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The NFL embraces LGBTQ+ inclusion ahead of Super Bowl LVI

“LGBTQ athletes need to see more stories of athletes like them supported by their teammates because many are accepted just as they are”

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View of branding during A Night of Pride with GLAAD and NFL on February 10, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for GLAAD)

LOS ANGELES – LGBTQ+ History was made Thursday night atop the National Football League’s Los Angeles headquarters rooftop, overlooking the glittering new SoFi Stadium, site of Super Bowl LVI, as about 150 NFL players, sports professionals and fans mingled with supporters of GLAAD to celebrate the league’s now very public embrace of the LGBTQ+ community.

GLAAD and the National Football League (NFL) hosted ‘A Night of Pride,’ sponsored by Pepsi Stronger Together, at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood California.

Jonathan Beane, Senior Vice President, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer at National Football League (NFL) welcomed the crowd and minced no words. 

“This is long overdue, isn’t it?” he exclaimed, referring to the league’s commitment to the LGBTQ community. “This (event)  is just the beginning; there’s a lot more that we’re going to do as a league.” 

LGBTQ community icon and LA Dodger Baseball team owner Billy Jean King, the first female athlete to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, for instance, has been selected as a Legendary Coin Toss Captain on Sunday.

Tennis Icon Billie Jean King and her longtime partner Ilana Kloss.
(Photo courtesy of Major League Baseball Inc/The Los Angeles Dodgers)

“LGBTQ athletes need to see more stories of athletes like them, who are supported by their teammates, because so many of them are accepted, just as they are,” GLAAD Deputy President and COO Darra Gordon said in her remarks. “I hope young LGBTQ athletes see posts from tonight and know that they have a rightful place to be out in the NFL, in football, in sports, and at any cultural milestone they aim for.”

LZ Granderson, host of the ABC News podcast ‘Life Out Loud with LZ Granderson, moderated a discussion of LGBTQ inclusion in the NFL featuring out NFL Legend Ryan O’Callaghan and NFL free agent R.K. Russell, who came out as bi in 2019.

R.K., aka Ryan Russell, who is one of more than 20 players in NFL history to come out as gay or bisexual (with Michael Sam and Carl Nassib, he is one of three to do so before retiring) and O’Callaghan (who played six seasons with the NFL retiring in 2012) tackled the hard stuff.

O’Callaghan says, in his day, he never imagined a moment like this would be possible, “not a chance in hell” that there could ever be such a full on embrace of LGBTQ identity and players by the NFL. 

“Back then” he said, “they didn’t do anything much at all.  Especially not publicly. Up until the last few years, the NFL was absent (on LGBT issues).”

O’Callaghan, who came to the GLAAD event from the prestigious annual NFL Honors awards that bestows MVP Award, Players of the Year, etc, reported significant news of a very public LGBTQ moment.

(L-R) LZ Granderson, R.K. Russell and Ryan O’Callaghan speak onstage during A Night of Pride with GLAAD and NFL on February 10, 2022 in Los Angeles, California.
(Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for GLAAD)

During the Honors event, the LGBTQ community was also honored with a video montage of thanks from out gay and bisexual players, honoring Carl Nassib.  

“A few months ago we filmed a piece for the NFL Network for their 360 show talking about LGBTQ in sports and the work of the Trevor Project. They had another player, Michael Irving — his brother is gay — and four us (from the NFL 360 segment) appear (tonight) onstage.”

They received a standing ovation. 

“It was very powerful,” he said, “a big step for the NFL to broadcast that to America.”

“What they did tonight was a whole other step,” O’Callaghan said of the world wide television broadcast.

Moderator Gunderson seized the moment with an obvious question: “Are we done or is this like the Obama moment where we got the Black man in the White House but racism is still hanging around.”

R.K. Russell attends A Night of Pride with GLAAD and NFL on February 10, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for GLAAD)

Russell jumped at the chance to answer, saying “Things are certainly accelerating. As a generation of sports fans, as writers, as journalists, as athletes, we want to see ourselves in the game because we’ve always been there, because  we built this game — honestly.”

“With the Black Lives Matters movement, seeing players really take a stand we know we are more than just these athletes. We are more than these titles. When we step off the field, we take those helmets off, I am a Black man and I am a bi-sexual man. That carries with me everywhere I go. I don’t have to wear a jersey for that.”

“But when I do wear that jersey you need to know that and respect that. You can either ride with me or not,” he said, adding “I think we’re just getting started.”

“But,” moderator Granderson ominously asked, “Where are we going?”

“We’ve got a race issue still in the NFL,” he continued. “If a league that is 70 percent openly Black can’t confront racism issues then how do you think a league that has one openly gay player has addressed its homophobia issues?”

“I think that’s where the community, the writers, people like us keep the league accountable as well,” said Russell. “It’s about holding them accountable and we need to see that from everybody — players, coaches, staff, journalists, fans. Keep the NFL to its word.” 

Russell said that Covid downtime had helped people realize that “surface level, performative” actions are not enough. 

“That’s not going to cut it anymore,” he said. “We want to see Black head coaches, we want to see out players, we want to see it in the media, on the field, we want to see you actually do the things you say you’re going to do.”

Asked if he felt the LGBT highlight moment during the evening’s Honors award was performative or a significant step forward, O’Callaghan said he felt “it was genuinely sincere” and that while it was perhaps the most significant thing the league had done to date, it was not the only thing.

O’Callaghan talked about the league’s sponsorship of New York’s Heritage of Pride and float entries into its parade. “They started with small things like that and doing things on social media and the NFL network, changing the logo during Pride month and sharing that on social media.”

“Now it’s kind of expected.,” O’Callaghan said. “The hardest thing was the first step.”

“Doing what they did tonight at Honors, and this party…I’m sure they will be participating in the parades again this year,” he said.

O’Callaghan pointed out that in 2021 the NFL and the Arizona Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill sponsored the National Gay Flag Football Super Bowl in Tempe. “It means the world to have the NFL and a team owner supporting LGBT players and fans,” he said.

Of course the evening was wrapped around the Super Bowl, an event that may champion triumph over adversity but also, famously, a commercial opportunity that has in recent years also found marketers paying millions of dollars for seconds long TV commercials that often celebrate cultural issues.

GLAAD’s Visibility Project, a program dedicated to growing LGBTQ inclusion in advertising, announced today that LGBTQ people and issues will be nearly invisible during Super Bowl LVI ads, with only one ad that expressly features LGBTQ people or issues released prior to the Sunday broadcast. The ad for the Google Pixel 6 features a queer couple.

Additionally, Vrbo will air a LGBTQ-inclusive pre-game ad. In 2020, at least-eleven LGBTQ-inclusive ads from Amazon Alexa, Budweiser, Doritos, HGTV, Microsoft, Olay, Pop Tarts, Sabra, Tide, TurboTax, and Under Armour aired during Super Bowl LIV. In 2021, at least four LGBTQ-inclusive ads from M&M’s, Michelob ULTRA, Logitech, and Paramount + aired during Super Bowl LV. GLAAD will track ads during Super Bowl LVI at GLAAD.org and release a comprehensive list following the game.

(L-R) Deputy President of GLAAD Darra Gordon, Brent Miller, Jari Jones, and GLAAD Head of Talent Anthony Allen Ramos attend A Night of Pride with GLAAD and NFL on February 10, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for GLAAD)

GLAAD Board Chair Pamela Stewart moderated a panel on LGBTQ inclusion in advertising featuring Mohit Jolly, Senior Director of Marketing for the Global Ads Marketing Organization at Google, trans actress model and producer Jari Jones, and Brent Miller, Senior Director for Global LGBTQ Equality at P&G.

P&G’s Miller told the story of an 18 year old youth from North Carolina who sent him a letter praising a 2018 Olympics ad in which out gay Olympic gold medalist Gus Kenworthy’s coming out story was featured, thanking P&G for saving a life. 

“Thank you for saving another soul,” he wrote.  He said “Something as short as an ad can be life changing,” telling the story of a 54 year old man who described a sense of empowerment watching a Pride flag unfold on an Olympic venue mountainside in South Korea. That kind of marketing, Miller said, is “what we’re supposed to do.”

Miller also said he was particularly proud that his work moves not just a younger generation but the generations before them who fought “so hard and now get to see their work come to fruition.” 

Andrew Beaver, an advertising and marketing executive who serviced P&G advertising accounts, agreed with Miller, “I worked with P&G during a time when it wasn’t easy to support our community. They put put their money where their mouth approving LGBT+ inclusive advertising.”

Mojit Jolly, Senior Director for Global Ads Marketing at Google, who grew up in Chandigarh, India, a small, conservative city about five hours north of New Delhi, said he knew early on that something about him was different. “I come from the most intensely conservative background and coming out was not easy.”

He and actress Jari Jones spoke of the necessity for inclusion in marketing and the power of LGBT stories. 

Jones said that images of trans people she was exposed to as a young person had set her back but today’s more authentic representations of people like her have changed her life and the lives of millions of people.

Google, said Jolly, recognizes the power of representation and information to transform our lives and highlighted several tools the mega-powered company provides, including LGBTQ safe spaces and LGBTQ business features on maps worldwide. 

“Every day we reach billions and billions of people and so we have a responsibility,” he said. “I believe our commitments are profound.”

As the event drew to a close, Big Fredia took the stage and opened with her signature song of affirmation and call to be your true color, the aptly named “Big Dick Energy.”

Big Freedia performs onstage during A Night of Pride with GLAAD and NFL on February 10, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for GLAAD)

Guests included out NFL Legend Ryan O’Callaghan as well as LGBTQ leaders and allies including Alyssa Milano, Anthony Bowens, August Getty, Big Freedia, Braunwyn Windham-Burke, Jai Rodriguez, Jari Jones, Jeka Jane, Joey Zauzig, Justin Sylvester, Kent Boyd, LZ Granderson, Mollee Grey, Peter Porte, Philemon Chambers, R.K. Russell, Sonya DeVille, Victoria Brito, Cyd Zeigler, Los Angeles Blade Publisher Troy Masters, Andrew Beaver, GLAAD’s Rich Ferraro and Pamela Stewart, Chair of GLAAD’s Board of Directors.

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Olympic champion Tom Daley ‘furious’ about bans on trans athletes

“Anyone that’s told that they can’t compete or can’t do something they love just because of who they are, it’s not ok”

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Tom Daley (Screenshot via Channel 4 UK)

Olympic diving champion Tom Daley said he is “furious” about FINA, the world swimming body, banning some transgender athletes from women’s swimming, diving, and other competitions. 

“Anyone that’s told that they can’t compete or can’t do something they love just because of who they are, it’s not OK,” Daley said to iNews at a press conference. “It’s something I feel really strongly about. Giving trans people the chance to share their side.”

Earlier this month, FINA released the new policy on eligibility, banning athletes who have experienced male puberty from women’s competitions.

FINA President Husain Al-Musallam said the new policy intended to protect athletes’ right to compete but also ensure competition fairness.

FINA intends to create an open category for athletes whose birth sex is different from their gender identity.

“This has not been done before, so FINA will need to lead the way. I want all athletes to feel included in being able to develop ideas during this process.” Al-Musallam said.

The new policy was condemned by the Human Rights Campaign, which said that requiring athletes to transition before age 12 was unrealistic and unlikely. States such as Alabama regulate young people’s access to age-appropriate gender-affirming care.

“This sudden and discriminatory decision is a blatant attack on transgender athletes who have worked to comply with longstanding policies that have allowed them to participate for years without issue,” said Joni Madison, HRC’s Interim President, “This policy is an example of swimming organizations caving to the avalanche of ill-informed, prejudiced attacks targeted at one particular transgender swimmer.”

The new policy will impact the career of trans swimmer Lia Thomas, the first trans woman to win a NCAA Division I Women’s Swimming Championship, and may prevent her from participating and competing in the female category.

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Sports

DC Aquatics Club swimmers reflect on world title win

Team took 125 gold medals en route to breaking 72 DCAC records

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The District of Columbia Aquatics Club sent 42 swimmers to the International Gay & Lesbian Aquatics world championships in Palm Springs, Calif. (Photo courtesy DCAC)

The District of Columbia Aquatics Club sent 42 swimmers to the International Gay & Lesbian Aquatics (IGLA) world championships in Palm Springs, Calif., in April on a mission to capture their first world title since 2013.

It was a long road back to international competition for the DCAC swimmers after the disruption of training and travel brought on by the worldwide pandemic.

When the team returned from IGLA in Melbourne, Australia in March of 2020, their training pools were closed, and all competitions were canceled.

By May they had established a training site in the South River in Annapolis where they swam until November of that year. Eventually, pools began to reopen, and the team was faced with battling for training time in COVID-restricted pools.

Following the postponement of the 2022 Gay Games in Hong Kong, the IGLA community scrambled to put together a competition in Palm Springs that would be hosted in tandem by West Hollywood Aquatics and the Long Beach Grunions. 

DCAC’s swimmers in Palm Springs consisted of a mix of veterans and rookies ranging in age from 22 to 76 years old. Each swimmer was eligible to enter five individual events and three relay events.

With 67 teams in attendance, DCAC jumped out to an early lead on day one in the large team category with West Hollywood Aquatics and San Francisco Tsunami in close pursuit. 

Despite the disqualifications of two of their winning relays for early takeoffs, DCAC held on to their lead over the remaining three days to claim their first world title in nine years.

Three DCAC swimmers, Grant Casey, Carmen Robb and Jerry Frentsos, won gold in all five of their individual events. In total, the team won 125 gold, 66 silver and 35 bronze medals en route to breaking 72 DCAC team records.

Addison Winger was a first time IGLA swimmer and hadn’t competed in 12 years. He had heard the tales from past IGLAs and wanted to join in on the fun.

“It was a great experience to compete for DCAC at an international competition. I had never been in a championship meet before where you go through the process of tapering, shaving, and suiting up in tech gear,” says Winger. “The relays were amazing, and I enjoyed taking advice and feedback from our coaches to incorporate into future races. It was also great spending quality team with my teammates outside of the pool.”

Olivia Kisker had competed with DCAC at IGLA Melbourne in 2020 and was looking forward to traveling with her team again.

“Even though the days were long at the pool, we still had time for Joshua Tree, the gondolas and all that Palm Springs has to offer,” Kisker says. “I love traveling and doing it with your teammates provides a setting for bonding and getting to know people better. I also enjoyed competing against my teammate Sarah. It’s like a friendship and a rivalry.”

Craig Franz restarted his post-COVID competitive swimming at IGLA Palm Springs and went on to a training camp and open water race in Hawaii this past month.

“The whole thing about this team is relationships and sharing swimming as a common denominator. The swim competitions legitimize building relationships and supporting each other in healthy ways,” say Franz. “Palm Springs felt like a more relaxed setting, and we needed this meet to rebuild the team. It provided a nutritional base for what we are about – swimming and friendships.”

Sarah Padrutt had not competed since 2019 and all the talk about past IGLAs prompted her to attend for the first time.

“I had so much fun, and it was cool having people cheering and being supported by teammates,” Padrutt says. “It was also a nice wakeup call, a reminder of how much I like competing. I like the pressure of racing and being on relays with my team. It was a very positive experience.”

Charles Cockrell has been a Masters swimmer for decades and is the chair of the Legislation Committee for United States Masters Swimming. He came out in 2019 and these championships marked his first time competing at IGLA.

“I wanted to compete at a swim meet that was a combination of the LGBTQ community and the sport of swimming. It was a fun, accepting and engaging environment,” says Cockrell. “The takeaway was that everyone was enjoying themselves and it was nice to be gathered together in a queer space. There was an atmosphere of camaraderie, and it was great being attached to a big team like DCAC.”

Coming up next for DCAC is the United States Masters Swimming Nationals in Richmond in August. Next year, the team will travel to London for the 2023 IGLA world championships to be held in the London Olympic Pool.

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Politics

Caitlyn Jenner celebrates FINA ban on Trans swimmers on Twitter

“[…] what’s fair is fair! If you go through male puberty you should not be able to take medals away from females. Period,” Jenner tweeted

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Screenshot/YouTube Fox News

Former Olympian and one-time California Republican gubernatorial candidate Caitlyn Jenner enraged Trans activists Monday after she tweeted her approval of the FINA vote Sunday that essentially bans Trans women from participating and competing as collegiate swimmers.

“It worked! I took a lot of heat – but what’s fair is fair! If you go through male puberty you should not be able to take medals away from females. Period,” Jenner tweeted Sunday after the international athletic organization announced its vote to ban trans athletes.

The Swimming’s world governing body voted to restrict transgender athletes from elite women’s competitions. The final vote tally of the representatives was 71.5% approval for the new policy which requires transgender athletes show that “they have not experienced any part of male puberty beyond Tanner Stage 2 or before age 12, whichever is later.”

“We have to protect the rights of our athletes to compete, but we also have to protect competitive fairness at our events, especially the women’s category at FINA competitions,” FINA’s president, Husain Al-Musallam, said in a statement.

The organisation is maintaining that it was necessary to use sex and sex-linked traits to determine eligibility criteria because of the “performance gap” that appears between males and females during puberty.

Jenner’s appearances on the Fox News Network over the past six months have been unrelenting attacks on Trans athletes, especially University of Pennsylvania Women’s Team swimmer Lia Thomas. Jenner also appeared on the network to defend her attacks on Trans athletes.

“We must protect women’s sports. We cannot bow down to the radical left wing woke world and the radical politically charged agenda of identity politics,” Jenner tweeted. In another tweet she said;

“Thank you @seanhannity and @HeyTammyBruce for having a conversation grounded in common sense. All we want to do is protect women’s and girls sports! It’s that simple. And calling out the libelous, defamatory lies of @PinkNews and @emilychudy@benjamincohen

Jenner has been asked about her position on the multiple pieces of anti-Trans youth sports legislation across the United States. She responded that she saw it as a question of fairness saying that she opposed biological boys who are Trans- competing in girls’ sports in school.

“It just isn’t fair,” Jenner said adding, “and we have to protect girls’ sports in our school.”

In April the Fox network hired Jenner as on-air contributor role with her first appearance on Hannity.

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