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Parents of gay athletes say sports brought them closer

Two local families on the powerful bond of competition



sports parents of gay athletes, gay news, Washington Blade, sharing sports

Mark and Margie Hofberg say a shared love of sports has brought them closer. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

There is a family bond that occurs between parent and child when sports are a part of their everyday life. Between shuttling their children to practices, leagues, local tournaments and travel tournaments, a dynamic emerges for the parents that forms a way of life.

Sharing sports can foster a relationship that continues well into the child’s adult years. It’s a commonality that revolves around support and spending time together.

What happens when the child comes out as gay and continues to play sports? Does the dynamic change? Is it even still there?

Mark Hofberg grew up in Rockville, Md., and played multiple sports including travel-level basketball, soccer and baseball. He had a gangly phase in high school – growing one foot in a year – that relegated him to running cross country and playing frisbee and basketball recreationally while his body developed.

After coming out in his senior year of high school and growing into his 6’5” frame at the University of Maryland, Hofberg played club frisbee and any intramural sport you can think of from badminton to volleyball. He continued that through graduate school at Maryland.

Since 2012, he has been a part of the LGBT sports community in D.C. playing with the DC Gay Flag Football League, DC Pride Volleyball, Federal Triangles Soccer, DC Sentinels Basketball, Stonewall Kickball and Stonewall Dodgeball. He is in his fifth year of alternating between quarterback and captain for the Washington Generals flag football travel team.

“The LGBT sports community has given me an outlet that I need to play competitive sports,” says Hofberg. “I love it, and along with it I have found my best friends.”

Hofberg, who works in policy writing and research for an environmental nonprofit, says the person who has always been his biggest supporter is his mother, Margie Hofberg. DC Gay Flag Football is his main sport and wanting to share it with her, he asked if she would attend a game.

“She was very cautious at first, asking if I was sure she should come,” Mark Hofberg says. “Football and the league are a huge part of my life and I share everything with her. Why not share my friends?”

Margie Hofberg did indeed start coming to games and is now a regular on the sidelines along with sponsoring one of the teams through her Residential Mortgage Center. As part of her commitment as a sponsor, she runs “How to Buy a House” workshops for the players every season.

“I knew this would happen – she’s friends with more people than I am. She even goes to games when I am not there,” says Mark Hofberg, laughing. “It’s a great way for us to hang out and see each other. My dad, brother and grandfather have also been to games. I love sharing my life with my family.”

Margie Hofberg has been there all along, including coaching his youth soccer team and managing his youth baseball team.

“Whatever sport he was in, I was there supporting him and I loved every minute of it,” says Margie Hofberg. “The one thing I said when he came out to me was ‘I hope you understand you are still having my grandchildren.’”

She decided to become a sponsor of the DC Gay Flag Football League after attending Gay Bowl in Philadelphia in 2014.

“Once I saw what this community was about I wanted to become more involved and I have developed relationships beyond being Mark’s mom,” Margie Hofberg says. “Here is a group of people who are just like him and I am so glad he has an outlet to meet people. I have seen a different side of Mark emerge.”

For the Hofbergs, the sports story continues and it still revolves around support and spending time together. Margie Hofberg’s presence on the sidelines hasn’t gone unnoticed by the other players.

“I hope that seeing how Mark and I interact has helped motivate other players to start a discussion with their own family and friends,” she says. “I am so very proud of all the players in this league.”

Soccer has always been John Whitfield’s main sport and his father was a coach of his youth soccer team. When he moved on to a traveling club team, both his parents remained involved, coming to practices and games.

In his high school years in his hometown of Marysville, Wash., Whitfield played both school and club soccer and he spent two seasons playing soccer at Wartburg College. When he returned to finish his degree at Western Washington University, he continued in club and intramural soccer.

His parents had traveled to Wartburg in Iowa to see him play and the sports dynamic was still there in his collegiate years. Whitfield came out in the spring of his senior year at Western Washington.

“Soccer was always a part to focus on to separate myself from being gay. I used soccer as an excuse not to date,” says John Whitfield. “At my college graduation party, I did it all at once – came out to friends and family. I talked to a lot of people about it that day.”

He landed a job with Microsoft where he consults with the Department of Veterans Affairs, and right out of college they moved him to D.C. where Whitfield joined the Federal Triangles Soccer Club.

“My first team was very social and I stopped being afraid that playing with a gay soccer team was a gay thing,” John Whitfield says. “My two lives were finally merged together.”

Whitfield told his parents about the Federal Triangles and says they were intrigued and pleased that he was playing and meeting people. On their visits to D.C., both Debbie and Don Whitfield have attended their son’s soccer matches.

Whitfield has traveled with his team to the Gay Games and a tournament in New York. In 2016, he traveled with the Federal Triangles to the International Gay and Lesbian Football Association World Championships in Portland.

Sitting in the stands were his parents, his partner Hank, and his sister and her boyfriend. They had driven more than four hours to watch John compete. The final was played in the Portland Timbers Stadium and the Federal Triangles went on to win the world title.

“They have always been there to support me,” says John Whitfield. “Having them there to watch me play in that (MLS) stadium with my team was incredible.”

John Whitfield has two older sisters who also played soccer and their father Don was involved early on, recognizing the value in sports.

“Participating in athletics is a good learning experience for life in general,” says Don Whitfield. “When I was coaching them, it was also a good family experience. It has always been just a joy to watch my kids play.”

John advanced to the premier league at age 11 and the family experiences continued going from state to state for regional tournaments. Watching his son play continued during John’s college years.

Don Whitfield says he didn’t know that there were gay sports communities but that he is glad that they exist.

“I had seen him play in some big stadiums before Portland but it was very fun to watch him there playing at a competitive level. He is such a tough player,” Don Whitfield says. “I also enjoyed hanging out with his team afterwards when we went out for beers.”

The Whitfield family sports story remains strong and despite living on separate coasts, they continue to see each other on a regular basis.

“Before he came out, I could never put my finger on the tension because I didn’t have the tools to figure it out. Our relationship has improved dramatically because the fear is gone,” says Don Whitfield. “John is much more relaxed and my wife and I will always continue to be supportive.”

John Whitfield says his father Don Whitfield is always on the sidelines supporting him. (Photo courtesy the Whitfields)



Los Angeles Dodgers apologize, reverse decision on disinviting drag group

Pride Night to take place June 16



Los Angeles Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence (Facebook photo)

In a tweet Monday afternoon, the Los Angeles Dodgers Major League Baseball franchise reversed last Wednesday’s decision to disinvite the LA Chapter of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence from a scheduled “Community Hero Award” presentation for the team’s annual Pride Night on June 16.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Lindsey P. Horvath announced on Twitter Monday afternoon after the Dodgers apology, and its accompanying public acceptance by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, that she had been pleased to have assisted in facilitating a meeting between the team, the Sisters and stakeholders in the LGBTQ community’s leadership both non-profit and political to come to an understanding.

In a Monday afternoon phone call with the Los Angeles Blade, Horvath explained that important dialogue between the Dodgers and other parties had commenced. She said that earlier on Monday, in a meeting at Dodger Stadium, the stakeholders met to work out a solution.

“I was honestly moved and grateful by the commitment in the room by all the parties, especially Dodgers president and part-owner Stan Kasten,” Horvath said.

In addition to the representatives from the Sisters drag group, the meeting was also attended by Los Angeles LGBT Center Chief Executive Officer Joe Hollendoner, LA Pride President Gerald GarthBoard, West Hollywood Mayor Sepi Shyne, state Assemblymember Rick Chavez Zbur, and state Sen. Caroline Menjivar. Zbur and Menjivar attending on behalf of the California Legislative LGBTQ caucus.

Horvath indicated that she felt it was a critically important meeting with all stakeholders as they worked through the anger, sense of betrayal, and misgivings over the Dodgers actions. She pointed out that she was convinced that the Dodgers president was genuinely remorseful and apologetic.

In an email Monday night, Zbur told the Blade: “It was clear that today’s meeting followed meaningful internal dialogue among Dodgers management, with whom I had numerous frank conversations during the week and weekend. I’m pleased that the Dodgers came to understand the genuine hurt and injury caused by the decision to exclude the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence — one that did not reflect our Los Angeles or California values.

As the only LGBTQ members of the Legislature representing Los Angeles, Senator Menjivar and I participated in the meeting at the request of the California LGBTQ Legislative Caucus to express the serious and uniform concern of Democratic members of the California Legislature.

After hearing the perspectives of the Sisters, L.A. Pride and the LGBTQ+ leaders in the room, the Dodger management apologized unequivocally for their mistake, re-invited the Sisters to participate in the event, and engaged in a discussion about the steps that they could take to reconcile with LGBTQ+ community.

I was proud of the Sisters, who demonstrated  resilience, strength and a commitment to the LGBTQ+ community during the discussion, and I was impressed with the sincerity of the apology by the Dodger management.”

The Los Angeles LGBT Center had called on the team to cancel Pride Night altogether. After the Dodgers had made their public apology, Hollendoner issued the following statement:

“Today’s decision by the Dodgers to publicly apologize to the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and roll back their exclusion from next month’s Pride Night is a step in the right direction, and we support the Sisters’ vote to accept their much-deserved Community Hero Award.

Last week’s debacle underscores the dangerous impact of political tactics by those who seek to stoke the flames of anti-LGBTQ bias at a time when our rights are under attack. We must continue to stand together as a community in defense of the rights and recognition of LGBTQ+ people in Los Angeles and beyond.

The Center is filled with gratitude to our Los Angeles community, who mobilized to support the Sisters, all of which compelled the Dodgers to ultimately do right by LGBTQ+ people everywhere. We are proud to stand with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, and will join them at Pride Night to honor their many important contributions to our movement.

The Dodgers’ course correction and the conversations we have had with the organization’s leadership since last week demonstrates the version of allyship we have come to expect from the team over the years. The Center will always strive to hold our corporate partners accountable — which means so much more than waving a rainbow flag.” 

The team announced last week it would drop the drag group from its celebration of LGBTQ+
fans, the day after a letter-writing campaign was launched by the anti-LGBTQ Catholic League. Catholic League President Bill Donohue accused the team of “rewarding anti-Catholicism” by honoring the group.

“The Catholic League has been the leading critic of this bigoted organization for many decades,” Donohue wrote on the organization’s website. “… These homosexual bigots are known for simulating sodomy while dressed as nuns.”

He added, “Just last month, they held an event mocking our Blessed Mother and Jesus on Easter Sunday.”

One of those writing, was U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) who also sent a letter to Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred, stating that he was questioning whether the League is “inclusive and welcoming” to Christians. 

At the time, the Dodgers said they removed the group from their Pride Night celebration “given the strong feelings of people who have been offended by the Sisters’ inclusion in our evening, and in an effort not to distract from the great benefits … of Pride Night.”

On Saturday, Anaheim Mayor Ashleigh Aitken invited the drag group to Angels Pride Night in a tweet, as reported by the Blade: “I’m inviting the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence to join me for @Angels Pride Night at Anaheim Stadium on June 7. Pride should be inclusive and like many, I was disappointed in the Dodgers’ decision,” tweeted the Mayor .

Neither the Angels nor the mayor’s office confirmed that invitation as of press time, and also did not comment on the Dodgers’ reversal.

However, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange took aim at Aitken for extending the invitation to the drag group:

“The decision to openly embrace a group whose demeaning behavior is anti-Catholic and anti-Christian is misguided and disrespectful to the sisters of the Catholic Church who minister in Orange County and selflessly dedicate their lives to God’s underserved people,” said Jarryd Gonzales, spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange on Monday.

“We cannot condone any actions that have historically shown such high levels of disregard for the sincerely held beliefs of the faithful,” he added.

“Our June 7th Pride Night is part of Major League Baseball’s league-wide effort to raise awareness and promote acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community. As in the past, OC Pride has assisted our Organization in the planning of this event as well as outreach to all fans throughout Southern California,” an Angels spokesperson said on the mayor’s invitation.

The Sisters have not indicated publicly if they plan to attend the Angels Pride Night as of yet.

Sources tell the Blade out gay Dodgers Vice President Erik Braverman was being advised on this crisis by Outsports co-founder Cyd Zeigler. When contacted by the Blade, Zeigler declined to comment.

A spokesperson for the Dodgers did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

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Vice president meets Brittney Griner before first game back

Russia released WNBA star from penal colony late last year



Brittney Griner and her wife, Cherelle Griner, with Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff, on May 19, 2023, before Brittney Griner's first professional basketball game back since being released from a Russian penal camp. (White House photo by Lawrence Jackson)

Vice President Kamala Harris accompanied by her husband, second gentleman Doug Emhoff, greeted WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury star center Brittney Griner and her wife Cherelle Friday night before Griner’s first professional basketball game back since being released from a Russian penal camp last December.

According to the White House Press Pool reporter traveling with Harris, she and Emhoff arrived at Arena in downtown Los Angeles and met with the Griners prior to the game between the LA Sparks and Phoenix Mercury.

After conversations between the four, the vice president met with the rest of the Mercury in their dressing rooms before meeting with host team the LA Sparks in theirs.

According to the Advocate’s reporter Christopher Wiggins, in her meeting with the Mercury, the vice president said:

“I came here to talk to the team to congratulate you on exhibiting excellence in every way. You are some of the finest athletes in the world, and to do what you do every day shows that it is right to have ambition,” she said.

“It is right to have aspirations. It is right to work hard. It is right to compete when you know you have put everything into it; when you have trained, when you have discipline, when you have intelligence and when you have brilliance.”

She added, “It makes me so proud as vice president of the United States to go around the world talking to folks about a variety of issues, and one of the subjects that does come up is the WNBA. [The world] is watching what you guys are doing, lifting up the excellence of the finest athletes in the world.”

After meeting both teams Harris then showed up at center court to cheers from about 10,000 people and received an honorary jersey from the Sparks.

The Sparks beat the Mercury 94-71, although the Advocate pointed out: “Griner’s return to the floor and doing what she loves was more important than the result. Six rebounds, four blocks, and 18 points rounded out her performance.”

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West Virginia University basketball coach apologizes for gay slurs

Bob Huggins used the “F word” in a radio interview discussing a rival team when he was coaching men’s basketball at University of Cincinnati



Bill Huggins (Photo Credit: West Virginia University)

The coach of the West Virginia University Men’s Basketball team said he’s sorry for homophobic slurs he used to described fans of a rival team during a radio interview on Monday. Administrators said they are reviewing the incident and Coach Bob Huggins said he is prepared to face the consequences. 

“All those fags, those Catholic fags,” Huggins said, when he was asked about Xavier University on Cincinnati station 700WLW’s “Bill Cunningham Show.” Huggins was discussing his 16-season tenure with the University of Cincinnati and the school’s intracity rivalry with Xavier.

The host asked the former coach of the Bearcats about a moment during a Crosstown Shootout game against the Musketeers. Huggins said Xavier fans threw sex toys onto the court.

“It was transgender night, wasn’t it?” asked Cunningham, making a wisecrack since there was no such thing. “It was the Crosstown Shootout,” Huggins replied. “What it was, was all those fags, those Catholic fags, I think, threw them.”

Huggins added that the fans would “throw rubber penises on the floor and then say they didn’t do it.”

“They were envious they didn’t have one.”

The Mountaineers coach issued a statement of apology within hours of those comments:

“Earlier today on a Cincinnati radio program, I was asked about the rivalry between my former employer, the University of Cincinnati, and its crosstown rival, Xavier University.

“During the conversation, I used a completely insensitive and abhorrent phrase that there is simply no excuse for — and I won’t try to make one here.

“I deeply apologize to the individuals I have offended, as well as to the Xavier community, the University of Cincinnati and West Virginia University.

“As I have shared with my players over my 40 years coaching, there are consequences for our words and actions, and I will fully accept any coming my way. I am ashamed and embarrassed and heartbroken for those I have hurt. I must do better, and I will.”

The university condemned Huggins’ comments and said in a statement, “The situation is under review and will be addressed by the university and its athletics department.” 

Former Cincinnati City Councilman Chris Seelbach, the city’s first openly gay councilmember, told WKRC-TV he’s neither surprised by the comments nor by the fact that they were celebrated on Cunningham’s show.

“I feel sorry for him, he holds that kind of hatred for people that are different in his heart, because that’s clearly where it’s coming from,” said Seelbach. “I get angry because I’m a Catholic man, I am a graduate of Xavier, and I’m gay.”

Seelbach says he believes most Catholics don’t have the same views as Huggins and Cunningham.

“I want him to say that to my face, because there’s a lot of us who are taxpaying regular citizens who happen to be Catholic and gay who don’t appreciate it, and I don’t know if he would have the courage to say it to our face,” said Seelbach.

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