Connect with us


LGBT equality in sports

A progress report and 3 steps to ending homophobia, transphobia in athletics



homophobia in athletics, gay news, Washington Blade
homophobia in athletics, transphobia in athletics, gay news, Washington Blade

Hudson Taylor is executive director of Athlete Ally and guest editor of the Washington Blade.

The pace at which LGBT equality is being achieved in society and under the law has been remarkably accelerated in recent years. Today, the average age of a person coming out is 16, all U.S. states have marriage equality, hate crime legislation has been passed, and “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and DOMA have been repealed. These advances are the direct result of an organized strategy across the LGBT civil rights movement, advances that would not be possible without the sacrifice and unwavering determination of those who have made LGBT equality their life’s work.

Despite the staggering progress made in recent years, on the road to LGBT equality we are still forging new paths, and not yet arrived at our ultimate destination. Across the United States, LGBT individuals are not afforded workplace protections and can still be denied housing. Anti-LGBT language is still a common occurrence throughout K-12 education; LGBT youth suffer disproportionately from homelessness; and the majority of LGBT young people still report experiencing anti-LGBT bias and bullying.

Unfortunately, as we begin to assess where our sports culture falls on the continuum of respect, inclusion and equality, it is clear that athletics continues to be one of the last bastions of homophobia, transphobia, and heterosexism.

Below are what I believe to have been successful tactics and philosophies employed by past social justice movements and how they can be applied to sports. I will highlight the particular challenges still facing our work within sports and conclude by positing some of the ways in which individuals and organizations can better work together to maximize the impact and progress of the LGBT sports movement.

Step One: Diversity of Approach

The LGBT civil rights movement has benefitted from a diversity of approaches from the organizations and individuals involved. For sports culture to share similar advancements, we must have equally diverse tactics for our work. Across the movement, there are three primary areas of advocacy: social services, information and education, and civil liberties and social action.

LGBT social services in sports are centered on providing resources and opportunities for those that would otherwise not have them. This includes scholarships for LGBT athletes, creating safe spaces for LGBT individuals, providing sports equipment and putting in place LGBT specific systems of support. This work is crucial as oftentimes the perceived or actual barriers to entry for LGBT individuals are greater than those of their heterosexual counterparts. Unless safe and accessible athletic opportunities are provided, LGBT youth may forego participating in sports for other activities.

The second area of advocacy is that of education and information. The constituents of this work are both LGBT and non-LGBT athletes, coaches, administrators, parents and fans. This work is often comprised of educating communities about the experiences of LGBT individuals in sports, acknowledging the work still needed and highlighting the steps we can take to bring about greater LGBT equality in sports. While there continues to be an emerging field of qualified and passionate educators, the majority of athletic institutions have not yet invested in this type of training. The divide between those who need LGBT education and those who actually receive it, becomes greater when we take into account differences in age, geography, sport and positions of power.

The final area of advocacy is that of civil liberties and social action. This work is chiefly focused on the adoption and implementation of LGBT inclusive policies and best practices. For many institutions this work is centered on having inclusive policies and facilities for transgender athletes, creating appropriate punitive policies for anti-LGBT conduct or clearly articulating an LGBT inclusive non-discrimination policy. For some faith-based institutions, the policy advances look quite different, as prohibition of pre-marital sex forms the foundation for LGBT protections, or lack thereof. It should also be noted that the experiences of our athletic communities extend to life outside of sports, making the city, state, and federal protections of LGBT individuals equally important to the success of the LGBT sports movement.

Step Two: Diversity of Messengers

The success of the LGBT sports movement is contingent upon, in part, finding and elevating diverse voices. While there has never been a successful social justice movement for a minority group without the support of the majority, we must not forget that without the visible testimony of the LGBT community, all our work remains theoretical.

The advancement of LGBT equality in sports is predicated upon reconciling the perception of sports culture, with the reality of sports culture. That is, if the perception is that homophobia, transphobia or heterosexism in sports exists, then LGBT individuals will not be encouraged to share their true selves with their sports community.

To change this, we must find and elevate as many LGBT voices within sports as possible, as well as find and elevate the voices of supportive allies. Because the perception of sports culture is defined by what one sees, hears and experiences, the telling of positive stories will be the connective tissue between each organization and individual’s advocacy approach.

Step Three: Framing the Message

In addition to a diversity of messengers, how the LGBT sports movement collectively frames its messaging is directly proportional to its ability to affect change. Historically, large-scale social change happens in a very particular way. Research suggests that the way a culture changes is not by engaging in conversations of right vs. wrong, but instead by redefining and appealing to the dominant identity of a target audience.

Over the last 10 years, we have seen significant changes to the culture and policies of the majority of Fortune 500 companies. These changes have been made possible by clear and concise messaging articulating the business case for LGBT equality. If we suppose that the dominant identity of a company is to make more money, retain and recruit better talent and appeal to more customers, then the most effective messaging to appeal to corporate culture is that which connects LGBT equality to those business objectives.

Similarly, if we suppose that the dominant identity of athletics is to win more games, recruit better athletes, appeal to more fans and be the best possible teammate, then our most effective messaging within sports will be that which clearly connects LGBT equality in sports with those same athletic objectives. In this way, the efficacy of the LGBT sports movement is contingent upon our ability to make LGBT equality synonymous with athletic success.

Step Four: Understanding Our Obstacles

The continued presence of anti-LGBT bias, bullying and discrimination in sports is not by accident; it’s by design. The institution of sport suffers from three systemic issues. First, it is one of the few environments that is segregated by gender. Second, it is a competitive reward structure designed to rank one athlete over another, due not to the content of their character, but because of physical characteristics. Third, one’s ability to participate in sports is ultimately determined by a third party. Together, these factors create a unique environment within sports in which conforming to a narrowly defined standard of masculinity, femininity, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression is not only strongly encouraged, but often required.

In practice, and because of these factors, male athletes who more readily conform to orthodox concepts of masculinity are likely given more playing time (because that’s how you need to act in order to do well). The increased amount of playing time leads to a disproportionate improvement of skills for those who conform vs. those who do not. The disproportionate improvement of skills leads to increased success, which leads to increased popularity, which leads to an increased likelihood that an athlete will stay with his or her sport through high school and college. Those athletes who compete in high school or college are more likely to go on to become coaches only to teach the next generation of athletes the same value system that afforded them their success. In this way, homophobia, transphobia and heterosexism in sports is cyclical, intergenerational and unlikely to change unless the way in which we think about sports is substantially redefined.

The final obstacle for the LGBT sports movement is the perceived risk of speaking out as an ally or coming out as LGBT, versus the perceived reward. Because our coaches determine participation and our coach’s employment is determined by their athletic director, athletic institutions implicitly disdain uniqueness. If an athlete or coach’s identity or beliefs overshadow their performance as an athlete or coach, they are at risk of losing their livelihood. In this way, conforming to athletic culture and remaining silent on various social justice issues is still unfortunately often the smart decision to ensure longevity of one’s career.

Step 5: The Path to Victory

Ending homophobia, transphobia and heterosexism in sports can be accomplished if we work together. Whether you are a current member of the athletic community, a casual fan or never participated in sports, we all have the ability to help affect positive change within our communities. As the saying goes, “A thousand candles can be lit from a single candle.” Below are a list of actions that if done collectively, will bring us closer to realizing a future of LGBT equality in sport and society.

  1. Spark Conversations – Personal stories change lives. Pick up a pen and paper and write a letter to your old coach, to the athletic director of your alma mater. Ask for a policy to be changed or training to be implemented. Attend the next PTA meeting and ask what your school is doing to address homophobia, transphobia, and heterosexism in sports. Wear an LGBT-themed T-shirt to the next little league game or ask everyone you know why they think there aren’t more out LGBT athletes and what can be done about it.
  2. Build Bridges – Find other social justice groups or organizations within your community, get involved with their work, and ask them to get involved with yours. If we are ever to put an end anti-LGBT bias, bullying and discrimination in sports then we need to work together. Ending one form of prejudice is connected to all other forms of prejudice. If we can make our work intersectional, we can maximize its efficacy by building coalitions of change agents.
  3. Organize and Mobilize – If there is a policy you want to see changed, create a petition. Get others to sign it. If you can organize and mobilize, you have the ability to change the world. This doesn’t mean petition the largest governing bodies of all the sports leagues, this means being strategic. Start small. What do you want to change about your local rec league? What policy should be put in place at the high school? If your community is small, the number of people you need to organize to make an impact becomes far more manageable. Regardless, strength in numbers is strength in advocacy.


Veterans with substance use disorders need our help

Many return home to face a new battle with addiction, trauma



(Photo by SCPhotog/Bigstock)

On Memorial Day, millions of American families honored the memory of the men and women who lost their lives fighting in one of the nation’s wars. It can be challenging for families who have recently lost a loved one.

We must also never forget the countless veterans who made it home but are now fighting a new battle with substance use or mental health disorders. Unfortunately, suicidal ideation is all too common and fueled by drug addiction.

It can be a particularly challenging problem for U.S. military self-identified as LGBTQ. A health survey released by the RAND Corporation found 6.1% of people in the U.S. military identified as LGBTQ. Suicide risk within this community varies considerably depending on the intersection between sexual identity and other aspects of identity.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than 3.9 million veterans nationally have a substance use disorder or mental illness. Unfortunately, substance use disorder significantly increases suicidality among veterans ages 18 and older.

Suicidal thoughts and behaviors are common among veterans ages 18 to 49.

“Early intervention is critical, and it saves lives. Yet, it is also important for families to know where to look and how to find help when needed,” said Michael Leach of

Numerous causative factors lead to substance use among veterans. For instance, many veterans struggle to adjust to civilian life. They may experience financial hardships, difficulty finding employment, or accessing benefits.

Many other veterans battle mental and emotional health problems. This can often be compounded with physical injury or chronic pain leading to pain medication use. Untreated trauma, for example, leads to drug and alcohol use to cope with unwanted feelings.

Outside of the usual resources provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the VA facility locator, other options may include:

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provides specific resources for LGBTQ veterans;
Helpful hotlines include the Veteran Crisis Line, 1-800-273-8255, option 1 and the Lifeline for Vets, 1-888-777-4443;

SAMHSA has a treatment facility locator where veterans can find specific treatment options.

Families also play a vital role in supporting a loved one struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. It’s OK to express concern about their substance use. Speak to them openly and honestly about it and help them find treatment. Be patient and show compassion for what they are experiencing. Remember, substance use disorders are treatable.

When families and communities come together, amazing things happen. Veterans with substance use disorders need our help; it’s never too late to offer a helping hand.

Veronica Raussin is a Community Outreach Coordinator for, passionate about spreading awareness of the risks and dangers of alcohol and drug use.

Continue Reading


Non-alignment or hypocrisy: South Africa’s non-alignment costing Africa’s human rights discourse

Country must take stronger stance against Uganda’s anti-homosexuality law



LGBTQ and intersex activists protest in front of the Ugandan Embassy in D.C. on April 25, 2023. South Africa must take a stronger stance against the Anti-Homosexuality Act that Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has signed. (Washington Blade photos by Michael K. Lavers)

In the past several months, South Africa’s foreign policy has been in the spotlight for essential and existential reasons that significantly impact geopolitics and the continent’s stability. 

The foreign policy for South Africa discussion document by the Department of International Relations highlights the “advancement of human rights and the promotion of democracy” as the pillars on which South Africa’s foreign policy rests. This document emphasizes the role that South Africa is expected to play in the “promotion of human rights and democracy.”

Minister Pandor echoed this document in her 2022 end-of-year remarks

“We will continue with our unwavering position to advocate for a balanced Sustainable Development Program within the human rights framework as underlined in the Vienna Declaration and Program of Action (VDPA). In this regard, South Africa will be one of the chief proponents of a balanced agenda of the HRC, which reflects, among others, the primacy of achieving the realization of the right to development as well as moral human rights issues such as the eradication of poverty and underdevelopment.” 

South Africa has long been known for its commitment to human rights and its leadership in the fight against apartheid. However, its foreign policy continues to be viewed as ambiguous and nonresponsive to developments in African affecting the growth of the continent.

In 2021, President Ramaphosa — as chair of the SADC Organ Troika — committed to a national political dialogue in Eswatini to resolve the political killings in that country. However, the South African government has never followed up or called on the Eswatini government to adhere to its commitment, even as renowned human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko was mercilessly assassinated in January 2023. At the very least, this has not been seen publicly, which would be comforting to those political activists and citizens constantly living in fear in Eswatini. 

On May 29, the president of Uganda enacted the draconian Anti-Homosexuality Act. The new law is a throwback to colonization, where religious fanatism was the basis for the persecution and killing of many Africans. While Africa seems to take the posture of “fighting against imperialism,” it is saddening that this law is the brainchild of American zealots funding hate across Africa, whether it is in Uganda, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi or Namibia. These zealots, the Fellowship Foundation and many others, are well coordinated in their attacks on the judiciary and the African human rights framework, backed by the 75-year-old Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  

In an era where Africa is seen to be taking a stance against imperialism, I shudder to contemplate that hate may be the only imperialist agenda Africa is not actively standing up against. We know the history of petty offences like homelessness and loitering, sedition laws, and anti-LGBTI laws. These are remnants of colonization to keep Africa inferior and the colonial masters superior. Today, the hate continues through repressive and backwards sentiment being paraded as religious values. Uganda’s anti-homosexuality law criminalizes what it calls “aggravated homosexuality” with the death penalty. It would be hard to imagine what “aggravated homosexuality” even means. 

This is another opportunity where South Africa’s posture and foreign policy must be spotlighted. With the growing conversation about the ICC arrest warrant of President Putin, South Africa has reiterated its foreign policy as non-alignment and non-interference. 

However, when the question of human rights and democracy is at play, all must take a stand. This law has been widely criticized by human rights organizations and the international community for violating the rights of LGBTIQ+ individuals and hindering the fight against HIV. It further impedes what Minister Pandor called the “balanced agenda of the HRC,” which speaks to sustainable development within the human rights framework. 

It should be worrying if South Africa continues to maintain a policy of non-alignment and non-interference in the face of the new law in Uganda. While this policy may have its merits, it raises questions about South Africa’s commitment to human rights and its role as a leader in Africa. A foreign policy that neglects the promotion of human rights and democratic principles is hypocritical. On the one hand, South Africa is seen as a leader in promoting LGBTIQ+ rights and has one of the most progressive constitutions in the world regarding protecting the rights of LGBTIQ+ individuals. However, on the other hand, it has failed to take a strong stance against Uganda’s anti-homosexuality law, which is a clear violation of human rights.

By maintaining this policy, South Africa is essentially condoning Uganda’s anti-homosexuality law and undermining the fight for human rights in Africa. This is particularly concerning given South Africa’s leadership role in the African Union and its commitment to promoting human rights and democracy.

South Africa’s foreign policy regarding Uganda’s anti-homosexuality law raises questions about its commitment to non-alignment and human rights in Africa. While non-interference may have its merits, it should not come at the expense of human rights and the fight for equality and justice. 

South Africa must take a stronger stance against Uganda’s anti-homosexuality law and work towards promoting human rights and democracy in Africa.

Melusi Simelane is the Southern Africa Litigation Center’s Civic Rights Program Manager.

Continue Reading


Republicans prove how vile and frightening they can be

Attacks will continue if we don’t defeat right-wing figures everywhere



Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Day after day we see Republicans trying to outdo each other in how vile and frightening they can be. From the fight over the debt ceiling, to their presidential primary, they continue to try to take the nation backwards. 

In the debt ceiling fight, they clearly say, “We will protect the wealthy in our country at all costs, and instead will cut, or eliminate, programs to help the poor.” The far-right wing crazies like Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), Chip Roy (R-Texas), and Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), are threatening their own speaker, Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), with the loss of his job if he doesn’t go along with what they want. Now that a deal has been cut, we will see how they, and left-leaning Democrats who have been putting pressure on President Biden to reject all Republican demands, will vote. These are facts of life in our nation today. Any person with a shred of decency should be embarrassed. I don’t envy President Biden for what he has to do to keep the nation from defaulting on its debts. The political reality is that he had to give in on some issues. Democrats should not fault him, but rather blame Republicans. 

It is scary when you see what Republicans are doing around the nation with regard to abortion rights, civil rights, and LGBTQ rights. One recent example being Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis proudly signing the bill making abortion only legal until six weeks. There are women who don’t even know by then they are pregnant. Also, it’s time men start understanding how this impacts them. Women need to remind the fathers what their responsibility will be if they both aren’t ready for a child but are forced to have one.

One ignorant parent in Florida complained, and according to politico was able to have “A Miami-Dade elementary school limit some access to Amanda Gorman’s presidential inauguration poem, ‘The Hill We Climb,’ complaining that it contained indirect “hate messages.” This is insanity and the clear result of Trump’s impact on the culture of the nation. He made it OK to once again have hatred spewed from the public square, frightening decent people. 

Like the threats against Target. CNN reported the company was “removing some products that celebrate Pride month after the company and its employees became the focus of a “volatile” anti-LGBTQ campaign. The company told the Wall Street Journal that people have confronted workers in stores, knocked down Pride merchandise displays and put threatening posts on social media with video from inside stores. Some people have thrown Pride items on the floor, Target spokesperson Kayla Castaneda told Reuters. CNN went on to report “Prominent right-wing activists, Republican political leaders, and conservative media outlets, have focused their attention on a women’s swimsuit that was described as “tuck friendly” for its ability to conceal male genitalia. Misinformation spread on social media that it was marketed to children, which it was not.” Again, insanity, promoted by the right wing. The people doing this should be arrested and prosecuted.

It only gets worse as Republican candidates running for president try to outdo each other with anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, trying to improve their poll numbers. DeSantis can tout his “don’t say gay legislation.” Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), a Black man, who says the country is not racist, touts his opposition to marriage equality. Then there is Mike Pence who will quote the Bible to you, claiming it tells us how terrible it is to be gay. 

The Daily News recently reported “Following last year’s more than 220 anti-LGBTQ bills introduced across the country, a poll by The Trevor Project found 71% of LGBTQ youth — and 86% trans and nonbinary youth — said they were negatively impacted by the flurry of proposals to restrict their rights.” They went on to report, “As of May 23, more than 520 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in statehouses across the country, according to the Human Rights Campaign. More than 220 of those specifically restrict the rights of transgender and nonbinary people. These are all Republican bills.

This will continue unabated if we don’t defeat Republicans everywhere. In sharp contrast, Democrats in the Maryland legislature, led by Delegates David Moon (D-Montgomery County) and Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore County) and State Senator Howard Lam (D-Baltimore and Howard Counties), managed to repeal the states sodomy law and pass gun-control measures.

Republicans will continue to carry out their agenda of hate across the nation unless we say with our votes, “We won’t take this anymore.” The United States is better than this and we will show the world we will not tolerate hate; we will fight it.  

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

Continue Reading

Sign Up for Weekly E-Blast

Follow Us @washblade