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Rookies & Vets: Washington Scandals

Local gay rugby league kicks off new season in August

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Scandals, gay news, Washington Blade
Scandals, gay news, Washington Blade

Vinny Ah Sam says learning rugby was intimidating at first. (Photo by Zack Kreiter)

This week in the Washington Blade series on the rookie and veteran players that compete on the LGBT sports teams in the D.C. area, we focus on two gay athletes from the Washington Scandals rugby team.

The Scandals were formed in 2013 when overcrowding on other local rugby teams was preventing interested players from competing in the sport. They are not playing in a league and have created a niche lining up games with teams from the Eastern seaboard and competing in tournaments.

They are currently between seasons and going through conditioning training. Their first rookie camp session for the new season will be held on Aug. 15.

Vinny Ah Sam joined the team in May after Scandals president Sean Cunningham invited him to see what the team was all about.

“I got there for my first practice and was really intimidated,” Ah Sam says. “I had never played a full-contact sport and they were really scary.”

Ah Sam grew up in El Sobrante, Calif., and played multiple sports growing up including baseball and basketball. His main sport from age 10 on was swimming and he swam for two years at Diablo Valley College.

He moved to D.C. when his fiancé Zach took a job here in 2013 and he is currently taking classes to earn a degree in surgical technology at Montgomery College and working as a lifeguard and swim instructor.

Ah Sam learned the basics of rugby playing on the beach in California with his college swim team and that experience set him up for a quick integration into the sport.

“Actually competing in the sport is a whole new experience for me and I absolutely love it,” Ah Sam says. “The veterans have been pushing me to be the best that I can be.”

Another plus for Ah Sam is his background in sports medicine and athletic training which allows him to be involved in occasionally setting up workouts and treating injured teammates.

“I really like the whole experience of being a part of this team,” Ah Sam says. “During a match, I feel really useful when I take someone down and defend the try zone.”

Brendan Raden had a friend on the Scandals when they formed in early 2013 and joined the team  in July, 2013.

“People have this idea of what rugby is and then that idea just sits in their mind until they actually play,” Raden says. “Even though I had never played, I loved it immediately.”

Raden grew up in Rockville and Damascus, Md., and attended college at the University of Delaware. Growing up he played baseball and lacrosse but didn’t compete in college.

“I played volleyball and ultimate Frisbee recreationally and refereed for intramurals,” Raden says. “Sports were not a priority for me then and I regret that now.”

Raden is currently a full-time student at University of Maryland working toward two more degrees, English literature and secondary English education. This time he is also deeply involved in his sport.

Scandals, gay news, Washington Blade

Brendan Raden says he’s always excited to see new Scandals members. (Photo courtesy Raden)

By the end of 2013 he was the captain of the team and has also been the coach of the team since 2014 after getting his coach’s certification.

“That was frightening since I had only been playing for just over a year,” Raden says.

Raden jumped right into the leadership role and realized that they were constantly teaching the basics over and over. The team subsequently created a rookie camp to help beginners learn the sport.

“Most other teams have a one-time rookie 101 day clinic where they go over the basics. It is detached and without context,” Raden says. “We have three rookie camps where the veterans come in to play with the rookies and go over the scenarios. It is a no-pressure, comfortable environment.”

Raden says rookies are everything for the team.

“You need the numbers to keep the team going and to keep improving. Whenever I see a new player, I say to myself, ‘Ah yes, here is somebody new. Fantastic.’”

Coming up for the fall season, the Scandals have four-to-five confirmed matches lined up and tournaments in Charlotte and Atlanta.

“I didn’t join this team to find friends. I just wanted to play a really cool sport,” Raden says. “It turned out that the guys on the team are my closest friends. It has been pretty incredible.”

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NFL player’s misogynistic, homophobic comments spark outrage

Harrison Butker gave Benedictine College commencement address on Saturday

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Harrison Butker (Benedictine College YouTube screenshot)

Addressing a friendly audience at a private, Catholic liberal arts college, three-time Super Bowl champion Harrison Butker spoke from his heart about his faith and revealed his personal beliefs as a cisgender man about women and the LGBTQ community. 

In his 20-minute commencement address at Benedictine College on Saturday, the Kansas City Chiefs kicker said LGBTQ Pride Month events are an example of biblical “deadly sins,” denounced “dangerous gender ideologies” and the “diabolical lies told to women,” declared a woman’s most important title is “homemaker,” and offered his take on abortion, in vitro fertilization and surrogacy, as well as President Joe Biden. 

Butker, 28, criticized Biden’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and questioned his devotion to Roman Catholicism, calling him “delusional.” Speaking directly to the men in the audience, the athlete advised them to “be unapologetic in your masculinity,” and to “fight against the cultural emasculation of men.”

The pro football player announced that God had given him a platform to speak and that, “I have no other choice but to embrace it,” he said. 

Those in attendance laughed in support of Butker when he mocked Pride Month as he cited a recent article by the Associated Press, headlined: “‘A step back in time’: America’s Catholic Church sees an immense shift toward the old ways.” The article detailed the institution’s shift “toward the old ways” and highlighted Benedictine’s rules that “seem like precepts of a bygone age,” which include “volunteering for 3 a.m. prayers” and “pornography, premarital sex, and sunbathing in swimsuits being forbidden.”

“I am certain the reporters at the AP could not have imagined that their attempt to rebuke and embarrass places and people like those here at Benedictine wouldn’t be met with anger but instead met with excitement and pride,” said Butker. “Not the deadly sins sort of Pride that has an entire month dedicated to it, but the true God-centered pride that is cooperating with the Holy Ghost to glorify him.” Butker went on to say that only by surrendering one’s self to Christ will anyone find happiness. 

“Harrison Butker gave a speech in his personal capacity,” the NFL’s senior vice president and chief diversity and inclusion officer Jonathan Beane said in a statement addressing his comments. “His views are not those of the NFL as an organization. The NFL is steadfast in our commitment to inclusion, which only makes our league stronger.”

Sarah Kate Ellis, president of GLAAD, called Butker’s speech “inaccurate, ill-informed, and woefully out of step with Americans about Pride, LGBTQ people, and women.”

“Those with expansive platforms, especially athletes, should use their voices to uplift and expand understand and acceptance in the world,” she said in a statement. “Instead, Butker’s remarks undermine experiences not of his own and reveal him to be one who goes against his own team’s commitment to the Kansas City community, and the NFL’s standards for respect, inclusion and diversity across the league.”

Butker called on religious leaders “to stay in their lane and lead,” and told women their place was in the kitchen and the maternity ward.  

“I’m beyond blessed with the many talents God has given me, but it cannot be overstated that all of my success is made possible because a girl I met in band class back in middle school would convert to the faith, become my wife, and embrace one of the most important titles of all: Homemaker,” said Butker, and his words were met with thunderous applause. 

“It is you, the women, who have had the most diabolic lies told to you. Some of you may go on to lead successful careers in the world but I would venture to guess that the majority of you are most excited about your marriage and the children you will bring into this world,” Butker said.

The Chiefs did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but someone who handles social media for Kansas City posted on X that Butker doesn’t even live in Kansas City but in a suburb 30 miles outside city limits, in a now-deleted tweet. 

Someone then posted an apology using that account:

And Kansas City’s mayor himself apologized, also on X, saying “A message appeared earlier this evening from a city public account. The message was clearly inappropriate for a public account,” he posted. “The city has correctly apologized for the error, will review account access, and ensure nothing like it is shared in the future from public channels.”

Butker’s comments earned him comparisons to “The Handmaid’s Tale,” both in his words and in how his beard appeared similar to one of the Hulu series’ characters. 

You can watch Butker’s commencement address in full here: 

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Brittney Griner considered suicide in Russian prison

WNBA star sat down with Robin Roberts

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ABC News ‘Good Morning America’ anchor Robin Roberts interviews WNBA star Brittney Griner for a primetime special. (Photo courtesy of ABC News)

CONTENT WARNING: The following story discusses suicide ideation.

Her first few weeks behind bars in a Russian prison took a terrible toll on Brittney Griner, the lesbian WNBA star who is breaking her silence on the 10 months she was held on drug-related charges. 

“I wanted to take my life more than once in the first weeks,” Griner told ABC’s Robin Roberts in a primetime interview Wednesday. “I felt like leaving here so badly.”

The two-time Olympic gold medalist and nine-time WNBA All-Star, who plays for the Phoenix Mercury, said she ultimately decided against suicide, partly because she feared Russian authorities would not release her body to her wife, Cherelle Griner. 

While Cherelle and the White House worked to gain her release, Brittney reflected on what she admitted was the “mistake” that landed her in Russian detention. 

“I could just visualize everything I worked so hard for just crumbling and going away,” Griner told Roberts, who is co-anchor at “Good Morning America” and is herself a lesbian and former college basketball player.

Griner, 33, was arrested on Feb. 17, 2022, at Sheremetyevo International Airport in Khimki, a suburb of Moscow. Authorities said they found vape cartridges in her luggage containing cannabis oil, which is illegal in the country.

Griner told Roberts that was the result of a “mental lapse” on her part — packing the cannabis oil cartridges in her luggage, Griner said that she had overslept on the morning she was leaving for Russia to play during the WNBA’s off-season, which is how many of the league’s vastly underpaid players earn a living, compared to NBA players. 

So, she packed while she was “in panic mode,” Griner said. 

“My packing at that moment was just throwing all my stuff in there and zipping it up and saying, ‘OK, I’m ready,’” she told Roberts.

After landing in Russia, Griner realized that she had those two cannabis oil cartridges in her luggage as Russian security officers inspected her bag at the airport. She recalled the moment as a sinking feeling. 

“I’m just like, ‘Oh, my God.’ Like, ‘How did I — how did I make this mistake?’” Griner said. “I could just visualize everything I worked so hard for just crumbling and going away.”

Russian authorities immediately arrested Griner, but her trial would not take place for five months. She described the horrible conditions of her imprisonment during that delay, saying that she didn’t always have toilet paper and that the toothpaste they gave her had expired about 15 years ago.

“That toothpaste was expired,” she said. “We used to put it on the black mold to kill the mold on the walls.”

“The mattress had a huge blood stain on it, and they give you these thin two sheets,” she added. “So you’re basically laying on bars.”

On July 7, 2022, Griner pleaded guilty at her trial to drug charges, admitting that she had the vape cartridges containing cannabis oil but stating she put them in her luggage unintentionally. She testified that she had packed the cartridges by accident, and had “no intention” to break Russian law.

Roberts pressed Griner on this point: “You know there are those who say, ‘Come on. How did you not know that you had cartridges in your luggage?’”

“It’s just so easy to have a mental lapse,” Griner replied. “Granted, my mental lapse was on a more grand scale. But it doesn’t take away from how that can happen,” she explained.

Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison on Aug. 4, 2022, and in October 2022, a judge denied the appeal filed by Griner’s attorneys.

The sentence landed Griner in a penal colony in the Russian region of Mordovia.

“It’s a work camp. You go there to work,” said Griner. “There’s no rest.” Her job was cutting fabric for Russian military uniforms.

“What were the conditions like there?” Roberts asked.

“Really cold,” Griner said. So cold that her health was impacted and she decided to chop off her long dreadlocks.

“What was that like losing that part of you, too?” Roberts asked Griner.

“Honestly, it just had to happen. We had spiders above my bed — making nests,” she said. “My dreads started to freeze,” she added. “They would just stay wet and cold and I was getting sick. You’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do to survive.”

Her arrest came around the same time as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, further increasing tensions between Russia and the U.S. But as the Los Angeles Blade reported on Dec, 8, 2022, Russia agreed to release Griner in exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

However, before winning her freedom, Griner revealed authorities forced her to write a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“They made me write this letter. It was in Russian,” she said. “I had to ask for forgiveness and thanks from their so-called great leader. I didn’t want to do it, but at the same time I wanted to come home.”

Griner said her heart sank upon boarding the plane to freedom and finding that Paul Whelan, another American the White House said was “wrongfully detained,” wasn’t leaving Russia with her.

“I walked on and didn’t see him, maybe he’s next. Maybe they will bring him next,” she said. “They closed the door, and I was like, are you serious? You’re not going to let this man come home now.”

Griner recounts on the experience in “Coming Home,” a memoir set to be released on May 7. 

988 is the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline and is available 24/7 via phone, text or chat to everyone of all ages, orientations and identities. If you are a transgender, nonbinary, or gender-nonconforming person considering suicide, Trans Lifeline can be reached at 877-565-8860. LGBTQ+ youth (ages 24 and younger) can reach the Trevor Project Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386. You can still also contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 24 hours a day, and it’s available to people of all ages and identities.

Additional resources:

If you are in a life-threatening situation, please dial 911.

If you are in crisis, please dial 988 or contact Rainbow Youth Project directly at +1 (317) 643-4888

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Bisexual former umpire sues Major League Baseball for sexual harassment

Brandon Cooper claims female colleague sexually harassed him

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Arizona Complex League game in 2023. (YouTube screenshot)

A fired former umpire is suing Major League Baseball, claiming he was sexually harassed by a female umpire and discriminated against because of his gender and his sexual orientation. 

Brandon Cooper worked in the minor league Arizona Complex League last year, and according to the lawsuit he filed Wednesday in federal court in Manhattan, he identifies as bisexual. 

“I wanted my umpiring and ability to speak for itself and not to be labeled as ‘Brandon Cooper the bisexual umpire,’” he told Outsports. “I didn’t want to be labeled as something. It has been a passion of mine to simply make it to the Major Leagues.”

But that didn’t happen. Instead of being promoted, he was fired. His suit names MLB and an affiliated entity, PDL Blue, Inc., and alleges he had endured a hostile work environment and wrongful termination and/or retaliation because of gender and sexual orientation under New York State and New York City law.

“Historically the MLB has had a homogenous roster of umpires working in both the minor and major leagues,” Cooper claims in his suit. “Specifically, to date there has never been a woman who has worked in a (regular) season game played in the majors, and most umpires are still Caucasian men. To try to fix its gender and racial diversity issue, defendants have implemented an illegal diversity quota requiring that women be promoted regardless of merit.”

Cooper claims former umpire Ed Rapuano, now an umpire evaluator, and Darren Spagnardi, an umpire development supervisor, told him in January 2023 that MLB had a hiring quota, requiring that at least two women be among 10 new hires.

According to the suit, Cooper was assigned to spring training last year and was notified by the senior manager of umpire administration, Dusty Dellinger, that even though he received a high rating in June from former big league umpire Jim Reynolds, now an umpire supervisor, that women and minority candidates had to be hired first. 

Cooper claims that upon learning Cooper was bisexual, fellow umpire Gina Quartararo insulted him and fellow umpire Kevin Bruno by using homophobic slurs and crude remarks. At that time, Quartararo and Cooper worked on the same umpiring crew and being evaluated for possible promotion to the big leagues.

This season, Quartararo is working as an umpire in the Florida State League, one of nine women who are working as minor league umpires.

Cooper said he notified Dellinger, but instead of taking action against Quartararo, he said MLB ordered Cooper to undergo sensitivity training. According to his lawsuit, he was also accused of violating the minor league anti-discrimination and harassment policy.

Cooper’s suit says he met with MLB Senior Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Billy Bean — who the Los Angeles Blade reported in December is battling cancer. 

The lawsuit says at that meeting, Bean told the umpire that Quartararo claimed she was the victim, as the only female umpire in the ACL. Cooper said he told Bean Quartararo regularly used homophobic slurs and at one point physically shoved him. He also claims that he has video evidence, texts and emails to prove his claim. 

But he said his complaints to Major League Baseball officials were ignored. His lawsuit said MLB passed him over for the playoffs and fired him in October. He said of the 26 umpires hired with Cooper, he was the only one let go.

Through a spokesperson, MLB declined to comment on pending litigation. Quartararo has also not publicly commented on the lawsuit.

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