Battling Homophobia in Women's Basketball

Syndicated

At this month's NCAA Women’s Final Four in Indianapolis, a number of events took place focusing on the state of women’s basketball. In association with The Fling, an annual get together which seeks to unite fans of women's sports and combat homophobia, WomenTalkSports.com co-founder Megan Hueter conducted a series of exclusive interviews with well-known experts to address the issue.

The Fling was organized by Jody Sims, a long-time basketball fan as well as the Chief Advancement Officer for Girl Scouts San Diego.  Here Jody talks to Megan about the event and its importance.

MH: What is The Fling, and how did it start?

JS: The Fling serves as a way to network with lesbian sports fans who travel to the Final Four and to raise awareness to homophobia in women’s sports. The idea came to me at the 2009 Women's Final Four in St. Louis when I was walking around wondering why there were no events that I wanted to attend. The first Fling was in 2010 in San Antonio. 

MH: Why is the event important for women's basketball?

JS: There is only one "out" coach in NCAA basketball [Sherri Murrell at Portland State], even though there is a high percentage of gay coaches in women's college basketball. I don't blame the coaches for being in the closet because they are victims of homophobia. Their sexuality is often used against them in recruiting, fundraising, etc. Somehow we have to draw attention to this. We need to "out" the homophobes! And help some of the closeted coaches find the courage to stand up and be free to be themselves.

Hueter also spoke with Pat Griffin, professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in Social Justice Education is the woman behind Pat Griffin's LGBT Sport Blog. In a former life, Pat was a high school field hockey and basketball coach and coached swimming and diving at UMass.  She is now the Project Director for Changing the Game: The GLSEN Sports Project (sports.glsen.org), which launched mid-March 2011.

MH: You've spent much of your life advocating for social justice in sport as it relates to gender and sexuality. Why is this such an important issue to you?

PG: Partly because of my own experience as a woman coach and athlete and my experience as a lesbian coach and athlete. I think my experiences are a major motivation. I decided I wanted to be a leader in making sports more accessible to women and wanted to do something about the discrimination and prejudice against lesbians in sport.  Also, I have always been committed to addressing a broad range of social justice issues in and out of sport. Sport is just my thing so that is where I focus my energies.

MH: Would you say that homophobia a big issue in women's basketball? If so, how? If not, why not?

PG: YES. When you only have one publicly out lesbian coach in D1 women’s basketball, that is a big thing. Negative recruiting in women’s sports, particularly women’s basketball, is still an unethical practice that plays on the homophobia of high school athletes and their parents that is way more prevalent than many people realize.  Negative recruiting is discouraging an athlete and her parents from going to a rival school by telling them there are lesbians in that program. We need to get schools to stand up to this kind of discrimination.

MH: What's the one thing you wish the women's basketball community could do to help the gay and transgender community? 

PG:  I would love for more individual coaches and the WBCA [Women’s Basketball Coaches Assn’n] to stand up and take a more forceful and public stand against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.  Unfortunately too many coaches who do not necessarily discriminate themselves are still silent about the discrimination that goes on around them.  When a critical mass of coaches speak up and the WBCA begins taking a more aggressive stance, the coaches who are the problems will not be able to get away with what they do now.

Finally, Hueter interviewed Helen Carroll, who leads the Sports Project at the National Center for Lesbian Rights. Carroll is well known in the sports world as an acclaimed national championship basketball coach from the University of North Carolina-Asheville.

MH: Some people say that women's basketball has a bad "image" because of the amount of lesbian women who participate. What do you have to say about that statement? 

HC: I believe that is an archaic statement that belongs way in the past.   In this century it is expected that every girl/woman have an opportunity to participate in organized athletics.  Of course there are lesbians, straight women, transgender women and bisexual women that comprise our teams.  The majority of people in this country know that and I believe the climate is changing to accept role models like Coach Sherri Murrell, her partner and their twins.  I say you need a combination of all those women to win even one ball game - and that is a good thing!

MH:  What's the one thing you wish the women's basketball community could do to help the gay and transgender community?

HC: Since this is a wish - I wish we had one day this year where every lesbian, transgender, bisexual woman associated with basketball in any way could be out with their straight men and women allies standing by their side and that they, from that moment forward, be able to live, work and participate in an atmosphere that fully accepts that person as a valued member of their athletic family. 

There are number of great online resources for those interested in this issue including NCLR and  GSLEN Project. You can also check out the full interviews at Women Talk Sports

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