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Homophobia rampant in U.S. sports: study

Research shows more lesbian athletes out than gay men

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Matt Murtaugh, D.C. Gay Flag Football League, DCGFFL, gay news, Washington Blade
DCGFFL, D.C. Gay Flag Football League, sports, gay news, Washington Blade

Being out on the field often opens gay and lesbian players to discrimination a new study finds. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

On the heels of Michael Sam being drafted into the NFL and subsequently cut from the league, Out on the Fields, a new study, has found the United States to be the most homophobic English-speaking country in sports.

Out on the Fields billed the study as the first international study focusing on homophobia in sports. People who participated in the online survey were from various sports backgrounds with about 25 percent of participants identifying as heterosexual. The study’s findings concluded that although LGBT issues have made great strides in the United States overall, there is still more work to be done on the field. The study also chose to only focus on lesbian, gay and bisexual issues and excluded examining trans issues in sports.

According to the study, spectator stands and school physical education classes were the two places that had the most rampant homophobia. The study found that 83 percent of participants believe an openly gay person would not be safe as a spectator at a sporting event. The study also states that 78 percent of those polled feel youth sports, for those under 22 years old, are not safe spaces for LGB people. Susan Rankin, a senior research associate at Pennsylvania State University, sat on Out of the Fields’ expert review panel and believes LGB children are most susceptible to encountering issues during physical education classes.

“You’re changing, you’re in the locker room,” Rankin says. “You’re a little more vulnerable there than you would be in English class.”

That vulnerability in athleticism is why those who participate in sports can feel trapped. The study states that 50 percent of gay men and 53 percent of lesbians feel personally targeted for their sexual orientation in sports. Rankin credits that statistic to gay men not being as out in sports as lesbians.

Gay men are less likely to come out to their team or coach while they are on a sports team. Meanwhile, lesbians are more likely to be out and identify themselves as queer publicly. The study says that 83 percent of gay men remain in the closet to all or some of their team while only 63 percent of lesbians report being in the closet to some or all of their team. American gay men were also more likely to fear discrimination from their coaches and officials than gay men in any other country surveyed.

Gay men’s fear of coming out versus lesbians being more open also means lesbians are more likely to be targeted because they’re more visible. Rankin says she knows it to be true that lesbians are targeted from her own personal experience.

“The label of lesbianism in sports is one that women would go to great lengths generations ago to not come across as gay so they wouldn’t get dropped,” she says.

Another large part of sports culture is the frequent use of homophobic language. Those who had experienced homophobia reported 89 percent of gay men and 82 percent of lesbians had heard homophobic slurs. Rankin says the reason homophobic language is used often is because of the way sports have been structured over the generations. That structure is going to take time to deconstruct.

“It’s an area where masculinity and femininity are highlighted,” Rankin says. “It’s around gender and what that looks like and not going outside of those roles and challenging them. It’s the last dash for us to move through.”

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Trans women banned from track and field, intersex athletes restricted

World Athletics Council policy to go into effect March 31

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CeCé Telfer (Photo courtesy of Instagram)

The organization that makes the rules for track and field meets around the world declared Thursday it will bar transgender women who have experienced male puberty from competing, a move that was anticipated following a similar trans ban issued last year by the governing body for world swimming.

As the Associated Press noted, at this moment there are zero trans women competing at the elite level of track and field. But the edict, which the World Athletics Council announced will take effect on the Transgender Day of Visibility, March 31, is crushing news for one hopeful. 
In May 2019, CeCé Telfer won the 400m hurdles at the Division II championships and became the first out trans woman to win an NCAA title. She’s been training ever since for her shot at the Olympics, despite being ruled ineligible for Beijing at the trials in 2021. The Jamaican-American had set a goal of qualifying for Paris in 2024. But the World Athletics ban ends that dream.

Telfer tweeted Thursday, “It feels as though the world stopped moving.”

Another ruling by the group will likely mean no shot at the Olympics for another Black woman athlete, two-time gold medalist Caster Semenya. The South African track icon is not trans, but because of her higher than typical testosterone levels, she has been barred from competing in her signature event, the 800m. World Athletics took that from her around the same time Telfer made history, in May 2019. 

The group issued an eligibility ruling that prohibits female athletes like Semenya who have Differences in Sexual Development from competing in women’s events, from the 400m to one mile (1600m), unless they reduce their testosterone levels. So, Semenya chose to run in longer events than she did previously. She finished 13th in her qualifying heat at 5,000 meters at world championships last year as she worked to adapt to longer distances, in preparation for Paris. 

“I’m in the adaptation phase, and my body is starting to fit with it. I’m just enjoying myself at the moment, and things will fall into place at the right time,” the South African runner told the AP.

That time may now never come. On Thursday, World Athletics announced athletes who have DSD will have to undergo hormone-suppressing treatment and maintain a testosterone level of below 2.5nmol/L for 24 months, in order to be eligible to compete in any event in the female category.

Semenya vowed following the 2019 ruling that she would never again take any testosterone suppressing medication, terming the rules discriminatory and unfair.

This new rule could impact not only Semenya but also as many as a dozen other elite runners, World Athletics President Sebastian Coe said. Among them, Olympic 200-meter silver medalist Christine Mboma of Namibia, who won a silver medal in Tokyo two years ago but didn’t compete last year because of an injury. Mboma has not publicly stated whether she would be willing to undergo hormone therapy.

Like Semenya, Olympic 800-meter silver medalist Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi has said she will not undergo hormone suppression. 

Even though Niyonsaba, Mboma and Semenya are not trans like Telfer and former Connecticut high school track athletes Andraya Yearwood and Terry Miller — who have been targeted in federal court by opponents of inclusion — there is one thing all these women have in common: They are all women of color, and all targeted for being too fast because of their natural gifts.

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Chicago Blackhawks: No Pride jerseys over Russia concerns

Several of the team’s players are Russian

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Chicago Blackhawks players wearing 'Pride Night' jerseys in April of 2022 (Photo Credit: Chicago Blackhawks/Facebook)

The National Hockey League’s Chicago Blackhawks franchise have opted to not wear the team’s Pride-themed warmup jerseys before Sunday’s Pride Night game against the Vancouver Canucks based on security concerns over the recently expanded Russian law prohibiting mention of LGBTQ rights in Russia the Associated Press reported.

According to the AP, the decision was made by the NHL organization following discussions with security officials within and outside the franchise, according to a person familiar with the situation who spoke to the AP on Wednesday on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the move.

Blackhawks defenseman Nikita Zaitsev is a Moscow native, and there are other players with family in Russia or other connections to the country the AP noted.

The team has participated in the LGBTQ themed part of the ‘Hockey is for everyone‘ campaign and has in previous years set aside recognition for the LGBTQ community in Pride night celebrations.

While the team will forgo the jerseys, the AP noted that DJs from the LGBTQ community will play before the game and during an intermission, and the Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus also is slated to perform. There also are plans to highlight a couple of area businesses with ties to the LGBTQ community.

The decision by the team has sparked outage including Outsports editor Cyd Zeigler, who noted on Twitter that the NHL has an inclusion problem as the Chicago team joins the New York Rangers, who opted not to wear Pride jerseys or use Pride stick tape as part of their Pride night this past January despite previously advertising that plan. The Rangers’ Pride Night was held 10 days after Ivan Provorov, the alternate captain for the National Hockey League’s Philadelphia Flyers, opted out of participating in the team’s Pride Night charity event before the game Tuesday, claiming a religious exemption based on his Russian Orthodox faith.

San Jose Sharks goalie James Reimer didn’t take part in the Sharks Pride Night wearing Pride-themed jerseys in support of the LGBTQ community, telling multiple media outlets that support of the LGBTQ community runs counter to his religious beliefs.

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Put this out gay trailblazer’s supportive coach in your bracket

‘Coach Willard’s awesome,’ says Derrick Gordon of Maryland’s Kevin Willard

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Kevin Willard is not just a seasoned coach, but a strong LGBTQ ally. (Screen capture via Inside the Hall YouTube)

When the 8th seeded Maryland Terrapins faced off against No. 1 Alabama in the second round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championships last weekend, it wasn’t just the players on the hardwood who were working hard for the win. Nate Oats coached the Crimson Tide to a 73-51 victory less than an hour from their home court. And on the other side was Kevin Willard, who is not just a seasoned coach, but a strong LGBTQ ally. 

Willard was Derrick Gordon’s coach at Seton Hall when he transferred from UMass in 2015, a year after he came out as the first out gay Division I Men’s basketball player in the NCAA. 

Gordon has credited Willard with creating a comfortable environment, after he “bumped heads” with former UMass coach Derek Kellogg during his two seasons with the Minutemen. In contrast, he said he instantly connected with Willard, and told his teammates and Willard following his final season at Seton Hall that he wished he had another year of eligibility remaining. He’s said he considered Willard the best coach he’d ever played for.

“He just made it comfortable for me,” Gordon told Glenn Clark Radio in an interview broadcast on March 22, 2022. “He said, ‘You know what, we’re more focused on who you are as a person and a basketball player and what you bring to the team.’ He voiced that over and over again. When I went on my visit, I just felt even more comfortable, met a couple of the guys. They made me feel right at home as well, so it was kind of like an easy decision. Coach Willard’s awesome. He’s an amazing guy.”

If you don’t believe Gordon, ask the West Virginia Mountaineers, who lost to the Terrapins in the first round 67-65. Maryland’s win “took the paint off the floor at Legacy Arena” in Birmingham, Ala., as Brendan Quinn wrote in The Athletic. He described Willard’s style of coaching this way:

“Willard paced the sideline, as he does. The man is intense. Doesn’t suffer fools. Serious stuff. No BS. Black eyes screwed deep in a bald head, no pupils. He regards things sideways, incredulous toward anyone who doesn’t come correct. It’s his whole thing. If Guy Ritchie cast a college basketball coach, it’d be Willard.” 

Gordon told Glenn Clark Radio that he particularly recalled the kind of support Willard gave him in one practice early in his Seton Hall career, according to Press Box Online.

“I remember a particular situation that happened in practice — came down the court and I was wide open and I didn’t shoot it,” Gordon said in the 2022 interview. “[Willard] stopped practice and he said, ‘You’re not at [UMass] anymore. I trust you. I believe in you. Shoot the ball.’ Ever since then, my confidence was through the roof, especially dealing with I had to deal with when I was at UMass with that coach to playing under Coach Willard and him telling me that specifically, he just let me play my game.”

Last July, Gordon posted on Instagram that after playing a few seasons in Europe for Cyprus and Germany, “I decided to end my career as a professional athlete.”

Gordon is now 31, and he told his followers he is working on a book about his life “on and off the court,” in hopes he might “help gay young people, student athletes in particular and others who are struggling to pursue careers in professional sports or any career paths they chose without fear or shame.” 

Since Christmas, he’s been sharing posts that include photos with his boyfriend, actor Scott Backman of Los Angeles, including one from last week, captioned: “Every time we’re together, it’s like falling in love all over again.”

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