The Washington Blade has been systematically working to destroy another stereotype: The one that holds gays aren’t good at, don’t like and don’t care about sports. For the third year in a row the Blade is publishing a sports issue.
For years I believed the stereotype about the LGBT community. It was true about many of the gay guys I knew. They were into clothes, good food, fancy vacations, and as sporty as they got was maybe wanting to sleep with an athlete. Then I got involved in trying to bring the Gay Games to D.C. My involvement was based on the economic development perspective. But in the process not only did I learn my thoughts on the stereotype of gays not liking sports was wrong, but wrong in a big way.
The LGBT community is passionate about sports and there are LGBT stars in every sport and over the years with the changing culture they are starting to come out. We actually go to ballgames to do more than ogle cute players. (Though most of us still admit that is fun to do.)
I have friends who can rattle off the stats of football and baseball players, can tell me who is playing for the Wizards and the Caps and how they are doing against the rest of the league. My friends play tennis, baseball, extreme Frisbee, soccer, golf and cheered when Michael Sam signed his first football contract. While I may not do all of that, I can now tell you what Bryce Harper’s batting average is and definitely looked at his picture in the annual ESPN calendar.
Sports are important to bringing the general public an understanding of the LGBT community. Our sports stars are heroes and it’s great when one of them comes out as LGBT and others respond to that in a positive way. That happened recently when the first active minor league baseball player, David Denson, came out as reported in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “With the help of former major-leaguer Billy Bean, who last year was named Major League Baseball’s first Ambassador for Inclusion, Denson reached out to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to tell his story in a telephone interview. In doing so, he becomes the first active player in affiliated professional baseball to reveal he is gay.”
The positive reaction was amazing when Caitlyn Jenner stood up at the ESPY awards and told an audience of sports heroes and millions of viewers about being transgender. She was introduced by Abby Wambach, world champion soccer player and out lesbian who in 2015 was included in Time magazine‘s list as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. We have come a long way baby.
I have been a longtime fan of this issue’s guest editor, Hudson Taylor, and his organization Athlete Ally. According to its website, “Hudson, who is not gay, felt it was imperative he confront the reality sports often marginalized LGBT athletes, coaches and others through systemic homophobia and transphobia. He decided to take action as a straight ally to change athletic culture for the better.”
In the years since he began the organization, Taylor has had an incredible impact on sport and young people just coming out. In so many small towns, life revolves around high school athletics and clearly college athletics are always at the forefront of the public’s attention. A young person struggling to come out and to be who they are, which often includes being an athlete, now has a group of people who are trying to make it easier for them to fit in.
One day it may not be shocking when people realize their high school quarterback is gay but we haven’t gotten there quite yet, which is why Athlete Ally is so important. Today, even sports stars in the big leagues still find it hard to come out and keep playing. We know there are hundreds of highly paid athletes still in the closet. Hudson Taylor and Athlete Ally are working to change that.
Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBT rights and Democratic Party activist.