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Trans coach boosting visibility for girls’ baseball

‘Everyone should be able to play the sport that they love’

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Ava Benach, gay news, Washington Blade, DC Girls Baseball

Ava Benach and daughter Paloma share a love of baseball. (Photo courtesy Ava Benach)

Ava Benach signed up her daughter Paloma to play little league baseball when she was five years old. At the time, she made the erroneous assumption that eventually, Paloma would have to switch to softball.

Ava and her wife Mona did sign Paloma up for softball at age 9. Paloma was having none of it. The next year, Paloma participated in an all-girls baseball team sponsored by Baseball for All that won a national tournament in Chino Hills, Calif. It was a boy’s tournament and they were the only girls team.

In 2015, the Benach family started recruiting girls locally and DC Girls Baseball was formed. The organization is the only girls’ baseball program in the region and it draws girls 18 and under from across the D.C. metro area, giving them an opportunity to play baseball at the highest levels.

Ava is serving as president, board chair and head coach of DC Girls Baseball. Along with coaching her now 14-year-old daughter, she also coaches the teams of her two sons, Teddy and Alex, who play with Capitol City Little League.

“Society is telling these girls that baseball is not a sport for them. They experience extreme loneliness if they play on boys’ teams and any mistakes are blamed on their gender,” says Ava. “I have deep admiration and respect for these girls and I love watching them turn into leaders. It is tremendously beneficial for them and builds their confidence.”

Ava’s own path to baseball began in Long Island. She played soccer and little league before switching over to a club team at age 12. In high school, she swam competitively and walked onto the team at Boston College where she swam for four years.

She came to the area in 1994 to attend law school at George Washington University and work on Capitol Hill. She has been an immigration lawyer since 1998.

She began coaching little league teams as each of her three kids became eligible to play.

The Benach household experienced a change recently as Ava transitioned to female. Throughout the process, Ava maintained her visibility.

“When you transition in your 40s, you are already a known quantity. It went better than I thought, and I didn’t lose any friends or clients,” Ava says. “I have a public image in both sports and my profession. I depend upon my reputation.”

The success of DC Girls Baseball drew the attention of the Eastern Women’s Baseball Conference (EWBC), which has been providing opportunities for women to play baseball for more than 20 years. The league features four teams – Montgomery County BarnCats, Baltimore Blues, Virginia Flames and Virginia Fury. They also field a travel team, DC Thunder, for tournament play.

A relationship was formed, and the two organizations began having clinics together. A few of the adult players from EWBC began coaching for DC Girls Baseball. Several of the girls have been recruited to the adult league and the adult travel team.

Paloma Benach was recruited last year to play on the Virginia Fury team in EWBC and she also plays on their travel team, DC Thunder. Normally a pitcher when playing girls baseball, Paloma is a utility player with EWBC to rest her pitching arm. She was 13 at the time and found herself facing experienced adults.

“At first I thought it would be difficult because they know more than I know,” says Paloma. “I do well but there are games where I need assistance.”

Paloma was joined on the team this year by Ava who plays third base. Now that they have a coach and teammate relationship, it brings up a certain question. What does Paloma call Ava?

“She calls me dad which is awkward sometimes in certain parts of the country,” says Ava. “It’s an actual historical biological fact. I don’t want to compete with my wife for the title of mother after 19 years of marriage.”

Both players have something to add in regard to the dynamic of playing together.

“She ignores me,” Ava says. “I have watched her play a thousand times and am amazingly proud of her, even though I am ruining her mojo.”

“Honestly, I try not to look at her. It’s too emotional so I view her as a coach and teammate,” Paloma says. “I think it’s amazing that she has given up so much of her time for all of this.”

The remaining months of summer will be a busy time for both of them. Along with DC Girls Baseball and EWBC, Paloma is playing on the Moose Baseball travel team where she is the only girl. This fall she will try out for her school’s girls’ basketball team and the boys’ baseball team. There will also be baseball tournaments including two stops at Beyer Stadium, former home of the Rockford Peaches.

The gender barrier in baseball continues to improve and this year, Major League Baseball and USA Baseball launched the 2018 Girls Baseball Breakthrough Series to provide opportunities for girls who wish to continue playing or working in baseball.

“There are always going to be people who are not OK with girls playing baseball, but we have created a community where people can be who they are,” says Paloma. “I love this sport and am happy to be surrounded by people who support me and love me.”

“These girls are just asking for the chance to play baseball,” Ava says. “Everyone should be able to play the sport that they love.”

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Scottish pro Zander Murray inspires fellow soccer player to come out as gay

Murray, 30, came out during an interview posted on the website of his club, saying “the weight of the world is now off my shoulders”

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Screenshot/YouTube

Two weeks after making headlines as the first-ever senior Scottish pro soccer player to come out as gay, Zander Murray is revealing the impact his courageous decision has had on at least one closeted player. Murray tweeted a message he received that shows the difference an athlete coming out can make. 

“I just wanted to tell you that you’ve been a massive inspiration for me to come out to teammates and family,” the anonymous player told Murray, according to the tweet. 

“As a young footballer I find it difficult to be myself as it is but being gay and keeping it secret was so challenging. It felt amazing when I told my teammates, they were super supportive.” 

Murray shared the message with a heart emoji and the words: “Makes it all worthwhile young man.”

Murray, 30, came out during an interview posted on the website of his club, the Gala Fairydean Rovers, on September 16, explaining “the weight of the world is now off my shoulders.”

Screenshot/YouTube

As the Los Angeles Blade has reported, Jake Daniels of Blackpool came out as gay in May, the first U.K. male pro soccer player to come out in more than 30 years. Justin Fashanu was the first in Britain men’s soccer to come out back in 1990. Homophobic and racist media reports drove Fashanu to suicide eight years later. 

Reaction to Murray’s coming out last month has been “incredible,” he’s told reporters. One of those reaching out to congratulate him was Olympic gold medalist Tom Daley. The U.K. diver sent him a DM, Murray told a British interviewer. 

“He messaged me while I was on my way back from football training in a car with four boys. I had tears in my eyes seeing his direct message, and I messaged him back.

“I said, ‘Look I am in a car on the way back from football with four boys and I’ve got tears in my eyes and I don’t even care.’”

Prior to coming out, Murray had been “living in fear 24/7,” he told Sky Sports. “I can’t explain it. You’re hiding your phone in case you get messages from friends, constantly double-checking if you have a team night out, you’re cautious with what you’re saying.

“It’s very hard, especially for myself, I’m a character in that dressing room. I’m not quiet in that dressing room, I like to have the banter and to get stuck in, so very challenging.”

But Murray said he couldn’t have decided to come out “at a better time, at a better club.” So why now? He posted the answer on Instagram with several bullet points, including:

  • “Gay male footballers in the UK need role models. 
  • Majority are terrified to come out to friends/family/teammates (trust me a few have reached out already!).”

STV Weekend News Sunday, September 18, 2022 Zander Murray

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Gay men challenge Qatar death penalty for homosexuality

Country to host 2022 World Cup

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Dr. Nasser Mohamed (Photo courtesy of Instagram)

Gay men are blowing the whistle now, two months before the World Cup, demanding the host nation of Qatar change its anti-LGBTQ ways.

The Middle Eastern country where Islam is the state religion will welcome soccer players, coaches and fans from all around the planet, beginning Nov. 20, for matches that will pit nation against nation.

Qatar has promised to welcome LGBTQ foreigners, even as its own people are tortured and put to death for being who they are. 

On Monday, Qatar’s ambassador to Germany got an earful from one of those men at a human rights conference in Frankfurt, hosted by the German Football Association, according to a report by the Associated Press.

Fan representative Dario Minden spoke in English directly to Abdulla bin Mohammed bin Saud Al Thani, about who he is and who he loves, Minden told him to “abolish the death penalty” for homosexuality. 

“I’m a man and I love men. I do — please don’t be shocked — have sex with other men. This is normal,” Minden told Al Thani. “So, please get used to it, or stay out of football. Because the most important rule in football is, football is for everyone. It doesn’t matter if you’re lesbian, if you’re gay. It’s for everyone. For the boys. For the girls. And for everyone in between. 

“So, abolish the death penalty. Abolish all of the penalties regarding sexual and gender identity,” he said. 

Although organizers promised Al Thani an opportunity to respond, the Associated Press reports that portion of the conference was closed to the public and the news media and was not televised. 

Earlier, Al Thani reportedly complained to those assembled that the issue of human rights was a distraction from the World Cup, even though the event was titled, “Sport and Human Rights.” 

“We all care about human rights,” said Al Thani. “But I would have enjoyed (it) more if I saw some concentration not only on just one subject, but the enjoyment of football and the football effect on people around the world.” 

More than 5,000 miles away in San Francisco, a gay Qatari physician has organized a petition to tell the land of his birth: Love Is Not A Crime. 

Doctor Nasser Mohamed decided to come out in 2010 following a visit to the U.S., and spent his residency in Connecticut before moving to California in 2015. 

Mohamed wrote in an op-ed published by Outsports last month that he has spent the last decade caring for the LGBTQ community in outpatient settings and growing as an activist. 

“Being an LGBT person is a criminal offense in the legal system in Qatarm as is sex between two men. There are state-sponsored conversion-therapy practices, and LGBT-affirming psychotherapy is not offered.” He wrote how law enforcement uses media and chat rooms to find, jail and punish people for being LGBTQ. 

“Visibility of the local LGBT community in Qatar, and the exposure of their treatment, are absolutely essential,” Mohamed wrote. “I am doing my part by speaking up.”

Editor’s note: Find out about Mohamed’s petition by clicking here. He is also raising money through a GoFundMe account to provide him with funding for his activism as well as security and protection.

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Carl Nassib returns to Tampa

Former Las Vegas Raiders defensive end came out as gay in June 2021

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Carl Nassib (Screenshot courtesy of YouTube/KUVV Fox 5 in Las Vegas)

Carl Nassib, who made headlines in June 2021 when he became the NFL’s first out gay active player, reportedly has signed a one-year contract with his former team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

The 29-year-old defensive end was released by the Las Vegas Raiders in March, and became a free agent. NFL sources said that was due to his contracted salary amount — $7.75 million — and not any reflection on his sexual orientation.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter broke the news with a tweet

When Nassib came out last summer, he announced he was donating $100,000 to the Trevor Project, and for Pride Month this year he made a new pledge to help LGBTQ youth. He promised to match donations to the Trevor Project, dollar for dollar, up to $100,000.

Will Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady welcome Nassib?

As Outsports reported, he’s never made any comments about playing with someone gay. Brady’s former New England Patriots teammate Ryan O’Callaghan recalled that before he came out in 2017, following his retirement, there was one time that he missed the team bus and Brady gave him a ride in his car to that day’s practice.

O’Callaghan told Outsports he believes Brady would have “absolutely” accepted him if he had come out at that time.

“Being married to a super model I’m sure he’s met a few gay people in his life,” said O’Callaghan.

Brady wed Brazilian fashion model Gisele Bündchen in 2009.

Legendary Boston sports columnist Steve Buckley of the Athletic came out as gay in 2011 while at the Boston Herald. He told Outsports that Brady has always been friendly and cooperative, even after Buckley came out.

This is the second time around at Raymond James Stadium for Nassib. He played for the Buccaneers for two seasons prior to joining the Raiders in 2020. His NFL career began in 2016 with the Cleveland Browns. 

As Jason Owens reported for Yahoo! Sports, Nassib was far more productive in Tampa as a part-time starter, recording 6.5 sacks in 2018 and six sacks in 2019. The NFL’s website shows he played just 242 defensive snaps and earned 1.5 sacks last season. 

In 86 games including 37 starts, Nassib’s recorded 22 career sacks, 164 tackles, 53 quarterback hits and four forced fumbles.

In addition to Brady, Nassib’s new teammates are Akiem Hicks and William Gholston at defensive end and outside linebackers Shaquil Barrett and Joe Tryon-Shoyinka. Given that the Buccaneers finished seventh in the NFL in sacks last season with 47, Nassib will be expected to improve Tampa Bay’s chances when their season begins on Sept. 11 in Dallas.

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