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The importance of out sports heroes

Jason Collins, Matthew Mitcham, sports, gay news, Washington Blade, Robbie Rogers

Millions of fans look at players and see them as personal heroes and idolize them. Out sports figures include Jason Collins (left) of the NBA, soccer player Robbie Rogers (center) with the L.A. Galaxy and Australian Olympic diver Matthew Mitcham (Photo of Jason Collins courtesy NBA Photos, photo of Robbie Rogers by Noah Salzman via Wikimedia Commons, photo of Matthew Mitcham by Philip Myers via Wikimedia Commons)

Athletes coming out and a special issue of the Blade edited by football great Brendon Ayanbadejo, a straight ally and gay rights activist, are both great events for the LGBT community.

Even non-sports fans like me recognize their importance. Being more into politics than sports (some think politics these days is actually a contact sport), I still recognize the incredible impact that sports and the heroes created through sports have on our culture. From Jesse Owens in the 1936 Olympics to Jackie Robinson making his debut with the Dodgers, millions of people had their worldview changed. While many like me merely glance at the sports section of the paper each morning to not sound totally illiterate when friends talk about their favorite teams and players over coffee, it doesn’t take a genius to recognize the personal connection people have with their favorite teams and players.

So when someone asked whether an athlete coming out really makes a difference I didn’t have to think too long before responding. My appreciation of sport is generally limited to watching a cute football player’s ass in those tight pants or looking at baseball phenom Bryce Harper and drooling a little. Watching the Olympic men’s gymnastics team is exciting and not only for their grace on the high bars; and watching the swimmers or men’s divers like Olympic champion Tom Daley is always better when they are out of the water.

But millions of others look at players and see them as personal heroes and idolize them. Youngsters still collect baseball cards and quote the statistics of their favorite players. People arrange their lives so as not to miss a football, basketball, soccer or baseball game. Many sit in the stands yelling for their favorite NASCAR driver. Our culture puts sports heroes on a pedestal not only in the United States but around the world.

Many male sports stars become heroes seen as endowed with strength and manliness. In high school many girls, and secretly in the case of most gay guys, the goal is to date the quarterback. He often becomes a hero for the whole town and some parents tell their children to grow up to be just like him. Now when he turns out to be gay that can throw a wrench into everyone’s thinking. Just ask Corey Johnson, a varsity middle linebacker and right guard and co-captain of his winning football team at Masconomet High in Massachusetts who came out as a 17-year-old senior. Corey who is now running for City Council in New York can look back proudly at his courageous act of coming out in high school and know he changed the thinking of a generation of students and their parents in his town.

If one high school athlete can have that impact just imagine what a professional athlete with millions of fans can have by coming out. It breaks down the stereotypes of who gays and lesbians are. It seems that people are more blasé about women coming out and that is fodder for another column but when a male professional athlete comes out it can change how the LGBT community is viewed. Just by his coming out, people are forced to recognize that gays and lesbians come in all different sizes and personalities just like everyone else.

When enough professional athletes come out people will realize that they can’t tell if their heroes are gay or straight by what they do or by looking at them. They will begin to realize that it doesn’t matter. It will cause people to rethink their feelings on what it means to be gay and lesbian. If they can still idolize their sports hero who is gay why can’t they love and accept friends and family who are gay? They will start to reconsider their own thought process and reactions to finding out a neighbor, a teacher, a best friend or even their own child is gay.

Sports figures are celebrities and our culture reveres them. We want to know everything about them and the gossip columns and shows like TMZ feed that need. They often share their every thought and lives on Twitter or Facebook reaching millions of followers who end up knowing so much about them they almost feel like family.

We have seen what can happen when an immediate family member comes out. Over time it usually forces a change in how a parent or sibling thinks. So when a sports hero comes out, millions will take it personally and that can only be good in the long run for promoting acceptance and understanding.

28
Aug
2013

Proud to be an ‘A’ at Capital Pride

By ATIMA OMARA-ALWALA

This weekend, members of the LGTBQQAA community will descend on Washington for America’s third-largest Pride festival. For many years, I have participated in the mission of obtaining equality for all Americans. Within the community’s string of letters, I’m very glad to be counted as the final “A” — the allies.

As the Pride Parade makes its way from Dupont Circle to Logan Circle, community members and supporters have a lot to celebrate. Twelve states and Washington, D.C. have now approved marriage equality. But, we are pushing for more.

As the Mr. & Miss Capital Pride pageant gets underway at Phase 1, a clerk at the Supreme Court, about four miles away, is, I hope, working on a majority opinion that will overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, thereby opening the federal rights and responsibilities of marriage to all couples.

Pride events across the country have a lot to celebrate but I think it is important to take a quick look back at how we have finally arrived at this place.

For those of us that love political polls and messaging documents, Third Way’s Director of the Social Policy & Politics Program, Lanae Erickson Hatalsky, has written one of the best message guidance ever seen. Based on their several polls, including Third Way’s July 2011 poll, they found that a commitment narrative is the most effective in transitioning the sentiment of voters to favor marriage equality.

A message carried by straight couples about gay couples wanting to join the institution of marriage has proven, in polling and in practice, to be the most effective argument to shift public opinion.

While I would like to claim all the credit for us “straight surrogates,” a huge driver of national support for marriage equality is our nation’s demographic shift. Older Americans are no longer with us and their hetero-normative views have not been passed down. As younger Americans that have grown up with gay and lesbian couples take to the ballot box, the pendulum is swinging to the right side of history.

As of March 2013, poll after poll showed a majority of Americans supporting marriage equality including 73 percent of Americans under the age of 30 per CBS. The ABC/Washington Post cut their data differently, finding extremely high support among younger Democrats 18-49 (73 percent) and Republicans 18-49 (52 percent).

However, the rest of the GOP has not joined younger Republicans, Democrats and independents in supporting equality. But, hope springs eternal and middle-aged and older Republicans both showed significant drops in opposition to marriage equality.

Still, as a proud member of the Democratic Party, I’m thrilled to state that a majority of Democrats in all age groups support marriage equality.

The LGTBQQAA have much to celebrate and I will certainly be lifting my brunch mimosa to the equality dozen this year but we still have a long way to go.

My gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in 37 states still cannot join the institution of marriage that my husband Clay and I joined last year. The Supreme Court still needs to overturn DOMA and 29 states still allow employers to fire LGTBQQA employees.  I must sadly confess that I live in one, the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Virginia continues to be on the wrong side of history and the wrong side of the Potomac. I love the Commonwealth and it is my home but I have to say: “Seriously, Richmond, come on! Maryland and D.C. have equality can we maybe get our act together? We aren’t the cool kids anymore — we’re vintage, in a bad way.”

So this Pride weekend, let’s all celebrate our successes and get back to work on Monday!

Atima Omara-Alwala is vice president of the Young Democrats of America; she is running to be the organization’s first African-American president. She is a former board member of the LGBT Democrats of Virginia and lives in Arlington with her husband, Clay.

05
Jun
2013

Video: Dan Savage wants us to thanks straight people

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5i9-83GzUUI

Openly gay columnist Dan Savage says that we owe our election day victories to our straight allies that have come to our aid.

09
Jan
2013

Video: Dan Savage wants us to thank straight people

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5i9-83GzUUI

Openly gay columnist Dan Savage says that we owe our election day victories to our straight allies that have come to our aid.

09
Jan
2013

Straight ally: A label that’s sticking

By CELINA GERBIC & LEE GRANADOS

Girl. Friend. Female. Mom. Tomboy. When we were in elementary school, there wasn’t a name for what we were or who we were friends with. When we were in college, it was a term that was equally offensive to both us and our gay friends, “fag hag.” Thankfully there is now a term (do we thank the PC movement for this?) that we can proudly use: straight ally. We didn’t actually realize that the term had come into use, we just simply went on doing what we’ve always been doing, which is not letting labels get in the way. Yet this is one label that we’re proud is sticking.

Our children have grown up in Dupont Circle, a welcoming community of all groups, and do not see the need for such a label. To them, everyone is equal, or should be. They have friends with two dads, friends with two moms, friends with one mom or dad, and yes, even friends with both a mom and a dad. They don’t question that diversity. One of the first weddings they attended was the wedding of their friend’s two dads, right after D.C. started allowing same-sex marriages. So why the need for a label like “straight ally?”

Having grown up in a world with a great deal of prejudice and a best friend who is gay (though he wasn’t saying that at the time — he was definitely not out), we recognize the need for straight allies. Whether you like having a label or not, it’s vital to stand up for what you believe in, and support people who should have the same rights as me and other straight people, but using the term “straight ally” goes beyond that and actually shows your support. Adding the term “ally” says so much. It says we support our friends, our colleagues, our community. It tells our children, and others, that we don’t want to just be on the sidelines, looking on, but rather, completely involved.

And involved we are — as straight allies. After working on Straight Ally Outreach and fundraising for the Point Foundation for the last several years, Celina joined Point’s Washington, D.C. regional board of trustees. Point Foundation provides scholarships and mentoring to LGBTQ students, allowing them to achieve their full academic and leadership potential despite the obstacles often put before them. Lee spent time building an inclusive community at Ross Elementary School, running logistics for Capital Pride, and starting the 17th Street Festival that has embraced the whole community, old and new. Participating in Point’s Regional Leadership Forum and hearing the scholars speak at the annual D.C. Cornerstone Event has shown just how important it is to include straight allies in supporting these missions. Lee saw that embracing families in a small public school was the best way to educate her children and other families on the benefits of looking past labels.

As members of the host committee for the Point Foundation’s upcoming Cornerstone Event in May, we believe everyone deserves the right to an education, and this is something that everyone should be supporting, regardless of your label. It also sets the stage for our future generations, including our children, who are proud of their straight ally moms. As straight allies, we owe it to our children to proudly support our friends, colleagues and relatives. There may be a day when labels are no longer necessary, but for now, we’re sticking with “straight ally.”

Celina Gerbic serves on the Point Foundation’s Washington, D.C. Regional Board of Trustees. She is co-chair of the Trevor Project DC Ambassadors Committee and a board member of Urban Neighborhood Alliance, and works for School for Friends. Lee Granados works for Pacers Events as the Community and Outreach Development Liaison for all the events in D.C. She serves on the board for Girls On the Run and UNA and is co-chair of the 17th Street Festival. The Point Foundation’s Annual Cornerstone Event will take place on May 9 at Room & Board. Tickets are available at pointfoundation.org/dc2013

24
Apr
2013