The opening matches of the Six Nations rugby championship this week offered the latest occasion to see our athletic heroes compete at sport’s highest level. It also heralded the start of another major sport competition without open LGBT athletes.
By even the most conservative estimates, there could be close to a dozen LGBT athletes in this competition – a small percentage still of the total number of LGBT athletes in sport – yet they remain invisible heroes on the field of play. This lack of visibility and acceptance are problems across sport where discrimination lingers and perpetuates an environment out of step with the mores of our broader culture.
Despite the increasing acceptance of the LGBT community, LGBT athletes and fans are still cruelly distanced from the full embrace of the community around sport. While other elements of society are beginning to realise the tangible and intangible benefits of LGBT inclusion, sport is far from an inclusive industry where all LGBT individuals are accepted and free to bring their whole selves to work. Everyone loses in this arrangement.
Still, in light of the advancements throughout society, I remain optimistic and believe with continued effort we’re nearing a tipping point for LGBT acceptance in sport. What is needed now is a strong and high profile push by the businesses around sport to end LGBT discrimination once and for all.
This week, I joined an unprecedented coalition of athletes, sponsors, rights holders and LGBT allies at the Team Pride conference to work within sport to foster an LGBT inclusive environment. The group includes some of the biggest sponsors and professional clubs in sport, which maintain real influence over the practices of the teams they support.
The global sport sponsorship market is estimated to be valued at $45billion, with sponsors of international rugby union, for example, spending more than £125million on the sport last year. These sponsorship agreements may provide the sponsors with special access to unique assets and highly desirable audiences, but they also present the risk of aligning their people, business and brand with organisations that do not reflect their corporate principles.
The corporate world has seen that LGBT inclusivity enables them to attract and retain top talent and win the business and loyalty of discerning consumers. Inclusive organisations also innovate and adapt more quickly in changing times. It is time that the experiences of corporate sponsors inside their own organisations on LGBT issues translate into more inclusive sponsorship agreements and for good reason.
It is in the best interest of sponsors to get out in front of this issue. Attitudes toward inclusivity and acceptance are shifting quickly and sponsors that do not lead on LGBT inclusivity risk finding themselves left behind with the very clients and consumers they are trying to reach through their sport sponsorships.
Creating an environment that is safe and empowering for LGBT athletes should be a top priority for all stakeholders involved in sport. We must commit to levelling the playing field. Only once all athletes can bring their full selves to the field of play will we be able to see our sport heroes for who they really are.
A recent article in The New York Times, “U.S. Support of Gay Rights in Africa May Have Done More Harm Than Good,” has prompted a great deal of discussion among those engaged in international advocacy on the human rights of LGBT people. Despite the “may have,” in the headline, the reporter seems to have concluded that U.S. engagement has indeed been harmful on balance and makes a selective, one-sided case in support of that proposition.
Still, the challenge discussed in the article is real. It’s something we advocates constantly consider and navigate as we work to protect the human rights of LGBT people, not only in Nigeria but in many other countries where the charge of American imperialism has political currency. For U.S.-based nongovernmental organizations, advocacy on the international stage must be thoughtful. Working across cultures requires us to grapple with the reality of unequal resources, the power of privilege, and the need for cultural competency.
We should readily admit that every time the U.S. engages, there is likely to be some degree of backlash. We’re rarely choosing between “backlash” and “no backlash” but instead weighing the cost of backlash and the benefits of action.
Everyone engaging in this type of work does not always get it right. But by following a few basic principles, we increase the chance that our advocacy will be beneficial.
Make sure people on the ground guide you.
This is common sense, and all Western organizations purport to subscribe to it, but in practice some advocates are insufficiently respectful of, and deferential toward, frontline activists. The people who live and work live in a country always understand better than we do its political situation and how U.S. engagement is likely to be perceived. By developing long-term relationships of trust, we go a long way toward ensuring that our “help” is helpful. When I met with some Tajik defenders a month ago, they said as plainly as possible that if a propaganda law were to be introduced there, U.S. calls for it to be defeated would almost surely fuel its passage. Case closed.
Indigenous activists who have moved from their home country can be important guides but not to the exclusion of those still living there. For example, several years ago, activists from Jamaica but living elsewhere called for a boycott of the country’s tourism industry and products such as Red Stripe — a move that had little to no support in the country because it would have hurt many LGBT people and allies employed in these sectors.
Keep in mind there are likely to be multiple viewpoints on the ground, just as there are in the United States. It is incumbent on us to seek out as many as possible, making sure that the voices of women, transgender people, ethnic minorities, and other marginalized groups are part of the process.
Recognize that civil society in other countries, not just governments, may reject LGBT movements.
Often it’s helpful to align the struggle for LGBT equality with other human rights struggles and to build coalitions accordingly. There’s strength in numbers, and such solidarity shows that LGBT equality isn’t a “gay” thing but a matter of universal human rights. In many places, however, civil society groups have spurned LGBT movements, either because they themselves are homophobic or because they feel that joining with them will hurt their own cause. LGBT groups have worked for years to build bridges to other movements; we should support them in this effort.
Be flexible and prepared to change course.
Often people cite the “do no harm” rule as a guiding principle for our work with communities around the world. But we once we help to set something in motion, we aren’t able to control — or even predict — the final outcome. So we should do all we can to mitigate negative consequences of our actions and quickly adjust if our original strategy backfires.
Acknowledge the human rights abuses of the United States.
Advocacy tainted by jingoism is doomed, for obvious reasons. While we shouldn’t hesitate to express pride in the progress the United States has made on LGBT equality, we should acknowledge the problems that remain. We should also be prepared to call out and discuss our country’s human rights abuses in other areas, such as counterterrorism and gun violence.
Don’t allow ourselves to get boxed in by repressive governments that frame LGBT human rights as a “Western import.”
Cynical, repressive leaders — from Russian President Putin to President Museveni of Uganda to President Kiirof South Sudan — depict LGBT equality as a Western import in order to paint us into a corner. Once this idea is out there, any steps that the United States or American advocates take on LGBT issues can harden this impression. But we shouldn’t allow such propaganda to inhibit us. While we should be humble and mindful, we shouldn’t be defensive or apologetic. We are, after all, fighting for a universal human right— a right people possess by virtue of their humanity. We cannot tie our own hands behind our back. Our enemies would love it if we did.
Take the long view.
Homophobia cuts deep. In many places progress is necessarily incremental. The difficulty of forging change may create the impression that American engagement is doing no good, or more harm than good even as it’s slowly creating cracks in a mountain of repression.
To make matters even more complicated, “progress” is often the deterrence of further regress, and the full benefits of advocacy may not come clear for years. When I was in Russia for the Sochi Olympics, a prominent activist said to me, “Russians have never engaged in a conversation about LGBT people as actual people before.” At the time, the government was using the new propaganda law to crack down on peaceful activists. But Russian LGBT activists saw a moment to stand up, and American pressure amplified their voices and put the Russian government on the defense.
Did life turn around dramatically for LGBT Russians? Of course not, but some activists believe U.S. pressure helped quash other homophobic bills, and, perhaps more importantly, the solidarity from the United States and elsewhere contributed to a formative chapter in the Russia’s LGBT movement. It’s likely that future progress will be traced back to the weeks of activism and advocacy leading up to Sochi.
Yes, there are potential downsides to international advocacy, but its benefits will outweigh them if we follow the principles I’ve outlined and pay close attention to the particulars of every issue and every environment. If we do this work with humility, diligence, and awareness, we’ll help create a better world for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Campus Pride and Athlete Ally announced Wednesday the launch of the Sports Inclusion Project, (SportsInclusion.org), a first-of-its-kind effort that will work toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) inclusion in college athletics and recreational sports on college campuses.
The multi-year project will focus on all levels of college athletics and participation within recreational sports, setting a national standard of LGBT-inclusion in sports policies, programs, and practices. Throughout 2016, Campus Pride and Athlete Ally will work with college athletic and sports recreation programs to survey their internal policies, programs, and climate. In 2017, the project will culminate in a groundbreaking report and benchmarking measurements that will enable college athletic and recreation administrators to evaluate their sporting environments for LGBT-inclusivity.
“As the leading experts in LGBT student life on college campuses, we know that research and resources are critical on the path to inclusion,” said Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride. “The Sports Inclusion Project will provide that foundation of understanding and also provide greater exposure for key resources like the Campus Pride Sports Index to assist with these necessary improvements in sports. From admissions to team and rec sports, from classes to graduation, all students should feel included and be accepted.”
“The Sports Inclusion Project will have an enormous impact on college athletics, as it will be a powerful tool in Athlete Ally’s ongoing LGBT inclusion work,” said Ashland Johnson, director of policy at Athlete Ally. “For the first time, campus administrators will be armed with the tools they need to make measurable improvements to the sports diversity and inclusion environment, whether it’s LGBT inclusion trainings, our groundbreaking LGBT climate survey, or tailored policy updates.”
To participate, campus athletic community members should visit SportsInclusion.org and complete the two components:
1) The Athlete Ally Climate Survey, a qualitative assessment that will analyze the LGBT-inclusion climate in your Athletic Department from the perspective of student-athletes, coaches, and administrators. This 15-minute voluntary survey will make it possible to shape future inclusion goals and strategies more accurately.
2) The Campus Pride Sports Index, a quantitative assessment for colleges and universities to assess LGBT-inclusive policies, programs, and practices related to intercollegiate athletics and collegiate recreation. This 45-minute assessment will pinpoint both the best LGBT-inclusive sports policies and practices as well as key gaps for improvement in policy and programs.
In December 2011, President Obama published a trailblazing memorandum vowing to apply U.S. power to create safety for LGBT people oppressed and endangered around the world. Among the key means: securing LGBT refugees’ access to the U.S. refugee system. This venerable goal is eluding us.
As the president delivers his final State of the Union address tonight, the perils facing LGBT people in many countries around the world have never been so dire.
Never have so many LGBT people been so viciously targeted by state and nonstate actors in so many countries. Never before have leaders outside the U.S. used LGBT issues for political gain with such ease. And far from gaining access to refugee systems, the few LGBT people who escape carnage in their countries are unable to access the fortress of international refugee protection or the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.
Several months ago, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power shocked the world when she revealed that of the 70,000 refugees the U.S. took in during 2014, fewer than 100 were LGBT. The numbers for 2015 will not be better.
Without a solution, LGBT people will continue to be executed in places like Syria, where the bloodthirsty Islamic State terrorist group and the masses alike execute accused gays in the name of piety.
With so much goodwill and commitment on the president’s part, something is terribly wrong. Without a firm understanding of how and why LGBT refugees access — and are locked out of — refugee systems, the State Department, which runs our country’s refugee program, has been faltering at efforts to improve the dismal picture, using methods that have been tried and have failed.
But there is a way. The U.S. certainly can admit vastly more LGBT refugees.
LGBT refugees face insurmountable barriers accessing protection, as self-disclosure puts them in mortal danger. We’ve all heard the countless horrifying stories of innocent people being thrown from buildings simply because they are accused of being gay. Yet receiving protection requires revealing their identity.
To begin creating access routes, the State Department must work much more closely with LGBT organizations already in the field. To create a sliver of trust and safety in such treacherous territory, refugee professionals must not only have extraordinary expertise and sensitivity, they must also embody the message they utter.
The humanitarian community understands that a female survivor of rape should not be expected to tell her true story to anyone but another woman. Yet LGBT refugees are expected to blithely allow ostensibly heterosexual adjudicators into the most difficult vaults of their personal lives.
A rainbow flag and a concerned look are a good start. But for an LGBT refugee escaping certain death after being hounded by decades of external and internal homophobia, these gestures are not nearly enough. To collect the courage to come out — even in order to save their own lives — most refugees need to derive strength and solace from other LGBT people. Yet in most places, this essential touchstone is nowhere to be seen.
In a recent informal survey of Gaziantep, Turkey, the ground zero refugee city housing 220,000 Syrians, I found not a single “out” LGBT refugee. Not surprisingly, of the thousands of nongovernmental organization workers in that border city, not one refugee worker is “out.” If well-protected refugee agency staff will not dare come out of their comfort zone to colleagues, how can we possibly expect a powerless LGBT refugee to expose this most private and lethal vulnerability to a stranger?
Many refugees have paid with their lives to safeguard their secret sexual orientation or gender identity. We cannot bring them back. But we can spare those now clamoring for dear life in hundreds of places like Gaziantep.
The president’s bold call for increasing the Syrian refugee quota by 10,000 slots is commendable. Employing and protecting openly LGBT staff and partnering closely with openly LGBT groups is the key to creating system access for LGBT refugees. We ask that the Obama administration take these essential steps to fulfill the wise objectives originally set out by the president in 2011.
NEIL GRUNGRAS is the founder and executive director of the Organization for Refuge, Asylum, and Migration,an international nonprofit devoted to advocating on behalf of the world’s most vulnerable refugees and asylum-seekers, including those fleeing persecution based on their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
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.