Friday, September 13, 2013

Women's Sports No Haven For LGBT Athletes

Jessica Luther has written an important piece over at ThinkProgress, in which I'm quoted, about the perhaps-counterintuitive reality that women's sports, and female athletes, are not always super welcoming to non-heterosexual and transgender athletes.

In the piece, she references WNBA player Sophia Young's confused-seeming tweet regarding her opposition to marriage equality for same-sex couples. "Confused-seeming" because she tweeted an image of herself at a rally against an a anti-discrimination ordinance that, actually, wasn't a marriage ordinance.


Anyway, the larger point is that women's sports, of all levels, aren't the haven of acceptance that mainstream audiences might believe they are. I was reading the recent obituary of a former player in the All American Girls Professional Baseball League, the league featured in the movie A League of Their Own, and the player, a lesbian, recounted both the the league's firing of her for getting a "butch" haircut and its active exclusion of so-called "freaks" and "Amazons." (And, to its credit, League actually did somewhat portray this gender policing).

Even today, coaches at major colleges are widely known or rumored to engage in lesbian baiting of other coaches during athlete recruitment, trying to dissuade players from going to certain schools that are more accepting of LGBT students. Lesbian coaches are numerous, but rarely allowed to be officially "out" to players, parents, fans, and the media.

Girls and women often actively police the gender conformity and sexual orientations of their teammates and ridicule other players for not looking, or being, "sufficiently" feminine.

And, well, Anna Kournikova is, like, maybe okay, for the Male Gaze that purportedly comprises all of sports fandom, and it's a fun parlor trick for some dudes to watch Jenny Finch strike out professional baseball players. But, largely, male sports fans often demean female athletes of all orientations as being too manly, dykey, and/or sucky to warrant the status of an authentic athlete worthy of something other than ridicule and contempt.

I wonder, too, how a desire for mainstream and male acceptance plays into the bigotry expressed by some female athletes.  It's as though some female athletes view non-heterosexual female athletes as a lavendar menace of women's sports, hamstringing the ability of all female athletes to be taken seriously by the real power-brokers of sports - heterosexual men.

Luther notes:

"As I’ve written elsewhere, there is evidence to suggest that even if coming out may be easier for female athletes than it is for men, that doesn’t mean it is easy. Only 6 years ago, Penn State forced the resignation of their women’s basketball coach, Rene Portland, because of her known 'no-lesbians' policy. Three years before [out lesbian Brittney] Griner arrived at Baylor, Sophia Young was the star of that team. Young led her squad to the national championship in 2005. Unlike the WNBA, Young’s position on gay rights put her in a clear majority at Baylor, where Griner also won a national title but did it while living a less open life than she does now. Openly gay women’s college basketball coaches have said that homophobia hurts their recruiting. Sue Wicks, a former player, said she was asked to deny interview requests to lesbian publications while serving as an assistant coach. Others have identified a 'homonegative environment' as one factor in the decline of female coaches in women’s collegiate sports."

Have I mentioned before that I think Brittney Griner is awesome?

Welp, she is awesome.

And while I'm at it, Doris and "All the Way" Mae always struck me as being girlfriends. There, I said it.

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