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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states have marriage equality, hate crime legislation has been passed, and “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and DOMA have been repealed.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.


Fathers should speak to kids about drugs, alcohol

Highlight dangers of illicit substances, how to manage peer pressure



What does it take to be a good father? While there are many answers, it generally involves showing up daily, playing an essential role in their life, being there for them, and loving them unconditionally. 

Fathers are there to provide abundant love and support. Most fathers know the sacrifice it takes to ensure their children are loved and cared for. A father is always there for their kids, offering guidance, support, and education. The greatest joy for any father is seeing their children thrive, do well in life, and be healthy. 

However, things can get derailed in life, and teens and young adults take risks, such as experimenting with drugs or alcohol. Fathers have a responsibility to speak to their kids about drugs and alcohol and help them understand the risks and consequences. 

Data has shown that more than half of LGBTQ youth used alcohol in the last year, and more than one in three LGBTQ youth used marijuana in the previous year. Approximately 11% of LGBTQ youth reported regular use (defined as daily or weekly use) of both alcohol and marijuana.

Illegal drugs today are more readily available than ever before. According to the DEA, drug traffickers have turned smartphones into a one-stop shop to market, sell, buy, and deliver deadly fake prescription pills and other drugs. Amid this ever-changing age of social media influence, kids, teens, and young adults are easily influenced.  

Drug traffickers advertise on social media platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook. The posts are promptly posted and removed with code words and emojis used to market and sell illicit drugs. Unfortunately, digital media provides an increased opportunity for both marketing and social transmission of risk products and behaviors. 

Fathers are responsible for protecting and preparing our children for the world. Drug education is essential. Take the time to speak to your kids about the dangers of illicit substances, how to avoid and manage peer pressure, and what to look for. Be prepared to share personal experiences and help them understand that some choices have consequences. 

However, it can be challenging to see our kids struggle with things in life, and as fathers, we can also face our own difficulties, making it more difficult to help our children. The responsibility of raising children can be a lot; there are many challenges along the way, and the pressure of being a good influence can get the best of us. 

All of this makes it vital not to ignore our mental health; children, especially younger kids, mimic what they see. How we cope with frustration, anger, sadness, or isolation impacts our children in several ways. 

Our actions have consequences. Children see how we handle every situation, and while no father is perfect, we must be conscious of the fact they are impressionable when they are young. They look up to us, mimic our actions, and see when we are doing well in life mentally.   

The key for fathers caring for children is to take the time to care for themselves. However, if you are struggling, contact the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. Taking care of your mental health is the same as taking care of your physical health; it is an integral part of your well-being and contributes to you being the best father you can be.

Nickolaus Hayes is a healthcare professional in the field of substance use and addiction recovery and is part of the editorial team at DRS. His primary focus is spreading awareness by educating individuals on the topics surrounding substance use.

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In debate, Biden must stay on offense

President needs more lines like ‘I am running against a 6-year-old’



President Joe Biden (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

On June 27, President Joe Biden will debate the man he has called a six-year-old. A great line, and he needs a few more like that. Unless there is a clear stumble by either candidate, we know what they will say. Trump will call Biden ‘sleepy Joe,’ among other names. But the reality is, people are used to it. They are not as used to Biden returning the favor. And Biden, aside from referring to Trump as a convicted felon, needs some lines that will make headlines the next day. Something with a little humor in it, but still making a strong point. 

Trump is scary. The recent column in the Washington Post on how Russ Vought, the former president’s budget director, is laying the groundwork for a broad expansion of presidential powers, is truly frightening. Now if it were me, I would be able to use my usual litany of words when referring to Trump: racist, sexist, misogynist, homophobic pig, found liable for sexual assault, and convicted felon. I may even go as far as suggesting society replace the word felon with “Trump.” People at trials could be convicted of 34 “Trumps.” But Biden can’t really use that. Maybe Biden can do something like look him in the eye and say, “You can’t really believe all the BS you keep spouting!” Then add, “The world is a complicated place, and even most six-year-olds seem to have a better understanding and grasp of it than you do.” 

Then there is the focus on the very serious part of the debate. The discussion of issues including the economy, abortion, contraception, and foreign policy. Reminding people, it was Trump who killed the immigration bill in Congress, telling energy billionaires if they raise him a billion dollars, in essence bribe him, they can “drill baby drill.” The president needs to speak to African Americans, Latinos, women, and the young. He needs to tell each of those groups what will happen if the six-year-old he is running against, were to become president again. 

Then he needs to look directly into the camera and say to the audience at home, “It isn’t only Trump you need to fear, it is the people he will surround himself with. His sycophants and cult, who will let him get revenge on anyone who says a word against him.” You can count on the fact it will be much worse than the last time around when he tried to stage a coup, because no decent person will work for him.

The first debate will take place 18 weeks before the Nov. 5 election. So much can change between then and the election. Remember when we talked about an October surprise? In today’s world there could be July, August, and September surprises as well. Between now and election day we will be treated to an overload of polling, most of it wrong. We will read hundreds of headlines, many of them clickbait. If you watch TV you will get to listen to hundreds of talking heads, many knowing no more than you. The difference being, they are being paid to spout off on the election, giving not facts, but their opinions. 

It seems every four years we hear this could be the most important, the most crucial, election of our lifetime. Well, this time those who say it just may be telling the truth. One candidate, convicted of 34 “Trumps,” is telling you he will be a dictator, and using Hitler’s words. He has the likes of Russ Voight advising him, and openly says he will seek revenge. Nothing could be more frightening. He is telling the young he doesn’t care about climate change, and telling the poor their programs will be cut because he will cut taxes for the rich.  

He calls our soldiers, those who sacrificed their lives and died in wars, “suckers and losers.” He called John McCain “a war hero because he was captured,” saying, “I like people who weren’t captured.” This frightening, sick man, with the world view of a warped six-year-old, will lead the United States if we aren’t willing to stand up to him, and his MAGA cult. Yes, I am afraid! And you should be too! If you are a woman, a minority, a member of the LGBTQ community, or just poor, be scared, be very afraid! If Trump and his cult win, you will lose what little you think you now have.

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

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Why you should celebrate pride with a musical about GenderCannibalism?

Rose: You Are What You Eat, through June 23 at Woolly Mammoth.



Photo courtesy of Woolly Mammoth.

Because when I came out as trans my aunt told me it was because I ate my twin in the womb…and that’s what the show is about

Because…remember that time when you decided to dress like exactly like your older sister; or you stole your mothers’ makeup or your brother’s tie; or you decided to dress up like Katherine Hepburn for halloween when you were (i dunno) 10; or you started to look eerily like your lover…..that’s all gender cannibalism

Because because because because because….” because if you know that song this was made for you…and if you don’t…it’s okay, we’ll work on it

Because you can probably find a cute date at the show irl instead of just swiping in your phone…think of theater as an in person dating app without as much drunkenness as the bar

Because maybe that cute date is me

Because you can sing along to music written by a bunch of queers from Philly and D.C. 

Because we are all so hungry and so so thirsty 

Because I guarantee you will leave feeling fed

Because cannibalism puns are tasty

Because it’s a comedy

Because there are pay-what-you-can tickets

Because it plays all of June

Because we are consuming gender all the time but rarely watching what and how we eat it 

Because it’s an anti-assimilationist endeavor: the corporations can’t co-opt “gender cannibalism” for pride month (but there is merchandise available at the show…)

Because it’s only 75 minutes

Because I dance around in tighty whities with socks on my hands

Because there is a free clothing swap and treats in the gallery next to the show

Because why not?

Because you will be cast as my Mother, and that’s the role of a lifetime (or at least my lifetime)

Because you won’t know what will happen; you can’t pause or rewind the show; you will be taking a risk; you will find it’s more than just entertainment; you will feel me talking right to you

Because I’ve been writing this show for 34 years and am finally ready to share it with you

Because I’ll be in the lobby afterwards to say hi, and receive hugs, stories, and phone numbers 

Because I made this piece for you, my dear deviants, trans folx, genderful ones and for the people that care for us. It is a good laugh and a good cry and meant as a gift, a way to end your day feeling loved, nourished and worthy

Because don’t you want to be nourished and reminded that you are loved and worthy? 

And frankly because art needs you to survive and you need art to thrive

Because I took the time to write this letter to you and you took the time to read it, and neither you nor I want to waste that investment

Because you won’t want to miss it

Get tickets to Rose: You Are What You Eat, playing through June 23rd.

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