A slam dunk for lesbian players

WNBA star Sheryl Swoopes’s dramatic coming-out has given this longtime fan and player of the game hope for the future of gay athletes. Now it’s up to the media to get in the game.

BY Advocate.com Editors

November 15 2005 1:00 AM ET

Reading about
Swoopes, I could relate so much to the compartmentalization
of life, because I had done the same thing. Basketball, this
great sport, despite giving me so much, didn’t
allow for self-expression on a personal level. It
seems logical that in an environment where you’re
surrounded by an almost exclusive sisterhood, where
you spend obscene blocks of time together—you
cry together, party together, and in many cases you become
almost family—a full disclosure about something as
intrinsic as sexuality should be fairly easy. But it
isn’t. While acceptable to seek boyfriend
advice, the environment didn’t allow for that kind of
exchange if you were gay, because that was
“different.”

So my lesbian or
bisexual teammates never got the kind of emotional bond
and the support that non-gay people enjoyed, and that helped
us stay in the closet. I could not integrate who I was
as a person with who I was as an athlete, so I chose
to step away from the game. Sheryl Swoopes stayed in
the game, and she has now boldly chosen to come out and stop
playing that heterosexual role.

I hope the
stories about Swoopes and on the lawsuit filed against
allegedly anti-lesbian Penn State coach Rene Portland help
shine the media spotlight on homophobia in sports, an
issue that’s been ignored. Media have a choice:
They can cover homophobia in sports or pretend it
doesn’t exist, thus keeping athletes locked in the
closet. I hope they choose the former, because no one
should have to choose between what they love to do and
who they are.

As for me, I did
eventually manage to marry the two: I am now
“professionally gay,” working for the Gay and
Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, traveling to a
number of states every month and training advocates
and media professionals to better communicate LGBT issues.
In my work I get to see what can happen when media
reach beyond their comfort zones and cover LGBT
stories. Just a couple of months ago I even had the
honor of helping a lesbian couple publicize their fight to
have their marriage announcement printed in their
local paper. They haven’t prevailed yet, but
now a lot of people know their story.

I also clock many
happy hours watching Big East Conference collegiate
basketball, and I still play, despite some injuries. I
can’t manage to get a good betting pool going
at GLAAD, but that’s all right. Basketball is a
big part of my life, but not my whole life, like it once
was. I guess you could say I traded in my Air Jordans
for a Tinky Winky doll. Sorry, Jerry Falwell.

Tags: Sports

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