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Yogi Berra lends name to sports equality movement

Straight allies partnering with LGBT groups to combat discrimination



Yogi Berra, gay news, Washington Blade

Legendary Yankees catcher Yogi Berra is an Athlete Ally ambassador. (Photo by Martyna Borkowski; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

In a little-noticed development, famed New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra agreed last year to become a ceremonial ambassador for Athlete Ally, an organization that partners with big name sports figures to advocate for full acceptance of LGBT athletes in professional sports.

In addition to allowing Athlete Ally to use his name in promoting LGBT equality, the nationally acclaimed baseball Hall of Famer embraced a proposal to include an LGBT exhibit in the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center located on the campus of Montclair State University in New Jersey.

“Yogi is a wonderful example making good choices,” said David Kaplan, executive director of the Berra Museum. “All of our programs and exhibits are about fairness and respect. And our involvement with Athlete Ally and shedding some light on this cause was just so consistent with our mission,” he said.

Berra declined an interview request, due to health issues.

Athlete Ally is among at least a dozen organizations that have either sprung up or expanded their mission in the past several years to take on the cause of LGBT athletes in American sports, both on the professional level and on the high school and college level.

Sam Marchiano, Athlete Ally’s outreach director, said Berra is one of 100 professional athlete ambassadors the group has lined up to advocate on behalf of LGBT equality. She said another 100 college athlete ambassadors have been recruited.

Photos of many of them, including Berra, are prominently featured on the group’s website along with the text of a pledge that Athlete Ally asks all of its allies to sign.

“I pledge to lead my athletic community to respect and welcome all persons, regardless of their perceived or actual sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression,” the pledge says. “Beginning right now, I will do my part to promote the best of athletics by making all players feel respected on and off the field,” it says.

Cyd Zeigler, co-founder and editor of Out Sports, an online publication that reports on LGBT people in sports, said Athlete Ally is the only organization that currently operates exclusively as a straight ally group.

He noted that all the others, including longtime existing groups like Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, have sports-related programs that work with straight allies but are focused mostly on LGBT athletes.

According to Zeigler, the growing number of professional athletes that have come out as gay or lesbian in recent years has begun to change the focus of what he calls the LGBT sports movement from supportive allies to LGBT athletes themselves.

“I come from the perspective that straight allies are fading very quickly into the distance of this movement because there are so many LGBT athletes and LGBT people who are joining the sports movement that straight allies just aren’t needed anymore,” he said.

David McFarland, executive director of United for Equality in Sports and Entertainment, and Wade Davis, executive director of You Can Play Project, two recently formed groups that advocate for LGBT athletes, each agree that the growing number of LGBT athletes coming out publicly is an encouraging development.

But the two also said the number of LGBT athletes coming out is far less than what it should be and that most LGBT athletes on the high school, college and professional level remain reluctant to self-identify as LGBT.

“While many of the most powerful sports institutions have made great strides to publicly support and embrace LGBT equality such as the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, etc., the truth is that sexual orientation and gender identity remain problematic for many of these organizations within sports at all levels,” McFarland said.

“That’s the reality,” he said. “If this were not the case we would see hundreds if not thousands of LGBT athletes on the playing fields,” said McFarland. “And we would see many more coaches and sports administrators that felt safe enough to come out without the risk of losing their jobs.”

Davis is gay and a former NFL player who, among other teams, played for the Washington Redskins. He said he knows of a number of professional athletes in several different sports that are out to their teammates but are not out publicly.

Davis and McFarland said their respective groups either currently provide or plan to provide educational resources, including training sessions, for players and coaches to dispel myths about LGBT people and lessen the fears and underlying feelings that make it hard for LGBT athletes to come out.

Another of the newer generation of advocacy groups for LGBT athletes is ‘Go! Athletes,’ which consists of a nationwide network of mostly LGBT student athletes and their straight allies. With members in cities throughout the country, the group, which was founded in 2008, has been “spreading the word about LGBT athletes and our experiences with coming out, receiving support, fighting homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexism, and other anti-LGBT discrimination in the world of athletics,” a statement on the group’s website says.

The website says Georgetown University student Craig Casey Jr., who’s gay and was elected as an Advisory Neighborhood Commission member, serves as a Go! Athletes Collegiate Ambassador for Washington, D.C.

The group Br{ache the Silence also works with LGBT student athletes in its mission to “shift the focus from homophobia to inclusion,” it says on its website,

“Br{ache the Silence (BST) advances LGBTQ inclusion in sports through professional college campus integration initiatives and public awareness campaigns,” a message on the website says.

The New York-based Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) advocates for LGBT youth in school sports programs beginning in grades K through 12 through its Changing the Game Project. Among other things, the project works with gym teachers and school athletic programs to curtail and eliminate anti-LGBT bias targeting students.

“What you see at the pro level really starts in kindergarten and on the playground in recess time,” GLSEN official Robert McGarry told the Blade in a past interview. “We’ve been doing training across the country with mostly high school coaches and physical education teachers who seem very receptive and anxious to have this kind of training because it’s not something they get in their preparation and they don’t know what to do.”

GLAAD spokesperson Rich Ferraro said GLAAD for several years now has worked closely with major league sports organizations to persuade them to adopt internal non-discrimination polices protecting LGBT athletes. Virtually all of them have done so, including Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League.

Ferraro said the GLAAD sports project has also lobbied professional sports leagues and teams to make public statements endorsing LGBT equality and condemning anti-LGBT bullying. In response to efforts by GLAAD and other groups, the New York Yankees recently adopted a strict policy prohibiting homophobic taunts and chants by fans at Yankee Stadium during games that calls for ejecting those who violate the policy, Ferraro said.

In its Athletes for Equality program, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation draws attention to LGBT rights by arranging for runners, both LGBT and straight, to participate in marathon races to raise money for the HRC Foundation, according to foundation official Jay Brown.

Brown said HRC sponsored a marathon and half marathon in Akron, Ohio, earlier this month as part of the Gay Games. He said Athletes for Equality will be participating in October in the annual Marine Corps Marathon in D.C.

Zeigler said another recent addition to the LGBT sports advocacy scene was the creation in 2012 by leaders of these and other groups of the LGBT Sports Coalition, which serves as an association of organizations and individuals working to end anti-LGBT bias in sports by 2016.

Last October, Nike Corporation, which bills itself as the world’s largest sports company, donated $200,000 to the LGBT Sports Coalition, expressing strong support for the coalition’s efforts to end bias and discrimination in sports.

Following is a partial list of LGBT athlete advocacy groups.

Athlete Ally
Changing the Game Project
You Can Play Project
United for Equality in Sports and Entertainment
GLAAD Sports Project
Go! Athletes
Br{ache the Silence
Homophobia in Sports Project
LGBT Sports Coalition


The White House

Country’s first nonbinary state lawmaker participates in Gaza ceasefire hunger strike

Oklahoma state Rep. Mauree Turner is Muslim



Oklahoma state Rep. Mauree Turner in front of the White House on Nov. 30, 2023, while taking part in a hunger strike for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The country’s first nonbinary state lawmaker last week participated in a hunger strike for a permanent ceasefire in the Gaza Strip that took place in front of the White House.

Oklahoma state Rep. Mauree Turner took part in the 5-day action alongside actress Cynthia Nixon, Virginia state Del. Sam Rasoul, Delaware state Rep. Madinah Wilson-Anton, New York State Assemblymember Zohran Mamdani, Michigan state Rep. Abraham Aiyash, former New York Congressional candidate Rana Abdelhamid, Muslim Founder Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, Adalah Justice Project Director of Strategy and Communications Sumaya Awad and Linda Sarsour. The U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, Jewish Voice for Peace, Democratic Socialists of America, IfNotNowMovement, Dream Defenders, the Institute for Middle East Understanding and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee are the organizations that either participated in the hunger strike or endorsed it. 

“This is the place where you should be,” Turner told the Washington Blade on Nov. 30 while they were standing in front of the White House.

Turner is from Ardmore, Okla., and has been a member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives since 2021. They are the first Muslim person elected to the Oklahoma Legislature.

“Oklahoma is no stranger to genocide, displacement, uprooting communities — beautiful, vibrant, vulnerable communities — just because they could,” said Turner, referring to the treatment of Native Americans in what became Oklahoma during the 1800s and early 1900s. “Specifically as a Muslim and as an Oklahoman it is my duty to be here.”

The hunger strike took place nearly two months after Hamas, which the U.S. has designated a terrorist organization, launched a surprise attack against communities in southern Israel from Gaza.

The Israeli government has said roughly 1,200 people have been killed, including at least 260 people who Hamas militants murdered at an all-night music festival in a kibbutz near the border between Israel and Gaza. The Israeli government also says more than 5,000 people have been injured in the country since the war began and Hamas militants kidnapped more than 200 others.

Yarden Roman-Gat, whose gay brother, Gili Roman, spoke with the Washington Blade on Oct. 30 in D.C., is one of the 105 people who Hamas released during a truce with Israel that began on Nov. 24 and ended on Dec. 1.

The Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry says more than 15,000 people have died in the enclave since the war began. Israel after Oct. 7 cut electricity and water to Gaza and stopped most food and fuel shipments.

“It’s absolutely wild to think about what is happening to the Palestinian people in Gaza and in the West Bank,” said Turner.

Turner noted the war began two days before Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

“By October the 10th, when the world was really seeing what was happening in Gaza,” they said. “So many people who had celebrated specifically Indigenous Peoples’ Day had also sided with the Israeli government over the indigenous people of the land.”

‘The death of civilians is absolutely horrible’

Turner in response to the Blade’s question about the Israelis who militants killed on Oct. 7 emphatically said “the death of civilians is absolutely horrible.” Turner added they “cannot stress enough that when we back people into a corner, we don’t know what will happen.”

“The truth of the matter is our governments, our governmental officials do not have to put people in a corner,” said Turner.

Turner was particularly critical of the Israeli government’s actions in Gaza after Oct. 7.

“I don’t think there’s any place where a government has the power to shut off right water, food, healthcare supplies, things like that,” they said. “It’s just in doing so against a population that has 2 million people … that’s not anyone looking for equitability or justice. That is genocide against its people.”

Turner noted Republican Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt continues to publicly support Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Turner told the Blade “when we oppress people over decades and decades … we cannot, we don’t get to cherry pick” or “we don’t get to tone police or however they are fighting back to be heard, to be, to live for vibrant lives.”

“We cannot tell oppressed people how to hurt out loud,” they said, specifically referring to Palestinian people. “We can create governments that care for people from a community standpoint who are thinking creatively about how we provide aid and support and we can ask our elected officials (members Congress, President Joe Biden, state and local officials) to teach truth. We can ask them to continuously make sure that we are providing the best care and understanding of the situations at hand. We can ask them to do a ceasefire to stop sending aid to the Israeli government and emboldening their military forces.”

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Climate change threatens LGBTQ resort communities

Provincetown, Cape Cod, other destinations face ‘existential’ challenge



The beach in Fire Island Pines, N.Y., on New York's Fire Island has been the scene of extreme erosion in recent years. (Photo courtesy Actum Vice President Savannah Farrell)

As the world reckons with worsening impacts of climate change, some LGBTQ communities and destinations are grappling with the “existential” threat posed by the crisis.

The United Nations’ annual climate conference will take place in the United Arab Emirates through Dec. 12. LGBTQ climate activists, however, are concerned about representation at COP28 because the meeting is taking place in Dubai, which is in a country that criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual relations.

President Joe Biden on Nov. 14 delivered a statement on climate change policy during his administration. Biden spoke on the American Rescue Plan, the Fifth National Climate Assessment, new transparency about the state of the country’s climate and more. 

Biden emphasized “advancing environmental justice for disadvantaged communities, because they’re the ones always left behind.” Evidence of this trend can be found in LGBTQ destinations across the country.

Julian Cyr, a gay Massachusetts state senator who represents Provincetown and other towns on Cape Cod, recognizes the state’s importance to the LGBTQ community, stating that “according to the Census, it may be the highest per capita density of LGBTQ+ people certainly in the United States, and perhaps internationally.”

Provincetown, a popular gay destination located at the tip of Cape Cod, is facing worsening storms as climate change advances. These storms reshape the natural environment as well as damage the built environment. A series of Nor’easters in 2018 flooded Provincetown, damaging homes, businesses and the town hall. 

“The climate crisis is … already forcing us to do a lot of planning and reevaluation of coastal resilience of our built environment,” said Cyr. 

All hope isn’t lost yet for Massachusetts destinations. 

Then-Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, in 2022 introduced the Climate Roadmap, which aims for zero carbon emissions by 2050. The state also is building the country’s first offshore wind farm, Vineyard Wind. 

Cyr said citizens can push for climate change legislation by making the urgency known to their local elected officials.  

“This is truly existential for coastal, low-lying communities like those that I represent,” said Cyr. “It’s really important that constituents weigh in with their elected officials and make sure that they know that this issue is crucially important. I don’t know how we not solve this issue.”

Experts are seeing similar effects in nearby LGBTQ destinations, such as Cape Cod.

“One thing that we do see already is the effect of storms,” said Mark Adams, a retired Cape Cod National Seashore cartographer. “Those storms are the signal of sea level rise.”

Adams said that as a result of rising temperatures and new, intense storms, he is also starting to see damaged ecosystems, unnatural migration patterns of local wildlife, and planting-zones moving northward. Adams told the Washington Blade these changing ecological relationships may mean an uncertain future for life along the coast: the self-sustaining lifestyle and seafood could be at risk as ocean acidification puts shellfish in danger. 

“If you can’t get oysters and clams, that would really change life on Cape Cod,” he said. 

In addition to the damage caused by storms, Cape Cod’s natural environment is also facing the threat of littering and plastic pollution. While the area’s beaches keep tourism alive, fishing gear and marine debris washing up on the shore are growing concerns for the community. 

Adams said this is where the choices individuals make to avoid plastics will make a huge difference in the future of these communities. 

“There are little choices we can make to get off of the petroleum stream,” he said.

A car in floodwaters in Miami Beach, Fla., in July 2018. Climate change has made Miami Beach and other coastal cities more susceptible to flooding. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Aspen Gay Ski Week adapts to warmer winters

Aspen Gay Ski Week was the first gay ski week, and it is the largest such event in the world, and is the only non-profit gay ski week.

Rising temperatures and short winters are growing concerns for destinations like Aspen, Colo., that depend on snow, according to AspenOUT Executive Director Kevin McManamon.

“As our seasons get shorter … we have to plan for the future,” McManamon said.

Colorado has also faced increased forest fires in recent years.

The Marshall Fire in 2021 devastated the state, destroying buildings and killing two people. Increasingly dry conditions feed into these fires, which will mean more impacts on humans, nature, and infrastructure.

McManamon nevertheless said he is optimistic about Aspen Gay Ski Week’s future due to the organization’s forward thinking. One such initiative is its involvement with Protect Our Winters, an organization that advocates for protecting the environment with the support of the outdoor sports community. 

“The cool part about being here in Aspen and having a great relationship with Aspen Skiing Company is that they are … on the leading edge of climate change,” said McManamon. 

Stronger storms threaten Fire Island

Fire Island Pines on New York’s Fire Island has been a safe haven for the LGBTQ community since the 1950s.

Fire Island Pines Property Owners’ Association President Henry Robin notes natural disasters cause more damage in the community as opposed to those that are across the Great South Bay on Long Island because Fire Island is a “barrier island.”

“When Superstorm Sandy hit, or when a Nor’easter hits, or a hurricane hits, the brunt of the storm is first taken by the Pines,” said Robin. 

Robin said “the Pines is thriving” just over 11 years since Sandy, but there is no climate change response. The federal government implemented a beach restoration project for Fire Island, and later, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers created an engineered beach for the Pines. 

Robin also formed three task forces — comprised of community members — to address local concerns, many of which were climate related, according to focus groups and a survey. Robin is also hoping to introduce recycling programs and solar energy to the Pines. 

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The White House

US announces additional sanctions for Ugandan officials

Anti-Homosexuality Act signed on May 29



LGBTQ and intersex activists protest in front of the Ugandan Embassy in D.C. on April 25, 2023. (Washington Blade photos by Michael K. Lavers)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday announced sanctions against current and former Ugandan officials who committed human rights abuses against LGBTQ people and other groups.

“After Uganda’s flawed 2021 presidential elections, I announced a visa restriction policy targeting those believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic process in Uganda,” said Blinken in a statement. “At that time, I implored the government of Uganda to significantly improve its record and hold accountable those responsible for flawed electoral processes, violence and intimidation.”

Blinken announced “the expansion of the visa restriction policy to include current or former Ugandan officials or others who are believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic process in Uganda or for policies or actions aimed at repressing members of marginalized or vulnerable populations.” 

“These groups include, but are not limited to, environmental activists, human rights defenders, journalists, LGBTQI+ persons and civil society organizers,” he said. “The immediate family members of such persons may also be subject to these restrictions.”  

Blinken added the U.S. “stands by the Ugandan people and remains committed to working together to advance democracy, human rights, public health and mutual prosperity.”  

“I once again strongly encourage the government of Uganda to make concerted efforts to uphold democracy and to respect and protect human rights so that we may sustain the decades-long partnership between our countries that has benefited Americans and Ugandans alike,” he said.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on May 29 signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.” The State Department a few weeks later announced visa restrictions against unnamed Ugandan officials.

The Biden-Harris administration in October said it plans to remove Uganda from a program that allows sub-Saharan African countries to trade duty-free with the U.S. The White House has also issued a business advisory for Uganda in response to the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

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