Mystics players Emily Englster, Brittney Sykes, and Stefanie Dolson are all queer.

The Mystics on June 1 acknowledged Pride Month in a post to its X account.

“Celebrating Pride this month and every month,” reads the message.

The game is on Saturday at 3 p.m. at the Entertainment and Sports Arena (1100 Oak Drive, S.E.). Fans can purchase special Pride tickets that come with exclusive Mystics Pride-themed jerseys. 

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Sports

Lia Thomas breaks silence after losing case to compete in Olympics, other elite women’s sports

Riley Gaines calls ruling a ‘victory’

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Lia Thomas (YouTube screen capture)

Transgender All-American swimming champion Lia Thomas will not be allowed to compete at the Olympics in Paris this summer, or any elite women’s competition, after a worldwide ban on trans women athletes was upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. And for the first time since granting an interview to ESPN in May 2022, Thomas is speaking out, as is her fiercest critic, Riley Gaines

The University of Pennsylvania graduate commented on this week’s ruling in a statement issued through her attorney, saying that the decision should serve as a “call to action for trans women athletes.”

“The CAS decision is deeply disappointing,” Thomas said. “Blanket bans preventing trans women from competing are discriminatory and deprive us of valuable athletic opportunities that are central to our identities. The CAS decision should be seen as a call to action to all trans women athletes to continue to fight for our dignity and human rights.”

On Wednesday, three CAS judges dismissed the athlete’s request for arbitration with World Aquatics, the governing body for swimming organizations around the world, claiming rules regarding transgender competitors introduced two years ago were discriminatory.

Three months after Thomas became the first out trans Division I NCAA champion in March 2022, World Aquatics voted to prohibit trans women who had been through male puberty from competing in elite meets for cisgender women. Only trans women who had completed their medical transition by the age of 12 were allowed to compete with cisgender women. The organization introduced an “open category” in its 50-meter and 100-meter races across all strokes, which would allow athletes whose gender identity differs from the sex they were presumed to be at birth to compete with anyone else. But they would no longer be allowed to compete with other women who were not trans. 

In asking CAS to overturn the ruling last year, Thomas argued that the guidelines were discriminatory, “invalid and unlawful,” as the Los Angeles Blade reported. But the judges dismissed her claim, stating she had no standing and is not eligible to compete in elite competitions through World Aquatics or USA Swimming “for the time being,” so the policy does not apply to her.

“She is currently only entitled to compete in USA Swimming events that do not qualify as ‘Elite Events,'” according to the judges. “The panel concludes that she lacks standing to challenge the policy and the operational requirements in the framework of the present proceeding,” said the court in its ruling.

The judges said USA Swimming had no authority “to modify such scope of application” of the world governing body’s rules.

World Aquatics said it welcomed the CAS decision in a case “we believe is a major step forward in our efforts to protect women’s sport.” 

Even had the court ruled in her favor, Thomas is not named on the preliminary entry list for the U.S. Olympic swimming trials, which begin this weekend in Indianapolis ahead of the start of the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris next month.

To failed swimmer turned vocal anti-trans inclusion activist and Gaines, that is “great news.” “Great news! Lia Thomas won’t be able to compete in women’s category at the Olympics or any other elite competition. He has just lost his legal battle in Court of Arbitration for Sport ruling,” Gaines posted on her social media Wednesday, misgendering Thomas. “This is a victory for women and girls everywhere.”

But Gaines did not stop there. A few hours later, she shared an article about the ruling from the right-wing tabloid, the New York Post, and threw down a challenge to the NCAA: “Now the @ncaa needs to strip him of every award, title, and record he stole from a deserving female athlete.” 

Other conservative anti-trans media such as the Daily Mail and other outlets also hailed the decision. But above the fray, one voice has consistently stood out in support of Thomas: Her friend, Schuyler Bailar, who became the first trans athlete to compete on a NCAA Division I men’s team when he swam for Harvard. He called the CAS ruling, “devastating.” 

“This is not inclusion. This is textbook discrimination,” Bailar said in a post on Instagram. “And it is a result of the vicious, disgusting, anti-trans and misogynistic rhetoric that has infected this country and the world. Rhetoric that is not based in science but rather in hatred, fueled by power hungry people who do not care truly about women or women’s sports. I’m not sure what is next in this moment — but history will not look back favorably on this decision.” 

The Blade has reached out to Thomas through her representative for comment and did not receive a response as of press time. 

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Africa

Kenya seeks to ban intersex athletes from lowering hormone levels to compete in sports

Country’s human rights body has put forth measure

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(Bigstock photo)

Kenya’s state-funded human rights body does not want intersex athletes in the country to lower their hormone levels as a requirement to compete in any sport.

The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights in a proposal to the National Assembly notes it will ensure non-discrimination and fairness for intersex people in sports.  

The proposal in the Intersex Persons Bill, 2024, is among numerous amendments to existing laws that seek to grant intersex people equal rights after the government in 2019 officially recognized them as a third sex.

According to the bill that would amend Kenya’s Sports Act of 2013, this will require the Sports and Youth Affairs Ministry’s Cabinet secretary and the National Council for Intersex Persons, which the measure would create, to develop measures that ensure fairness for sporting intersex people when enacted.            

“The measures shall not require a person to alter their biological hormonal composition as a condition to participating in any sporting activity or program,” reads the bill. 

Although the measures would apply nationally, they would contradict the World Athletics Council’s 2018 regulations that similarly bar female transgender athletes from participating in international competitions, such as the Olympic Games. Intersex Kenyan athletes have to abide by these rules at the global level.       

The World Athletics through the regulations noted trans women who naturally have higher levels of testosterone compared to ordinary women have to undergo medication or surgery to lower their testosterone levels as a condition before competing in races of between 400 meters and a mile. Kenya’s National Olympic Committee supports these rules.

Some top female trans athletes barred from competing in the Olympic events from the World Athletics regulations due to their high natural testosterone levels include Margaret Wambui of Kenya, Caster Semenya of South Africa, Aminatou Seyni of Niger and and Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi.

The trans athletes opposed the World Athletics regulations with Semenya challenging them in court, but lost the case, even though the U.N. Human Rights Council in 2019 criticized the rules. UNHCR cautioned sports bodies not to “force, coerce or otherwise pressure women and girl athletes into undergoing unnecessary, humiliating and harmful medical procedures.” 

Kenya National Commission on Human Rights Deputy Director Veronica Mwangi, who spoke with the Washington Blade about the bill’s controversial proposal, said Kenya, which is the only African country to recognize intersex people as a third sex, has started the conversation with a “bigger picture” for the international sporting bodies to create an alternative competition for them to exploit their talents without reducing their hormonal levels or interfering with their biological characteristics as the condition before competing.      

“As KNCHR, we are very clear that we cannot afford to continue discriminating and marginalizing persons who are born as intersex, but rather we can promote conversations of inclusivity where the Semenya of South Africa, an equivalent of Semenya in Uganda and an equivalent in the U.S. or Kenya can have a special sporting event like the Paralympics for persons living with disabilities,” Mwangi said. 

She also questioned the fairness of World Athletics and other international sporting bodies in demanding “the Semenyas or talented intersex persons” to undergo hormonal therapy which then affects the athletes’ well-being after interfering with their biological anatomy.   

“These governing sporting bodies should not come back to us that it is the intersex persons to carry the blame,” Mwangi said. “It is not the responsibility of the intersex (person) but they are duty-bearers and should think of mechanisms to grow their talents and not find an easy way out of demanding to change who they are.” 

Mwangi disclosed the proposal is driven by KNCHR’s special task force report that found most intersex school children are talented and perform well in sports. 

Kenya’s Intersex Persons Implementation Coordination Committee is already identifying talented intersex people, including those in schools, to support their growth in sports. Kenya’s 2019 Census found there are 1,524 intersex people in the country.

Other amendments to the Intersex Persons Bill include an employment provision that would cap an intersex person’s monthly income tax at 25 percent of wages, compared to other Kenyans whose maximum taxable income stands at 35 percent, depending on one’s monthly total earnings.  

“Capping the income tax or wages for intersex persons at 25 percent is a tax consideration in the form of an affirmative action to uplift them in economic development and it is similar to that of persons living with disability who are tax exempted as marginalized groups,” Mwangi said.

The bill further seeks to amend the Health Act for any parent with an intersex child born at home to report the birth at the nearest government administration office or risk a fine of not more than $1,000 or a six-month prison term, or both, after being found guilty of concealing an intersex child’s identity.

The proposed law, moreover, seeks to create the National Council for Intersex Persons, whose mandates would include the creation of initiatives and programs to prevent discrimination against intersex people, creating a database for all intersex people and accrediting the group for employment purposes.  

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