Thursday, September 19, 2013

OUT in the Stands




GLoW folks are looking to fill the section next year
The Washington Blade recently devoted a special issue on sports and how they relate to the LGBT community.   It was guest-edited by former Baltimore Ravens linebacker and staunch gay rights advocate Brendon Ayanbadejo.  The effort covered all the bases—literally—and provided excellent insight into how the sports environment is changing in a positive way towards acceptance of LGBT athletes.
Of course, no active gay male athlete has come out in the four major professional team sports—baseball, football, basketball and hockey.  The closest was NBA player Jason Collins, who came out last spring, but he’s a current free agent, and no team has yet to sign him.  Others have come out after they had retired.

The biggest impediment, some theorize, for the reluctance of gay players to come out while still playing is the expected media attention.  I believe that would pose a problem but should vanish in short order as the novelty wears off. 
With most of these pro sports establishing anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies, the feeling is that the athletes would accept a gay teammate.  Some individual players and representatives of management have vocally stated their support for a gay teammate with the point being made, if you can help the team win, that’s all that matters.
Unquestionably, there would be some negative reactions towards a gay player from fans, and it would not matter where it originates, defying conventional wisdom.  For instance, there are plenty of homophobes in New York City and Boston—two liberal strongholds—and solid support for LGBT rights in Atlanta and Dallas of the “red states” category.

Prejudice against a potential openly gay professional athlete is less likely considering there is more general acceptance of LGBT people.  This shift in attitudes, led by the younger generation and an increase in support from minorities, has culminated in significant LGBT political victories especially on the marriage front.  It’s becoming less and less cool to outwardly display homophobia, and the perpetrator will likely be called out on it.
 
Seizing upon this trend, many major league baseball teams have instituted “Nights Out at the Ballpark” events to market to LGBT fans.  Typically, the special night is announced on the stadium’s message board, the national anthem is performed by an LGBT or LGBT-friendly artist(s), and the ceremonial first pitch is tossed by a local representative of the community.
These LGBT events at major league ballparks have taken place over the years in such cities as San Francisco, Boston, Washington, D.C., San Diego, Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, Atlanta, St. Louis and Toronto.  The Los Angeles Dodgers has announced their first “gay night” to take place on September 27 that will feature a special guest performing with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles.

And the Seattle Mariners became the first major league team to fly a Pride flag at a major league stadium this past June. Rebecca Hale, Director of Public Information for the Mariners, told Seattle Out & Proud, “We're a part of this community. Our fans are a reflection of our community. We thought this was an appropriate gesture on a day that is very meaningful to the LGBT community.”
These events are so successful that the Washington Nationals staged two Nights Out this year with each drawing over 2,000 LGBT fans in the group.  But as one of the writers in the Blade sports issue correctly jabbed, Baltimore Orioles LGBT fans are still waiting.

As part of Pride festivities in June and serving as a modest fundraiser, the GLCCB through Facebook quickly assembled a group of about 40 to see the Orioles play the Angels. This was not a team-sanctioned event as far more tickets would need to be sold and more time for planning and publicizing would have to take place.  But it was done well and a good beginning.
Recently, a new Orioles fan page was formed on Facebook called “GLoW Orioles Fans Games Group” (facebook.com/groups/GLoW.OriolesGamesGroup).   It consists of friends—“gay, lesbian, or whoever”—who will get together for various Baltimore Orioles home games throughout the season.  The page was launched by gay activist and Baltimore resident Mike Bernard.

 “The idea for this group was inspired by a get together on July 12 when the Orioles played the Toronto Blue Jays,” Bernard explained. “We had so much fun together that we did not want to leave...and oh, yeah, the Orioles won that night, too.”  Paul D. Sanders from Staten Island, NY encouraged Bernard to start a “gay” Orioles group page, similar to his G-Mets group and other gay team pages.
The first outing after the page was created occurred on September 9 against the Yankees—the only win for the Orioles that series.  Ten from GLoW attended the game.  Though the Orioles’ chances for a 2013 post-season are sputtering, the group’s enthusiasm has not dimmed.  The next GLoW game is September 24 vs. the Blue Jays. 

Nonetheless, it would be great if, say, the GLCCB organizes a team-sanctioned “LGBT Night Out with the Orioles” with high visibility and full ceremonies.  I was told by a representative from the Orioles group tickets office, it would require a minimum of 1,500 tickets sold. 
A tough challenge to be sure.  But it’s high time that Baltimore joins the growing list of cities whose baseball teams hold such events. It doesn’t have to be the GLCCB doing the heavy lifting but they’re in a good position to make it happen. 

Baltimore should showcase its proud LGBT community with its big win on marriage equality as well as its love for sports.  Why not do so at Oriole Park at Camden Yards?

 

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