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MLB’s support is a real game changer

Iconic American institution now on board with LGBT equality

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MLB, gay news, Washington Blade
MLB, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade cartoon by Ranslem)

By RYAN WAGNER

Picture this.

You’re in a ballpark. Your team is losing. Big. It’s the kind of game that would have made you leave in the fifth inning – if you were one of those fans who doesn’t believe your team will pull it out until the very last out is recorded. If you were one of those people who gives up.

All of a sudden your team gets a hit. And then another. Nothing special. A ground ball with eyes here, a dying quail there. But the buzz has started. You know the one I’m talking about. When 50,000 people all seem to begin to whisper simultaneously? The buzz.

Another hit, and this one scores a run or two. Now the buzz is a low rumble. Your team is still down, but there’s a glimmer of hope. This one ain’t over yet.

Now comes the big hit. The one that makes the sportswriters who have already written 90 percent of their game recaps stop, sigh and hit the delete button. The low rumble is now a roar. The game hasn’t been won, but the opponent is already defeated, and they’re not sure how it happened. The stars realigned, and that flighty temptress momentum changed her uniform.

In short, the narrative changed.

The fight for LGBT equality has undergone a similar change in narrative recently. For a long time, those battling in the trenches felt as though we were fighting a losing battle — always meeting with a loud, outspoken opposition that either didn’t care or simply didn’t understand. We weren’t exactly losing, but we certainly weren’t winning.

And then, all of a sudden, we got a couple of hits. Nothing big. A ground ball with eyes here, a dying quail there. Massachusetts became the first state to legalize gay marriage. Connecticut would follow, with Iowa and Vermont not far behind. The buzz started. You know the one I mean. When 100 million people all begin to whisper simultaneously? The buzz.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, Prop 8 and DOMA were all struck down. The buzz became a low rumble.

The fight began to spill over into other areas of society, including the world of sports. Jason Collins came out. In light of inflammatory anti-LGBT policies in Russia, President Obama skipped the 2014 Sochi Olympics, opting instead to appoint tennis legend and gay rights champion Billie Jean King to lead the American contingent at the Opening Ceremonies. Michael Sam announced he’s gay prior to the NFL draft and in doing so, became the first openly gay man to sign a contract with an NFL team.

The low rumble became a roar, and the narrative had changed.

As a professional stage actor who also decided to pursue a career in the world of professional sports, I’m somewhat of an anomaly.

The relationships I forged with my friends in the theater world led me to assume that the fight for LGBT equality was on the forefront of the American social agenda. I assumed this because, for those of us traveling North America with a musical, it was simply a part of the vernacular.

In 2011, I was on the road with that musical when I learned I had been hired by Major League Baseball. I would be leaving the bubble that theater had created, and would be making the long, fascinating walk to the other side of the spectrum. In a span of three days, I went from a cocoon where my most important issue was the same as everyone else’s to a world where that issue was never even discussed. It wasn’t that LGBT equality was on the back burner for Major League Baseball. It had yet to make it onto the stove. Professional sports, particularly those considered the “Big 4,” are in many ways the last great bastion of masculinity and demonstrative heterosexuality. Anything that can be deemed a weakness is a liability. Any distraction is removed as quickly and quietly as possible. Which is why the three years that have passed since I first began my career in baseball have been so remarkable.

In a span of just a few years, I have had a front row seat for one of the most astounding, and most important, ideological shifts in social history. Thanks to the immediacy of information and (seriously) the power of social media, LGBT equality has gone from an issue on the periphery of the American agenda to one that finds itself front and center. And the catalyst for that tectonic shift has been sports. When the issue of homosexuality began showing up on the football field and the basketball court, the everyday, blue-collar American sports fan was forced to deal with it. As I watched Jason Collins and Michael Sam announce their homosexuality, my immediate thought was, “When will this tidal wave reach Major League Baseball?”

Baseball is America’s pastime. As James Earl Jones once remarked in “Field of Dreams,” “Baseball…has marked the times.” It has gotten us through some of the most tumultuous times in our nation’s history: World War II, the Civil Rights Movement, 9-11. It stands to reason that baseball would take the lead in this time of great struggle. But when was that going to happen? When was baseball going to realize the opportunity it had to make a statement to not only the rest of the sports landscape, but to the country and the world as a whole?

A few weeks ago, I got my answer. On July 15, Major League Baseball officially announced its partnership with Athlete Ally, an organization dedicated to fostering an environment of acceptance and inclusion for all LGBT athletes, coaches, and fans across all sports, professional and amateur.

When MLB announced that partnership — even Commissioner Bud Selig signed a pledge to become an Athlete Ally himself — it trumpeted a major victory for the entire LGBT community and their allies. Major League Baseball is not just a professional sports league. It is an organization that is American as American gets. It represents all that we hold dear in our most patriotic of hearts, and if something that American can say that being gay is not only OK, but is something worth fighting for, who would dare say otherwise?

There may be nothing more difficult than the growing pains of a transitioning social issue. Most people who have strongly held beliefs derive those beliefs from years and years of indoctrination. Change only comes when those screaming for change outnumber those who are plugging their ears and waiting for the din to quiet. With Major League Baseball now adding its voice to the roaring winds of change, the din may finally be too much to overcome.

In short, the narrative has changed. And now, at long last, maybe, just maybe, that flighty temptress momentum has changed her uniform.

Ryan Wagner is the PA announcer for the Baltimore Orioles.

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The future of lesbian bars

Resolve to support our queer spaces in 2022

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lockdown zone, gay news, Washington Blade

This New Year, I hope you wish for more lesbian bars across the country. The story of lesbian bars in the U.S. has been slightly tragic of late: as of January 2021, there were only 15 clubs or bars dedicated to queer women across the country. 

That’s right—only 15. Across all 50 states. 

In Washington, D.C., my hometown, A League of Her Own stands out as the only lesbian bar in the city, dedicated to queer women. Located in Adams Morgan, A League of Her Own, also known as ALOHO, is a small mecca for queer ladies to pass through, socialize, and flirt. ALOHO is a chic gathering point for all queer folk, with posters of softball players dotting the walls and gender neutral signs lying about. 

Several years ago, another lesbian bar called Phase 1 existed in Southeast, where queer women could slam eight balls in pool games and engage in raunchy yet ever-so-hot jello wrestling competitions. 

Unfortunately, Phase 1 shut its doors in 2016. 

So what explains the closure of so many lesbian bars, while bars for gay men continue to flourish? Perhaps many queer women view gay bars as a space for their own as well, whereas gay men view lesbian bars as less of a place for them to socialize. 

Either way, we need to give support to lesbian bars now more than ever. Tokens of support can take many forms. 

For one, make sure to socialize in spaces dedicated to queer ladies. There are three lesbian bars in New York City: Cubbyhole (281 W. 12th St.), Gingers in Brooklyn (363 5th Ave.), and Henrietta Hudson (438 Hudson St.). Next time you visit the Big Apple, make sure to give these three spots some love. Maybe drag your experimenting bi friend to these locations. Or your pansexual roommate. 

Back in D.C., you can buy unisex shirts in A League of Her Own’s merchandise store, available online. 

Proceeds will go toward funding the bar, and making sure it stays afloat, especially during this COVID economy. 

Most of all, I hope you encourage your queer lady friends to keep on frequenting queer lady destinations. After all, there is only one thing that will keep lesbian bars afloat—and that is attendance. 

I, for one, will be frequenting many lesbian destinations this new year.  

Isaac Amend is a Yale graduate and participated in National Geographic’s ‘Gender Revolution’ documentary. He also is a member of the LGBT Democrats of Virginia, and contributes regularly to the Blade. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @isaacamend.

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Breaking barriers as an out trans ‘Jeopardy’ champion

Amy Schneider’s run inspires us all

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Amy Schneider (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Television)

“When was the last time anybody said ‘wow!’” a friend asked me.

I couldn’t remember the last time anyone I know (including me) had any “Wow!” moments. Until I heard about trans woman and software engineering manager Amy Schneider’s 29-game winning streak on “Jeopardy.”

You wouldn’t think anything could dispel our COVID exhaustion and political divisiveness. Yet, news about a champion on “Jeopardy,” a quiz show that has been on TV since 1964, has broken through our gloom.

In our culture, there are few things that everyone loves. But, “Jeopardy” is beloved by many, from theater geeks to 80-year-old sports nuts. A progressive friend was over the moon when his brother was a “Jeopardy” contestant. A buddy, a hetero (non-Trump) Republican, is a “Jeopardy” fanatic and a gay librarian pal is a “Jeopardy” freak.

Many of us daydream about being on “Jeopardy.” But we know that we wouldn’t have a chance on this legendary quiz show with its deceptively simple format: You give the answer to the (often incredibly hard) clues in the form of a question. You have to have a strategic military commander’s and a world-class athlete’s coordination: so you can press the buzzer to answer the clue.

The game’s categories run the gamut from opera to mountain ranges. Most of us, mere mortals, would be lucky to know even one category in the first round of the game. Let alone in the “Double Jeopardy” round or the “Final Jeopardy” clue. I might jump on clues about Katharine Hepburn movies or M&Ms. But that would be it for me.

It’s exciting to watch a “Jeopardy” contestant become a long-running champion. You marvel at the player’s intelligence, endurance, and nerve. It’s thrilling when the contestant on a winning-streak is part of your community.

Many of us LGBTQ “Jeopardy” fans are thrilled by Schneider’s record-setting winning streak. As I write this, Schneider has won more than $1 million in 29 games of “Jeopardy.” She is the fifth millionaire in “Jeopardy” history, and only the fourth player to reach this milestone in the regular season. She has won more than any other female “Jeopardy” contestant.

Schneider, like so many of us, doesn’t want to be defined by her gender identity or sexuality. Schneider’s life is multi-faceted; she has many interests. Schneider lives with her girlfriend Genevieve. They have a cat named Meep.

Yet, Schneider doesn’t want to hide that she’s trans. On “Jeopardy,” Schneider brilliantly dealt with this dilemma. She didn’t make a big deal about being out. She just wore the trans Pride flag pin.

“It was something that I wanted to get out there and to show my pride in while not making it the focus of what I was doing there,” Schneider told the New York Times. “Because I was just there to answer trivia questions and win money.”

As a cisgender lesbian, I can’t speak to how Schneider’s record-setting “Jeopardy” streak feels to transgender people.

But, as a trans ally, I’m cheering for Schneider. Kudos for her bravery! At a time when many states are passing anti-trans laws, it takes guts to be out on TV and the Internet.

Few things are as mainstream as “Jeopardy.” I bet that many “Jeopardy” viewers who are frightened at the idea of trans people, will become more comfortable with transgender people after watching Schneider on the popular quiz show. Because folks on TV come into our living and bedrooms and we feel as if we know them after watching them for a while.

“Amy looks like everybody else,” my neighbor said when I told her Schneider was trans. “She doesn’t act odd. She’s not strange.”

Transgender people encounter violence and discrimination in everything from housing to health care to employment.

I know Schneider’s “Jeopardy” triumph won’t end transphobia. But her winning streak will go a long way toward jumpstarting a change in hearts and minds.

Kathi Wolfe, a writer and a poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.

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SCARY: Tucker Carlson now the conscience of GOP

Cruz bows down, kisses ring of Fox host

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Tucker Carlson (Screen capture via Fox on YouTube)

The Republican Party has sunk to a new low, hard to do, when a sleazebag like Tucker Carlson is now their conscience. Seeing Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) groveling before him is laughable, disgusting, and frightening all at the same time. 

As reported in Rolling Stone, Cruz said, “We are approaching a solemn anniversary this week. It is an anniversary of a violent terrorist attack on the Capitol where we saw the men and women of law enforcement demonstrate incredible courage, incredible bravery, risk their lives to defend the men and women who serve in this Capitol.” Then “Cruz was lambasted by Tucker Carlson that night, prompting him to hop on Carlson’s show Thursday and beg for forgiveness. “The way I phrased things yesterday, it was sloppy and it was frankly dumb,” Cruz said before Carlson cut him off and said he didn’t believe him. Cruz took it up a notch, stammering through an absurd bit about how he wasn’t talking about the “patriots across the country supporting President Trump,” only those who assaulted police officers, and that he’s always described anyone who assaults a cop as a terrorist.

Carlson has made a career of being a pompous commentator. Interestingly he worked at CNN, PBS, and MSNBC, before finally landing at Fox in 2009. According to his Wikipedia page he went to Trinity College where he earned a bachelor’s degree and Carlson’s Trinity yearbook describes him as a member of the “Dan White Society,” an apparent reference to the American political assassin who murdered San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. After college, Carlson tried to join the CIA, but his application was denied, after which he decided to pursue a career in journalism with the encouragement of his father, who advised him that “they’ll take anybody.” Reading this clearly raised my opinion of the CIA and based on what we see in some media today I agree with Carlson’s father on his view of journalism. 

When you have a moment of silence in the House of Representatives to honor those who lost their lives on Jan. 6 and only two Republicans show up, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and her father Dick Cheney, the former vice president, one understands the influence Carlson has on the GOP. The rest were afraid of being criticized on-air by him or lambasted by Trump. 

Dick Cheney remarked on the GOP, “It’s not a leadership that resembles any of the folks I knew when I was here for 10 years.” He spoke to ABC News saying, “I’m deeply disappointed we don’t have better leadership in the Republican Party to restore the Constitution.” 

There is a leadership void in the Republican Party today. Their so-called leaders are afraid to say what they think if it differs in any way from Trumpism or Carlson’s view of the world, which requires total fealty to Trump. He found a home on Fox where he can lie with impunity and have millions believe his lies. 

President Biden said, in what many think was the best speech of his presidency so far, these people are “holding a dagger to the neck of democracy.” He went on to say, “For the first time in our history, a president not just lost an election, he tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power as a violent mob breached the Capitol.” 

Tucker Carlson and his ilk have never bothered to answer a question the president threw at them, which is how they can accept all their down ballot victories, governors, and members of Congress, which occurred on the same ballots, cast by the same people, on the same day, as those for president. Of course, Carlson has no need to make sense, tell the truth, or speak rationally because of his platform on Fox, which doesn’t require that.

My question is whether Carlson is as dumb as he makes himself sound or is he brilliant and this is all a big act? Either way the acolytes that follow Trump don’t seem to care and are bowing down to Carlson’s big audience. It’s as if he can tell any Republican senator or congressperson, or Republican candidate for those jobs, to just ‘bend over and take it’ and they do. All we can do is mourn for the GOP of Lincoln and Eisenhower. Non-Trumpers will have to work hard and speak out if they ever want to resurrect a GOP that can be respected.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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