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Gay athletes talk religion and faith

Church teachings complicate coming out process for many

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religion, gay news, Washington Blade
religion, gay news, Washington Blade

Tanner Williams (Photo courtesy of Oklahoma University Athletics)

There have been a vast number of coming out stories told recently that share a common thread that it isn’t easy to accept your sexual identity when it is not considered “normal.”

The self-acceptance process is generally filled with shame, insecurities, fear and often depression. Homophobia is exactly what you don’t want to experience when you are dealing with finding your true self.

There are other identities that you are not born with, those that are chosen, that also come with homophobia. Religion and sports can be extremely homophobic environments that can add even more emotion to the inner struggle of growing up gay.

It seems like an impossible bridge to gap. Why not just walk away from the two you can choose to walk away from, religion and sports?

Meet three men who are gay, played sports and grew up with religion. All three of them say it is not religion that bridged the three struggles, but rather their individual faith.

When you speak to Josh Sanders, there is a sense of calm that emanates from him. He describes his relationship with religion as being vertical and horizontal and more of a personal journey.

“The vertical is the relationship between me and God and the horizontal is me and the eyes of other people,” says Sanders. “I should never look at myself through the eyes of others.”

religion, gay news, Washington Blade

Josh Sanders (Photo courtesy of Charyln)

Sanders grew up playing basketball and intended to walk onto the team at Virginia Wesleyan but ended up dropping out to address his inner struggles. He began coaching a local high school team and enrolled at James Madison University. His path led to him to work with various Christian sports ministries and he became the athletic director at a Christian sports camp. After surviving six months of conversion therapy, he came out to his employer only to be told he couldn’t return to the sports camp position that he had held for six years because of his sexuality.

“There is an exclusive tone to the intersection between religion and sexuality. It is the church versus the gay community,” Sanders says. “I don’t separate those two parts of myself. I can be both and there is nothing exclusive about that. If you can’t acknowledge that I can be both, then you are not seeing all of me.”

Sanders, who is living in the Virginia Beach area, has been getting involved again with sports as director of external engagement for GO! Athletes. He is also involved in its extension project, GO! Faith, which provides an inclusive space for young LGBT athletes, coaches and administrators of faith to come together for fellowship and encouragement.

“Biblical literalism is alive today but I think context is everything. It makes no sense to apply those writings to life today,” says Sanders. “The Bible leads the direction of my faith, but it is my own personal interpretation.”

Sanders attends a large evangelical church on occasion that is not LGBT friendly. He says he goes there because of the loving friendships he has made with some of its members.

“We [the LGBT community] are the ones that need to take the initiative to get people from the church to step outside their own experience and actually get to know us,” Sanders says. “Once that happens, there can be change.”

Tanner Williams was so shy as a kid that he was afraid to speak to people. He would wait outside after track practice in hopes of getting through a day without being called a fag. Because of his Southern Baptist upbringing in Ardmore, Okla., he spent a lot of time in those isolated moments wondering why he was gay.

In the sixth grade, his coach got him into pole vaulting and within two years, he won a national championship and followed that up with two state championships in high school.

“I was a really religious kid and I put all my trust in God and pole vaulting,” says Williams. “I had no friends and my time was spent praying and talking to God.”

During his freshman year at Oklahoma University, the mother of a girl he had been formerly promised to for marriage, began stalking Williams through a fake Twitter and Facebook account, threatening to out him, he says. A police report was filed and security was increased at the Big 12 Championships in Waco, Texas, where Williams was competing in the pole vault for the Sooners.

“I grew up with people telling me it’s a choice to be gay and I fell for it,” Williams says. “When things like harassment happen, it just reinforces the feeling that there is something wrong with you.”

Williams began coming out to friends two years ago at age 19 and is now only occasionally attending church. He says he feels sorry for members of organized religion who propagate homophobia because they pick and choose what they believe in the Bible.

“They don’t study the bible like I do and they don’t look at it like I do.” says Williams. “I study it and find the content for me, what God wants for me.”

Williams is coming up on his senior year at Oklahoma University and will be graduating with a degree in business management and nursing. Last year at age 20 he married his partner, Scott Williams and he is looking forward to what the future has to offer.

“I love competing but I am ready to move on,” Williams says. “I will be the only senior on the Sooners track team this year so I will be stepping forward as more of a leader. I guess that’s my management side coming out.”

When Akil Patterson was playing football for the University of Maryland, his mom was commuting from Frederick, Md., to get her master’s degree and used to pick her son up for church. He always felt he wasn’t being honest because the black church he attended was adamantly opposed to homosexuality. He sometimes brought his teammates along so he would feel more comfortable. It was during one of those rides to church that Patterson came out to his mom.

religion, gay news, Washington Blade

Akil Patterson pictured with Washington Blade guest editor Hudson Taylor. (Photo by Kevin Majoros)

“I was struggling during my coming out process and I turned to my faith,” says Patterson. “God doesn’t get you out of things; he just helps you get through them.”

After his football career ended, Patterson returned to the University of Maryland campus and became involved with coaching for their wrestling programs. The Terrapin Wrestling Club is also a regional Olympic training center for USA Wrestling and Patterson began competing in Greco-Roman wrestling.

Recently retired from sports, Patterson still attends church and says that everything a person needs is in the Bible and subject to one’s own interpretation. He likes going to church because of the sense of camaraderie and fellowship and is attending a more affirming church now.

“When that black pastor says that being gay is wrong, everyone starts screaming and it creates a wolf pack mentality,” Patterson says. “If the pastors would stop talking about it, people in the black community would follow. They will defend you and look out for you, but they don’t want to hear about that part of you.”

Patterson said that organized religion is directed at a certain type of people, those who are not secure in their faith.

“Those people are not rooted and don’t understand how the book is translated. Too many of them think that faith is what you learned in church,” Patterson says. “The church is religion but faith is beyond that. I am a man of faith.”

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19 Comments

19 Comments

  1. slowe11

    August 21, 2015 at 2:50 pm

    It puzzles me why any gay or LGBT person would still be a Christian. After All, religion, Christianity, the Christian church, and the Bible has been THE Main justifacation and motivation for killing us, rejecting us, condemning us, etc. Christianity is truely anti-gay, anti-homosexual. So, why would someone still want to be a Christian? On the other hand. Humanism welcomes all and provides a community and philosophy to replace church and gods. Humanists have ALWAYS welcomed gay people.

    • Jason Bryant

      August 21, 2015 at 5:07 pm

      I’m a Christian and I’m not anti-gay, anti-homosexual … and I’m not anti-humanist either. That also doesn’t mean I’m pro-gay, pro-homosexual or pro-humanist. I’ll also not go out of my way to assault other people’s beliefs or use one issue to take shots at a group on another issue.

      But that’s just me.

      • slowe11

        August 21, 2015 at 6:59 pm

        Religions, religious beliefs, religious texts, and the actions of religious people are not out of bounds or off limits for criticism. It is not going out of my way to observe and say these things. In fact, they need to be said more often and louder. Religion must own the actions it spawns. Religion – Christianity, Islam, Mromonism – is THE MAIN enemy of gay people and positively harms us. It must be held responsible and accountable. Religious Beliefs are not immune from or protected from analysis, criticism, and blame.

        • Jason Bryant

          August 23, 2015 at 11:35 am

          Didn’t say they were immune, just using this as a crutch to push a humanist agenda … which I totally get. Because to push one agenda, you must try to destroy another belief system, right?

          • slowe11

            August 24, 2015 at 12:40 pm

            In a pluralistic country like ours, both (theism and atheism; Christianity and Humanism) can exist side by side but philosophically they are opposed to each other and cannot , I think co-exist. One makes a claim that the other rejects. Only in that way a Humanist is opposed to Christianity. But I still assert that the Christian religion, churches, sacred texts are the greatest and historical enemy of we homosexuals. Much twisting of meanings, interpretations of texts, and outright ignoring of verses is necessary to allow for gay people in Christianity. So, I re-ask: Why would any self-respecting, honest LGBT STILL be a Chritian? Just WHY? It’s like a Jewish Nazi, or a Black KKK member.

          • Jason Bryant

            August 24, 2015 at 12:46 pm

            Because it’s their right to be. It’s like how me as a straight man can never understand what it’s like to be a gay man. It’s why men can’t understand what it’s like to be a woman. You don’t understand it because you aren’t. People who are Christian and gay can explain it to those who find it insulting or a contradiction. Everyone can Monday morning quarterback other people’s choices, but don’t we live in a country where we are free to be who we want to be. If you want to be a Christian and you’re gay, awesome. More power to you. So you ask Why would any self-respecting, honest LGBT STILL be Christian? Because that is their choice, that is their right and your opinion of that choice is irrelevant to their happiness and life.

          • slowe11

            August 24, 2015 at 12:56 pm

            Jason, of course they have a right to be. I never implied otherwise. My point was why would they choose to be. See. a religion is a choice, unlike your sex (male or female) and sexual orientation. – the two examples you give for your argument. But since being a Christian IS a choice that one can choose, my question is valid. It seems self defeating to be a member of an organization and a philosophy or a religon that thinks you are a sinner, immoral, worthy of rejection, not worthy of acceptance, etc. THis has been true of the Christian church for thousands of years and is still true for the vast majority of Christian denominations and Christian members. It is their choice of course, but I challenge them to justify that choice because it seems illogical and self harming to me. It seems hypocritical – like supporting your enemy. Maybe they don’t realize that they really have a choice. Or that Humanism is an option. Perhaps.

          • Jason Bryant

            August 24, 2015 at 1:03 pm

            Who are you to outright stand up and challenge their choice? Last time I checked, no one needs to justify their faith, home purchases, orientation, haircut or pedicure to anyone, let alone the comments sections of the internet. My answer was simply you’d have to ask them directly, and if you did, how quickly would you try to degrade their faith as a crutch for your own personal agenda and viewpoint? You want people to think like you, not people to think for themselves. We all have different opinions. I, for one, don’t like anyone’s thrown at me because of how someone will quickly tell me what I’m doing is wrong (and that’s BOTH sides of this discussion). People can dog Christians for their bad apples and perceived hatred, just like people can dog Humanists for insulting entire swaths of the population by insulting their upbringing and belief system.

            Long story short — ask them yourself.

          • slowe11

            August 24, 2015 at 1:16 pm

            When anyone makes a public claim ” I am gay, I am Christian” anyone can question or challenge such a claim. That is not the same as saying “you may not be both” but saying ” I don’t get why you would want to be or can be both, that is a contridictory claim. Can you make it make sense? ” I ask this question evertime I engage anyone making that duplicate, seemingly contradictory and non-sensical claim. I do ask them – as I did in this forum. Your answer is not an answer but a challenge to my right to even ask the question. I think everyone does, or should, make their choice about religion by thinkig about it. THis is one of the things a gay Christian should think about it. I am sorry you don’t like the question.

          • Jason Bryant

            August 24, 2015 at 1:24 pm

            So you’re asking the question not to truly understand, you’re asking them, phrasing it as non-sensical and contradictory (in your opinion) to what end? The way I’m reading this is you’re intent is to get them to shun their faith and start thinking like you do.

            You actually don’t want an answer to the question, you seem like you just want a reaction that’s in line with your belief system, rather than their own.

            If you disagree with their answer, you’ll completely attack the faith itself, thereby attacking the person and who they are.

            You can ask the question all you want, don’t expect people who see what you’re angling for to engage you in such a spring-loaded one-sided discussion.

            Good day.

          • slowe11

            August 24, 2015 at 1:35 pm

            If there is a good answer, I would like to hear it. Yes, I AM challenging their position. Yes it is a rhetorical question. Yes I think they should think about this contridiction. Yes I think they shoud change their mind. Especially if they don’t have a good answer to the question. Yes, I think gay people, if anyone, has a better reasn than most to abandon Christianity because of it’s history and opinion of us. I am not attacking the person and who they are. I am attacking their choice to remain a Christian. I will not hide that. I ask the same of every woman because the Christian, Jewish, Muslim religion as been very harmful to women where they are second class to men and have been held back and mistreated for thousands of years. I also ask the same to every African or African American whose ancestors were enslaved by Christians under Chritaian kings and governments. Who were held enslaved by Christian owners who were justified by their Christian ministers in church every Sunday. Christianity is no friend to anyone but straight, white males.

          • Jason Bryant

            August 24, 2015 at 1:40 pm

            That’s cool man. Hate away.

          • slowe11

            August 24, 2015 at 2:32 pm

            Do you deny any of what I said? It is not hate, it is reason, a good reason to reconsider your choice. Many never really consider this, having been raised in a Christian home with family members and holidays and never really consider the possibility of simply abandoning an organization that demeans them.

          • Jason Bryant

            August 24, 2015 at 2:36 pm

            Not going to bite on your obsession over other people’s religion. Don’t try to shield your hatred of religion by calling it reason.

          • slowe11

            August 24, 2015 at 2:55 pm

            I don’t hate religion. I think it is wrong. We should always try to correct errors and wrongs. You seem to think that one’s religion, or religion in general, should not be criticized, that it is protected from analysis and examination and criticism. that it is a personal choice and it would be rude to speak ill of it. You are mistaking criticism for hatred.

          • Jason Bryant

            August 24, 2015 at 3:07 pm

            Didn’t say that, didn’t allude to that. This is why I typically don’t discuss politics or religion with anyone, especially people on the comments sections. I didn’t follow my own rule. You’re inferring I think one thing when you have no visible proof. I won’t engage you further, so that means you must be right, right? “I seem to think” — no, I don’t seem to think. I don’t doubt you’re more educated and a tad more worldly than I am, but that doesn’t make you superior with your thoughts and how you have come off as having a greater intellect because you have an entire arsenal of anti-religion comebacks and rhetorical questions. Never said it shouldn’t be criticized. That’s where you are wrong You continued this discussion to push YOUR opinion and your thoughts of what I should think because I don’t align with your view on religion. People like you will make every effort to try to rip someone’s religion away from them. Yes, that’s a hatred of something when you will do everything in your power to change people of what you feel is wrong. You know what that is? That’s NO DIFFERENT than those whack jobs yelling at gay people to try to get them to change because they think being gay is wrong. You’re no different. None. Have a nice day. I have said my piece. I will not reply to any more. I’ve got no place for people who can just disrespect entire classes of people. Enjoy that double standard you live in.

          • slowe11

            August 24, 2015 at 3:41 pm

            Again, religion is a choice, being gay is not and I am saying that people should consider these issue as they continue to choose to be a member of an organization that has harmed us, rejected us, even killed us, provoked some to commit suicide, etc. I am not disrespecting a class of people, I am challenging a choice they have made and remake every day they decide to remain a member of an organization and a philosophy that disrespects them, and harms them. It is NOT the same as homophobes trying to get us to change. Religion IS a choice.

          • Jason Bryant

            August 24, 2015 at 3:43 pm

            Couldn’t resist the last word, could you? Your actions are the SAME. Too bad you’re too busy patting yourself on the back to realize it. Now I’m done. However, you’re not. People like you LOOOOOVE the last word. Makes you feel all tingly inside.

      • Kaatje Murakami

        August 23, 2015 at 4:09 am

        Slowe11 has a valid point. One of the reasons, but NOT the main one, why I am an Asatruar / Heathen is the attitude, ignorance and plain old arseholery of ‘Christians’ towards LGBT. They hide it behind their bibles and church.

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Sports

Las Vegas Raiders head coach resigns after homophobic emails surface

Discovery made during misconduct investigation into the Washington Football Team

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Courtesy of ESPN

LAS VEGAS — The head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders, Jon Gruden resigned his post Monday after an article in the New York Times reported that he frequently used misogynistic and homophobic language directed at Commissioner Roger Goodell and others in the National Football League, (NFL).

The emails were discovered in a workplace misconduct investigation into the Washington Football Team the Times reported, but ended up costing Gruden his job when they also showed Gruden denounced the drafting of a gay player and the tolerance of players protesting during the playing of the national anthem among other issues.

In a statement released by the team late Monday, Gruden said; “I have resigned as Head Coach of the Las Vegas Raiders. I love the Raiders and do not want to be a distraction. Thank you to all the players, coaches, staff, and fans of Raider Nation. I’m sorry, I never meant to hurt anyone.”

The sequence of events started last Friday when the Wall Street Journal reported that Gruden used a racist term to describe NFL union chief DeMaurice Smith in a 2011 email to the Washington team’s former executive Bruce Allen.

According to the Associated Press, Gruden apologized for his “insensitive remarks” about Smith, saying they were made out of frustration over the 2011 lockout. But the latest emails sent from between 2011-18 when Gruden was an analyst for ESPN show his use of derogatory language went well beyond that.

A league source confirmed the accuracy of the emails to the Associated Press and said they were sent to the Raiders last week. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the league hasn’t made the emails public.

The New York Times and the Associated Press both noted that Gruden used a gay slur to insult Goodell and said he was “clueless” and “anti-football.” He also said Goodell shouldn’t have pressured the Rams to draft “queers,” a reference to Michael Sam, who was the first openly gay player drafted by an NFL team.

Gruden’s abrupt resignation was announced live on the Colts/Ravens “Monday Night Football” broadcast when the NFL ran multiple LGBTQ-inclusive advertisements, including one featuring an NFL logo wrapped in the colors of the Trans Flag and Rainbow Flag Gay City News Editor Matt Tracy reported.

Raiders owner Mark Davis issued a statement which only said that he accepted Gruden’s resignation. In a separate statement the Raiders announced that special teams and assistant head coach Rich Bisaccia will serve as Interim Head Coach of the Las Vegas Raiders, effective immediately.

“Coach Bisaccia will meet with the media at the regularly scheduled media availability on Wednesday,” the team said.

According to ESPN and the Associated Press, Bisaccia has been a special teams coordinator in the NFL for 19 seasons with the Raiders, Chargers, Dallas and Tampa Bay. He has no head coaching experience but his elevation will allow other assistants in the Raiders organization such as defensive coordinator Gus Bradley to stay in their current roles.

Jon Gruden resigns as Raiders head coach | SC with SVP

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New Zealand university names trans athlete ‘sportswoman of the year’

Laurel Hubbard is first out trans woman to compete in Olympics

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Screenshot via CBS Sports

DUNEDIN, New Zealand — Olympic weightlifter Laurel Hubbard was named “sportswoman of the year” at the prestigious 113-year-old University of Otago and OUSA Blues and Golds Awards event this past week.

The 43-year-old Queenstown, South Island, native was the first openly transgender woman to compete in an Olympics when she competed in the women’s 87kg weightlifting event at the 2021 Tokyo Games.

In a statement to the local newspaper, the Otago Daily Times, Hubbard said she was ‘‘grateful for all of the support and kindness received from the teaching staff and students at Otago University.’’

‘‘It is not possible for athletes to complete at the Olympic level without the encouragement and aroha [a Māori word meaning “love”] of friends, family and supporters.

‘‘This award belongs to everyone who has been part of my Olympic journey,’’ she told the paper.

Hubbard’s participation at the Tokyo Games had provoked controversy as she had prepared for competing as the world’s first out transgender woman Olympian. The director of medicine and science for the International Olympic Committee, Dr. Richard Budgett, directly addressed those who had attacked and mocked the New Zealander and claimed she shouldn’t be competing with cisgender women, saying  “everyone agrees that trans women are women.”

“To put it in a nutshell,” he said, “the IOC had a scientific consensus back in 2015. There are no IOC rules or regulations around transgender participation. That depends on each international federation. So Laurel Hubbard is a woman, is competing under the rules of her federation and we have to pay tribute to her courage and tenacity in actually competing and qualifying for the Games.”

Otago University Students’ Association president Michaela Waite-Harvey told the Otago Daily Times that the Blues awards aim to highlight Otago students excelling in their chosen sport.

‘‘We could think of no-one more worthy of sportswoman of the year than Laurel Hubbard who represented Otago and New Zealand incredibly well at this year’s Tokyo Olympics.’’

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Gold medalist Tom Daley battled COVID in hospital prior to Tokyo games

An x-ray revealed “blotches” on his lungs, and he was kept at the hospital for 10 hours to increase his oxygen levels

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Tom Daley (Photo by sportsphotographer.eu via Bigstock)

LONDON – British Olympic champion diver Tom Daley acknowledged in an recent interview with British newspaper The Times, that he had been secretly rushed to hospital seven months prior to the summer Tokyo Olympic games after contracting the coronavirus.

Daley told the paper “[my] lungs felt pressurised, as if they had sacks of rice around them”, and added: “Every time I stood up, I felt the room spinning and a blinding white light, as if I was going to faint, and as if I couldn’t get enough oxygen into my body.”

He went on to describe his ordeal in graphic details telling Times journalist Jane Mulkerrins that he gave specific instructions to his husband, screenwriter D. Lance Black one night as he headed off to sleep, what to do in the event he quit breathing.

He also told Mulkerrins he was frightened for their son Robbie if he and his husband both contracted the COVID-19 coronavirus, especially after he was rushed to hospital by ambulance unable to breath correctly.

When his head began to feel like it had “a vice tightening around it” and his “oxygen levels were dropping,” it was at that point Daley said he decided to call 111. [The UK’s emergency phone number]

‘My oxygen levels were dropping’

He was rushed to hospital in an ambulance and put on oxygen. An x-ray revealed “blotches” on his lungs, and he was kept at the hospital for 10 hours to increase his oxygen levels, The Times reported.

“I understood how quickly things could potentially go downhill,” said Daley.

“I had flashes of fear about whether I would be put on a ventilator, and my time being up. I was really terrified.”

He also described his reasons for keeping his ordeal secret so that his rivals in his sport wouldn’t know.

The episode kept the Olympian diver out of training for nearly seven months although Daley along with his British teammate diving partner Matty Lee won the gold with a score of 471.81 in the men’s synchronized diving on at the Tokyo 2021 games.

After tough competition in the Men’s 10m platform diving from China’s Cao Yuan who picked up the Gold Medal and his teammate Yang Jian cinching the number two spot with a Silver Medal, the 27-year-old Daley secured a Bronze Medal win with a score of 548.25.

It was the second Olympic Bronze Medal for the Plymouth, England native, in individual diving completion since he won bronze at the London Games in 2012. Daley and his teammate Daniel Goodfellow won a Bronze Medal in the 10m synchronised at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.

The Times interview comes as the paper’s magazine is serializing Daley’s new book, Coming Up for Air: What I Learned from Sport, Fame and Fatherhood, which is due to be published by Harper Collins on October 14.

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