Despite a smattering of high-profile sports figures who’ve come out as gay, homophobia remains a major hurdle in athletics. The good news? The dial has finally started to move, and while change may be coming slowly, it’s irrefutably on its way.
Martina Navratilova — 1981
ESPN credits the Czech tennis pro, who came out as bisexual in 1981, with having “expanded the dialogue on issues of gender and sexuality in sports.” “Martina was the first legitimate superstar who literally came out while she was a superstar,” Donna Lopiano, executive director of the Women’s Sports Foundation, said. “She exploded the barrier by putting it on the table. She basically said this part of my life doesn’t have anything to do with me as a tennis player. Judge me for who I am.”
Justin Fashanu — 1990
Fashanu became the first and one of only two English professional footballers to be openly gay when he came out in the press in 1990. This was an unprecedented move at the time, and Fashanu faced intense backlash, especially from his family.
Justin’s brother, fellow pro footballer John Fashanu, was interviewed a week later under the headline John Fashanu: My Gay Brother is an outcast. He would later go so far as to claim Justin was only claiming to be gay for attention.
Justin committed suicide in 1998, and John has since expressed regret at how he handled things.
Matthew Mitcham — 2008
The out-and-proud Australian champion, who took home the gold for the 10m platform dive at the 2008 Olympics, is at ease with the spotlight his sexuality has sometimes put him in: “Until it is easy for sports people to come out without fear of persecution or fear of lost sponsorship income, or fear of being comfortable in the team environment, I don’t mind attention being brought to my sexuality in the hope that it might make other people feel more comfortable,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald.
Gareth Thomas — 2009
Thomas’s decision to come out publicly while still an active rugby player was seen as a brave move by LGBT rights advocates. Though others have since followed suit, Thomas hoped everyone would eventually consider his sexuality as unimportant. “What I choose to do when I close the door at home has nothing to do with what I have achieved in rugby,” he told The Guardian. “I’d love for it, in 10 years’ time, not to even be an issue in sport, and for people to say: ‘So what?’” We’d love it, too.
Orlando Cruz — 2012
Orlando Cruz, former Olympian and the World Boxing Federation’s number four ranked Featherweight, punched his way out of the closet in a big way, becoming the first openly gay man in boxing.
“I’ve been fighting for more than 24 years and as I continue my ascendant career, I want to be true to myself,” said Cruz. “I want to try to be the best role model I can be for kids who might look into boxing as a sport and a professional career. I have and will always be a proud Puerto Rican. I have always been and always will be a proud gay man.”
Megan Rapinoe — 2012
The 30-year-old U.S. Olympic soccer player came out as a lesbian essentially by saying she was never “in.” She’d just never been asked before. “I think they were trying to be respectful and that it’s my job to say, ‘I’m gay,’” she told Out. “Which I am. For the record: I am gay.”
“I feel like sports in general are still homophobic, in the sense that not a lot of people are out,” she added. “In female sports, if you’re gay, most likely your team knows it pretty quickly. It’s very open and widely supported. For males, it’s not that way at all. It’s sad.”
“I wish I wasn’t the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, ‘I’m different,’” Collins wrote when he became the first openly gay athlete from a major American team sport. “If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I’m raising my hand.”
Collins coming out was a game changer. “It starts with President Obama’s mentioning the 1969 Stonewall riots, which launched the gay rights movement, during his second inaugural address,” he added. “And it extends to the grade-school teacher who encourages her students to accept the things that make us different.”
In a candid video he posted to his YouTube, Daley admitted he’s only been willing to talk about things with which he’s comfortable. But since he was in a serious relationship, having met and fallen for a guy, he took a figurative dive by publicly acknowledging his sexuality for the first time.
“Now I kind of feel ready to talk about my relationships,” he said. “Come spring this year, my life changed. Massively. When I met someone. And it made me feel so happy. So safe. And everything just feels so great. Well, that someone is a guy.”
What nobody saw coming at the time was that “someone” turning out to be Daley’s future husband Dustin Lance Black.
Sam’s professional football career may not have taken off exactly as he’d hoped, but his coming out ahead of the 2014 NFL draft sparked a national discussion about homophobia in sports. Then there was that iconic shot on ESPN when he learned he’d been drafted by the St. Louis Rams. Michael, shedding tears of joy, shared a passionate kiss with then-boyfriend Vito Cammisano.
It was certainly a first for sports fans, but it won’t be a last.
Robbie Rogers made headlines when he came out and promptly retired from the game of soccer. Then, a few months later he just as abruptly came out of retirement and became the first out male athlete to play in Major League Soccer and the first active player to compete with an American professional sports team.
“I seriously felt like a coward,” the player told USA Today. “These kids are standing up for themselves and changing the world, and I’m 25, I have a platform and a voice to be a role model. How much of a coward was I to not step up to the plate?”
This week, our nation turns to celebrate the 20th anniversary of National Adoption Month. It’s a time of year marked with an annual proclamation by our president, special events, family gatherings and mass adoption finalizations. Television and radio programs will burst with stories both heartwarming and horrifying in an effort to draw attention to the glaring need to find homes for the 400,000 children that linger, on average, for nearly two years in the foster care system.
As someone who’s lectured at the university level about this system, of which I am a product, I have to admit that I’ve never understood why so many of my foster care brothers and sisters continue to languish in the foster care system. In truth, they should have found homes a long time ago.
Let me explain.
At this very minute, there are an estimated 2 million LGBT adults who want to parent children, many of whom would love to do so through adoption. Research also shows that children growing up with LGBT parents fare as well as children raised by heterosexual parents. That means that in the LGBT population alone there may be more than enough ready and capable parents to provide families for our nation’s foster children.
And yet eleven states continue to ban LGBT couples and individuals from adopting. That means we have enough children needing homes to fill a city the size of Cleveland or Minneapolis. We have a surplus of parents who would like to adopt them. But we’re still seeking ways to prevent them from finding each other.
This is but one of the many ways that nation’s love affair with homophobia is devastating our nation’s foster children. And it gets worse when we consider the effects of homophobia on LGBT children in foster care. Consider this:
LGBT children are over-represented in the foster care system. In Washington alone, an estimated 19 percent of foster children identify as LGBT — a figure that is nearly double that of the general LGBT population.
Once in foster care, LGBT children often receive worse treatment than their non-LGBT peers. A recent study in Los Angeles County found that LGBT children experience more foster care placements and are three times more likely than non-LGBT foster children to have been hospitalized for emotional reasons.
Many foster care caseworkers and LGBT children report that foster care is not a safe place to question your orientation, and many foster homes and families are not thoroughly assessed to see if they can support LGBT children.
In some areas, an estimated 56 percent of LGBT children end up running away from foster care when they encounter violence and rejection. Some have even been forced to endure so-called conversion “therapy” and exorcisms.
These are also some of the reasons why it’s critical that more adoptees, like me, stand up in support of same-sex adoption. Many people think that LGBT people adopting children will hurt them. It’s not surprising that many people have this view, including some adult children of same-sex couples who spoke out against marriage equality. After all, institutionalized homophobia affects us all. It fools us into cherry-picking non-representative examples in order to support a particular bias or agenda. It also fools us into buying our nation’s homophobic narrative in the face of a growing chorus of contradicting research and the real life experiences of many happy and well-adjusted people who have been raised by LGBT families.
As an adoptee and survivor of childhood abuse and neglect, I can tell you from personal experience a fact overlooked by too many people who oppose same-sex adoption: a parent’s sexual orientation has nothing to do with the love and care they give their children. My parents’ being straight did not prevent them from abusing and neglecting me anymore than being LGBT would somehow cause other parents to abuse and neglect their children. As such, I see no reason why members of the LGBT community shouldn’t be able to adopt. Being in LGBT homes isn’t what hurts children. What hurts many children is the homophobia that subjects them to unfair treatment and which prevents them from finding loving homes in the first place.
Just a few short months ago, President Obama remarked that “[a]ll young people, regardless of what they look like, which religion they follow, who they love or the gender they identify with, deserve the chance to dream and grow in a loving, permanent home.” But until we can overcome the homophobia that is hurting our nation’s foster children, those forever homes will remain forever out of reach. And until we can put the needs of our children above our bigotry and hate, our celebrations of National Adoption Month will ring forever hollow.
Mack, 35, released a statement on Monday where he retracted previous allegations of being drugged when he made a film with two other men called “Holiday Hump’n.”
In the statement, which was initially posted by gossip site TheShadeRoom.com, Mack explains why he claimed to be drugged when he made the film last June.
I want to address a few situations with the first being the false claims I made about being drugged during the Dog Pound adult film. I have never spoke negatively about the company that produced the film although the claim to have been given a drug by someone during set was a lie. I was completely aware and fully conscious during the film.
The second situation, which further explain the first, concerns my lifestyle. I did participate in the adult film because at the time I needed money but also because I am a bisexual man. Meaning I enjoy safely being intimate with whomever I choose.
Lastly I would like to address the reason I lied. My life was completely destroyed once it had been outed that I participated in a gay film. I selfishly tried to cover the truth and remain in denial, rather than accept the fact that I was leading a double life secretly.
Previously, Mack claimed he had agreed to appear in a heterosexual porn film last June because he was short on cash.
Just before the film shoot, he said, producers gave him a pill and a shot of vodka to relax him. Mack claimed he didn’t remember what happened next, but woke up on a train with $4,500 in cash.
DawgPoundUSA, the company that released “Holiday Hump’n,” denied Mack’s allegations and threatened legal action against him on Friday.
Mack released the statement declaring his bisexuality on Monday, but he wasn’t very forthcoming about it during an interview with TMZ.com.
Former New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Lenny Dykstra said that he hired private investigators to dig up dirt on umpires in order to pressure the umpires to call a smaller strike zone and consequently give him more walks.
In an interview Tuesday with Fox’s Colin Cowherd on “The Herd,” Dykstra revealed that in 1993, investigators were given a budget of $500,000 to turn up information on umpires that he could then use to strong-arm the umps into calling a more favorable strike zone for him.
“Their blood’s just as red as ours,” Dykstra said, as quoted in The New York Daily News. “Some of them like women, some of them like men, some of them gamble, some of them do whatever.”
He claimed in the interview that his blackmail attempts correlated closely with the fact that he led the National League in walks, hits and runs that season, in addition to finishing second to Barry Bonds for most valuable player and leading Philadelphia to the World Series.
“It wasn’t a coincidence, you think, [that] I led the league in walks the next few years, was it?” asked Dykstra, who signed a multiyear contract worth almost $25 million after the season. That deal made him baseball’s highest-paid leadoff batter.
“Fear does a lot to a man. … I had to do what I had to do to win and to support my family,” he said.
An MLB spokesman told the Daily News the sport will look into Dykstra’s claims.
Dykstra filed for bankruptcy six years ago, claiming he owed more than $31 million and had only $50,000 in assets. After the filing, Dykstra hid, sold or destroyed at least $200,000 worth of items without the permission of a bankruptcy trustee, prosecutors said.
Dykstra, 52, who had a 12-year career with the Mets and Phillies, was sentenced in 2012 to six-and-a-half months in prison for hiding baseball gloves and other heirlooms from his playing days, which were supposed to be part of his bankruptcy filing. He already had served seven months in custody awaiting sentencing. The prison term ran concurrently with a three-year sentence for pleading no contest to grand theft auto and providing a false financial statement.
He pleaded guilty in 2012 to one count each of bankruptcy fraud, concealment of assets and money laundering.
For so long, David Denson desperately wanted to reveal to his baseball teammates that he is gay. He just never envisioned it happening in such impromptu and unstructured fashion.
A first baseman for the Milwaukee Brewers’ rookie affiliate in Helena, Mont., Denson had just entered the clubhouse a month or so ago when a teammate jokingly referred to him using a derogatory term for a gay male. It was the kind of profane, politically incorrect banter heard in that environment since team sports have been around.
That teammate had no way of knowing Denson actually is gay, but the 20-year-old slugger of African-American and Hispanic descent quickly seized the opportunity.
“Be careful what you say. You never know,” Denson cautioned the player with a smile.
Before he knew it, Denson was making the emotional announcement he yearned to share, and the group around him expanded to the point that he soon was speaking to most of the team. Much to Denson’s relief, when the conversation ended he was greeted with outward support and understanding instead of condemnation.
“Talking with my teammates, they gave me the confidence I needed, coming out to them,” recalled Denson. “They said, ‘You’re still our teammate. You’re still our brother. We kind of had an idea, but your sexuality has nothing to do with your ability. You’re still a ballplayer at the end of the day. We don’t treat you any different. We’ve got your back.’
“That was a giant relief for me,” Denson said. “I never wanted to feel like I was forcing it on them. It just happened. The outcome was amazing. It was nice to know my teammates see me for who I am, not my sexuality.”
The more Denson thought about it, though, the more he came to realize that a clubhouse confession wasn’t going to be enough. Until he came out publicly as gay and released that burden, Denson didn’t think he could truly blossom and realize his potential on the field.
With the help of former major-leaguer Billy Bean, who last year was named Major League Baseball’s first Ambassador for Inclusion, Denson reached out to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to tell his story in a telephone interview. In doing so, he becomes the first active player in affiliated professional baseball to reveal he is gay.
Sean Conroy, a pitcher for the Sonoma Stompers of the independent Pacific Association, revealed in June that he is gay, becoming the first active pro baseball player to do so. That league is not affiliated with MLB. In the history of the game, only two major-leaguers revealed they were gay — Glenn Burke and Bean — and both did so after leaving the game.
Former NBA player Jason Collins announced that he is gay after the 2013 season when he was a free agent. Collins played in 22 games with the Brooklyn Nets in 2014 before retiring, and therefore was the first active player in one of the major team sports to reveal he is gay.
When Denson learned of Bean and his new role with MLB, he reached out for advice and counsel, and the two have become like brothers. Bean long has rued not revealing his sexuality during his modest big-league career from 1987-’95 with Detroit, the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego, and said he is immensely proud of Denson for having the courage to come forward.
“He is definitely cognizant of how it might affect his team,” said Bean, who eventually quit baseball over the personal conflict of hiding his sexuality. “I just wanted to make sure his parents were part of the conversation. David has two loving parents who obviously are very concerned. They’re worried about how this will affect him.
“Any player who happens to be gay and is a professional and has kept that secret, they just want to be judged for their baseball or football or basketball ability. David would not be playing professional baseball if he wasn’t an excellent baseball player.
“The beauty of what could come from this is he can be an example that can help change that perception and change the stereotype that there would never be a gay person on a men’s professional sports team. That was something I struggled with.”
Before revealing his secret to teammates, Denson figured it was time to finally tell his family, and did so in the spring. First, he told his sister, Celestine, a professional dancer married to former Brewers farmhand Jose Sermo.
“She said, ‘I’ve known since you were little,'” said Denson. “I said, ‘How did you know?’ She said, ‘You’re my little brother. I’m around you all the time.'”
Telling his parents, Lamont and Felisa, was not as easy. His father, a former athlete, needed some time to come to grips with the news.
“It took some stress off me, but it kind of built up a wall at the same time,” said Denson. “They weren’t too happy about it at first, though I think they sort of knew since I was little. They were afraid I’d be judged. They jumped right into the stereotype. No parents want to see their child discriminated against and talked about and put down.
“I don’t question that they love me. They never said they were upset about me being gay. It was harder on my dad than my mom. He’s a very hard-core Christian and he goes off the Bible and all that, which I completely understand, growing up in the church. I’m a Christian myself.
“It was an eye-opener for him. He finally came to terms with it. Coming out to my father was even harder than coming out to my teammates, because I knew how he felt about it. He grew up in sports, and I heard him talk (in derogatory fashion) about gay guys. That was hard for me to hear at the time.
“But I’m his son and he said, ‘It’s your life and it’s who you are. I love you.’ There’s a difference between accepting it, and supporting it and respecting it. I know he loves me and supports me and has my back.”
Denson had concealed the fact he is gay since being taken by the Brewers in the 15th round of the 2013 draft out of South Hills High School in West Covina, Calif. But the secret began to weigh more heavily on him, to the point he felt on the verge of a mental breakdown — or worse — at the outset of spring training this year.
“It became a depression level,” he revealed. “I wasn’t being myself. It was visible in my body language. I didn’t know if I should still stay in the sport.”
Denson sought advice from Becky Schnakenberg, a professional counselor contracted at that time by the Brewers to provide mental health assistance to players in need. He said those consultations convinced him it was necessary to let the Brewers know he is gay or risk a further downward spiral.
Denson requested a meeting at the Brewers minor-league complex with farm director Reid Nichols, who was accompanied by Class A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers manager Matt Erickson and hitting coordinator Jeremy Reed.
“I was shaking and crying, and just very scared,” recalled Denson. “I didn’t know if it would go good or bad, or if they’d look at me any different.
“When I finally told them about my sexuality, Reid said, ‘To me, it doesn’t matter. You’re still a ballplayer. My goal for you, as well as anybody else in the organization, is to get you to the big leagues. You are who you are. That doesn’t make a difference. Just go out and play the game. This is a very brave thing for you to do.’
“I wasn’t doing it to be brave. I just couldn’t hide it anymore. For them to be so accepting and want the best for me, it showed they are looking at me for my ability, not my sexuality. They don’t treat me any different. They said if there was anything they could do to help, let them know. It was a huge relief.”
Nichols said his message to Denson at the time was simple: Concentrate on developing as a player with the knowledge that the organization was behind him.
“I told him we supported him and would continue to support him,” said Nichols. “I thought the meeting went well. We told him that was his personal business and we would judge him only on his career in baseball, as we do with every player.”
Denson was assigned to the Timber Rattlers, for whom he had played 68 games in 2014, batting .243 with four home runs and 29 runs batted in. The second time around, he struggled mightily at the plate, hitting only .195 with a .569 OPS in 24 games before being sent to Helena to regroup.
Denson was convinced the personal torment over concealing his sexuality from teammates contributed to his struggles on the field.
“There was that stereotype stuck in my head that there would never be a gay player on a team,” he said. “I was thinking that once they found out, they would shut me out or treat me different.
“That was one of the things that was holding me back. I was always saying, ‘Just keep it quiet. You don’t need to tell them. You don’t want them to see you different. You don’t want them to judge you.’
“It started to affect my game because I was so caught up in trying to hide it. I was so concerned about how they would feel. I was pushing my feelings aside. Finally, I came to terms with this is who I am and not everybody is going to accept it. Once you do that, it’s a blessing in itself.”
Since coming out to his Helena teammates, Denson said he has felt like a different person and player. He was selected for the Pioneer League All-Star Game in August and was named most valuable player, displaying his prodigious power with a home run.
As for Denson’s teammates living and playing with a gay player, Helena manager Tony Diggs said: “I don’t think there have been any problems whatsoever with the team. I’m pretty sure everybody on our team has an understanding of it.
“We are professional baseball players first, and I think that’s the way they’ve taken it. They’ve handled it well. David has always gone about his business professionally. He has shared with me that (keeping the secret for so long) was a burden for him and he feels more freedom after coming out.
“This is a new chapter as he decides to say it publicly. Now, there will be more people that know and they’ll have their opinions as to what they feel about it. At least, he’s being himself.”
With growing confidence and peace of mind, Denson hopes for understanding from those now learning about his sexuality. Rather than holding him back in any way, he believes coming out will help him reach his full potential.
“Growing up trying to hide it, knowing I’m an athlete, I was always nervous that my sexuality would get in the way of me ever having an opportunity, that people would judge me on my sexuality and not my ability,” he said.
“I wasn’t able to give fully of myself because I was living in fear. What if this person finds out? What if somebody else finds out? Instead of going out and just playing, I was trying to hide myself.
“I didn’t get drafted because of my sexuality. I didn’t start playing this game because of my sexuality. I started playing this game and got drafted because I have a love for this game. It’s a release for me to finally be able to give all of myself to the game, without having to be afraid or hide or worry about the next person who might find out.”
If Denson can serve as a role model for other gay professional athletes hiding their sexuality, he welcomes the opportunity to help others as Bean has helped him. He’s not sure what public reaction will be or how his story will be treated by the media going forward. If the folks at “60 Minutes” come calling, so be it. But there are no hidden agendas with Denson or Bean.
“David is not doing this for celebrity or publicity,” said Bean, who has remained in constant contact with Denson, using his own experiences as a compass. “David is very humble. It’s really about being his best self. He’s a great baseball player, but he needs to be his best self to get to the big leagues.
“I was just starting to understand how to play and when everything started to unravel, I just gave up on myself. I was consumed with the part I hated about my life.
“I’m excited to see David not have to worry about all of that. He can just tell the truth all the time. That’s a huge relief. When your life is a secret, you have to navigate on what levels of truth you’re allowed to share. And that becomes exhausting.”
What if this revelation in some way prevents Denson from attaining his goal of making the major leagues? He is not considered an elite prospect in the Brewers’ organization, but any player with his kind of power has a chance. During a showcase at Marlins Park in Miami before the 2013 draft, Denson crushed several home runs, including a 515-foot blast that scouts still talk about.
Football player Michael Sam, who revealed he is gay after his college career at Missouri, was drafted by the St. Louis Rams in 2014 but didn’t make the roster and recently cited mental health issues for leaving the Montreal team of the Canadian Football League. Did coming out prevent Sam from securing an NFL roster spot, or was he just not good enough?
“I don’t have any expectations of what might happen,” said Denson, who is batting .253 with four homers and 17 RBI in 41 games with Helena. “I’m hoping it will open the eyes of people in general that we’re all people, we’re human, we’re brothers in the sport. We’re all here trying to get to the big leagues. I’m excited to see where it goes from here, now that I don’t have that wall holding me back anymore.
“It has crossed my mind (that his revelation could be an obstacle). Baseball has taught me a lot of life lessons. One is to worry about what you can control and not worry about what you can’t control. I’m going to go out and do the best I can do, and hopefully make it one day.
“I think what I do on the field will matter more than my sexuality. At the end of the day, if I’m playing well, why should I not get the same opportunity as anyone else?”
Life is not easy for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students at the nation’s 105 Historically Black Colleges and Universities, where the subject of same-gender-loving people and lifestyles remains largely taboo. The reality is that most black colleges have not accepted sexual identity diversity as an issue with which they need to be concerned. A number of reasons have been suggested — among these, a level of social and religious conservatism within the black community.
Whereas nearly all majority institutions long ago developed programming and institutional support systems to ensure that same-gender-loving persons are able to live authentically, only three HBCUs — Bowie State University, North Carolina Central University and Fayetteville State University — have created a center or dedicated full-time administrative staff to LGBT affairs.
Moreover, few black colleges have codified anti-discrimination policies related to sexual orientation. As a result, the LGBT communities within these schools are vulnerable to unchecked discrimination, forcing many to live in the shadows; masking their identities and suppressing their human potential in order survive. By not valuing and validating sexual identity diversity, black colleges create enormous losses in terms of human capital and opportunities for increased excellence, both for the black colleges, for black LGBT persons, and for society. There are no winners here.
According to the Harvard Business Review, LGBT persons comprise 5 to 10 percent percent of the working public in the United States and, we extrapolate, a substantially larger proportion of college enrollments. Estimates are that family and friends of LGBT persons extend to 60 percent of the American population. In terms of wealth, the LGBT community in the United States represents an $800 billon marketplace that is growing.
Data show that development and execution of a campus-based LGBT diversity and engagement strategy can both improve institutional outcomes and campus climate by providing a welcoming environment that fully engages all students, faculty and staff to contribute their best. Indeed, successful LGBT diversity and engagement strategies can enhance an institution’s reputation, overall student satisfaction, and fundraising opportunities — each providing new levers for marketability. And student and staff morale are lifted when an institution is seen to be inclusive. But perhaps most importantly, fully inclusive institutions garner the best talent, increase employee retention and productivity, and decrease their legal vulnerability.
With a collective enrollment of some 300,000 undergraduate and graduate students annually, black colleges play a critical role in shaping the black community. It is imperative, therefore, that black colleges take a national leadership role as agents of social change by adopting a campus diversity agenda built around the emerging needs of their LGBT communities.
At the core is a recognition that black colleges lag woefully behind their peers nationally in developing welcoming environments for LGBT persons, with most displaying benign neglect and some outright hostility to LBGT concerns. The presidents of these institutions must have the courage to stand up for diversity by aligning their institutions’ operations with their stated values of inclusion.
Black college presidents should invest in 1) understanding their campus climate with an emphasis on LGBT concerns, 2) developing a language and framework to engage with the issues of sexual identity diversity constructively, and 3) creating strategies, plans and the infrastructure to ensure that the needs of their LGBT members are met. Concurrently, all who care about black colleges must step out of the shadows of fear or indifference and help them write a new chapter in their ongoing tradition of inclusiveness.
A successful protest, where several dozen people rallied in favor of free speech, was marred on Saturday, when a belligerent group of counter protesters, including two from what appeared to be a motorcycle gang, crashed the demonstration and threatened those in attendance, including a 14-year old boy arrested for “desecrating” a Jesus statue and Truth Wins Out’s Executive Director Wayne Besen. Incredibly, there was not a single police officer on-hand to prevent potential violence and this left the protesters vulnerable to thugs and forced them to fend for themselves.
“The Bedford police placed us directly in harms way and their inaction nearly caused a full-blown melee,” said Truth Wins Out’s Executive Director Wayne Besen. “This is the first time in two decades of protesting that I’ve been put directly in harm’s way by town officials. We call on Bedford to immediately review its policies for protecting the free speech rights of those who demonstrate in their town.”
From the moment event organizers –Truth Wins Out, American Atheists, and Pennsylvania Nonbelievers – arrived in Bedford, PA, they were greeted by hostile counterdemonstrators. This included homophobic epithets lobbed at American Atheists President David Silverman. (9:12 and 9:25 on a You Tube video). A military veteran who was participating in our protest was called a “disgrace” to his country. (9:40)
Unfortunately, the local media covered a sanitized version of our protest – without highlighting the harassment. Check out a television report HERE and a newspaper report HERE. Given how menacing the bikers were, it is possible that media representatives were cowed by their glowering presence.
The fourteen year-old teenager, at the center of the controversy, joined our event with his mother. There was an attempt to accost him by the counterdemonstrator’s lead instigator. To protect the young man, Truth Wins Out’s Executive Director, Wayne Besen, stood between one of the black-clad motor bikers and the teenager. This led to a near fistfight, where Besen and the thug were standing toe to toe with the biker repeatedly challenging Besen to “take your best shot ‘slick,'” which was an apparent reference to the fact Besen was from Chicago. Pennsylvania Nonbelievers President Brian Fields soon joined and helped Besen block the hooligan from bullying the teen and his mother.
This entire episode was captured on video and uploaded to YouTube at roughly 2:25 PM (EST) on Saturday. Within 10 minutes the video was taken down. A new video that omits this incident was placed online later that evening — in what appears to be a deliberate effort to conceal and cover-up the confrontational words, clear threats, and near violence that occurred as we stood up to protect the teen.
The police were called and they arrived shortly to disperse the escalating confrontation. However, the question remains why they were not at the event from the beginning to keep the protest free of intimidation and violence?
“I am still greatly worried for the safety of the teenage boy and his family,” said Truth Wins Out’s Executive Director Wayne Besen. “The young man was portrayed by the hooligans as a troublemaker, and they made it crystal clear that they intended to harass him or do harm. Additionally, the District Attorney, Bill Higgins, has stigmatized the teen as a ‘troubled young man’ and appears to have a vendetta against him. Make no mistake: If anything happens to this teenager or his family the town of Bedford is to blame and should be held legally accountable.”
Bedford County District Attorney Bill Higgins decided to prosecute the child under an obscure Pennsylvania law which states that “desecration” includes “physically mistreating [objects] in a way that the actor knows will outrage the sensibilities of persons likely to observe or discover the action.”
While Higgins maintains that he is simply an upstanding district attorney who wishes to uphold Pennsylvania law, his own statements on the case undermine that claim. In an interview with local media, Higgins stated:
“This troubled young man offended the sensibilities and morals of our community. His actions constitute a violation of the law, and he will be prosecuted accordingly. If that tends to upset the ‘anti-Christian, ban-school-prayer, war-on-Christmas, oppose-display-of-Ten-Commandments’ crowd, I make no apologies.”
“By making this incendiary statement, it is clear that Higgins is more of a frustrated right-wing ideologue than a responsible district attorney,” said TWO’s Wayne Besen. “Instead of fighting real crime, Higgins is fighting a culture war at the expense of an innocent teenager.”
The youth’s actions may have been in poor taste, but religious freedom does not include the right never to be offended by a teenager’s prank. Moreover, prosecution of this action is a clear violation of the teen’s own First Amendment rights. Additionally, the teenager acknowledged to TWO’s Besen at the event that he “regretted” his actions.
Campus Pride announced today the annual Campus Pride 2014 Top 50 LGBT-Friendly Colleges & Universities. The listing highlights the positive efforts to improve safety and academic life for LGBT students as well as the top institutions leading the way.
“More than ever colleges today want to be viewed as LGBT-friendly and a welcoming place for all students. LGBT students and their safety impacts the recruitment efforts of the entire campus,” said Windmeyer. “Upper-level administrators are now understanding how LGBT-friendliness is key to future institutional success. This Top 50 list is proof.”
This is the first year Campus Pride has released a list of the fifty “Best of the Best.” In years past, Campus Pride has only featured a “Top 25 List.” The listing is based on the final responses to the Campus Pride Index, a national benchmarking tool which self-assesses LGBT-friendly policies, programs and practices. The tool is free of charge and can be found online at www.CampusPrideIndex.org.
“For six years in a row, Campus Pride has seen an increase in the number of campuses coming out as LGBT-friendly and making notable improvements to LGBT academic life, so we decided to honor 50 campuses with our national distinction,” said Shane Windmeyer, Executive Director of Campus Pride and the creator of the Campus Pride Index. “Today the Campus Pride Index has over 425 campuses featured online and for the first time ever we have 56 campuses who achieved the highest 5 stars overall rating, the largest number to date.”
Unlike the Princeton Review LGBT rankings, the Campus Pride Index is based in research on policy, program and practice and is conducted “for and by” LGBT experts in the field of higher education. Annually campuses update and use the Campus Pride benchmarking tool to improve LGBT life on campus. For the third year in a row, over 80% of participating colleges improved their ratings from the previous year. In addition, the number of campuses located in the South increased this year, as did the number of religiously-affiliated campuses and Minority Serving Institutions.
According to Windmeyer, “there is a lot to be learned” from the Top 50 campuses on this listing. Many of these campuses are specifically addressing recruitment and academic retention efforts for LGBT students as well as concerns for transgender student safety. The Top 50 also geographically mirrors more progressive areas of the country where there has been a history of LGBT support and advocacy.
“While this Top 50 list demonstrates the positive progress to support LGBT students within higher education, we must also commit ourselves to the campuses not on the list — in rural areas, Southern states and other types of campuses like two year colleges, Historically Black Colleges & Universities and religious-affiliated campuses – where pioneering LGBT work to create a safe learning environment is still a real struggle,” Windmeyer said.
According to Campus Pride, a college had to achieve 5 stars overall in order to be in the Top 50 this year as well as have the highest percentages across the eight LGBT-friendly benchmarks for policy, program and practice. The listing this year includes colleges with student populations from 1600 to over 50,000, public and private schools alike. Each college listed on the Top 50 has a profile page with more details about the campus ratings online. The Top 50 list is in alphabetical order, as follows:
Central Washington University
Northern Arizona University
Oregon State University
Portland State University
San Diego State University
Southern Illinois University Carbondale
Southern Oregon University
The Ohio State University
The Pennsylvania State University
University of California, Berkeley
University of California, Los Angeles
University of California, Riverside
University of California, Santa Barbara
University of California, Santa Cruz
University of Central Florida
University of Chicago
University of Illinois at Chicago
University of Maryland, College Park
University of Massachusetts, Amherst
University of Michigan
University of Minnesota – Duluth
University of Minnesota – Twin Cities
University of Oregon
University of Pennsylvania
University of Rhode Island
University of Southern California
University of Vermont
University of Washington
University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee
Warren Wilson College
Washington State University
Washington University in St. Louis
Please click to learn more about each campus from the Campus Pride Index.
Campus Pride is the leading national educational organization for LGBTQ and ally college students and campus groups building future leaders and safer, more LGBTQ-friendly colleges and universities. The organization provides resources and services to thousands of college students and nearly 1400 campuses annually. Learn more online at CampusPride.org.
Arizona State football player Edward “Chip” Sarafin has publicly come out as gay. The redshirt senior made his announcement in an interview with Compete magazine. The 6’6″, 320-pound backup offensive lineman is believed to be the first active college football player at a Division I program to publicly come out as gay, according to Outsports.
Like openly gay NFL rookie Michael Sam, Sarafin came out to his teammates before the public. Sarafin revealed to the magazine that he began telling his teammates that he was gay last spring. Unlike Sam, who came out publicly after finishing his final season at the University of Missouri, Sarafin has a full college football season ahead of him after his announcement.
“It was really personal for me and it benefited my peace of mind greatly,” Sarafin told Joshua Wyrick of Compete, an Arizona-based gay sports magazine, for the article that appeared in its August issue.
A non-scholarship athlete, Sarafin has been a member of the Sun Devils football team for four years but yet to appear in a game, reports AZCentral.com. He has already received his undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering and is pursuing a master’s degree.
“We are a brotherhood that is not defined by cultural and personal differences, but rather an individual’s commitment to the Sun Devil Way,” Arizona State coach Todd Graham said in a statement obtained by CBS Sports. “Chip is a fifth-year senior and a Scholar Baller, a graduate and a master’s student. His commitment to service is unmatched and it is clear he is on his way to leading a successful life after his playing career, a goal that I have for every student-athlete. Diversity and acceptance are two of the pillars of our program, and his has full support from his teammates and the coaching staff.”
Sam, who became the first openly gay player selected in the NFL draft in May and is trying to earn a roster spot with St. Louis Rams, was prominent among those expressing support for Sarafin’s decision to come out:
In April, Derrick Gordon, then a sophomore starter for the University of Massachusetts men’s basketball team, publicly announced that he was gay. Gordon became the first active openly gay male NCAA Division 1 basketball player.
“He was a pioneer, and should be recognized,” Pat Courtney, an MLB spokesman told the publication.
Burke, who got his start with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1976 before being traded to the Oakland A’s, became the first professional baseball player to come out, discussing his sexuality in an interview with Inside Sports in 1982. At the time, Burke was not playing professionally; he had quit the majors at 27, primarily because of animosity in the locker room.