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Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road

Friday, March 24, 2006

Homophobia before 'The Dance'

Duke’s J.J. Redick shrugs off fans’ taunts with class and courage

By Steve Charing

As the college basketball spectacle called "The Big Dance" winds its way through March and edges into early April, we are reminded that the darkness of homophobia in male athletics can cast a shadow over such a shining event. Prior to his fourth NCAA tournament, J.J. Redick, Duke University’s standout senior all-American guard, had been a frequent target of homophobic taunts and jeers while playing on the road.

Taunting isn’t a new phenomenon in the world of men’s college basketball by any stretch. Opposition arenas and gymnasiums have had a long history of being hell for visiting players. And if you don’t think the tactic of employing derisive chants, name-calling, and boos is effective, compare the home vs. road records of NCAA teams.

It seems that each venue has its own style of intimidating the visiting team’s players in some fashion. Locally the University of Maryland’s Comcast Centre, for one, is notorious for mocking the opposition. Sometimes the spirit goes too far as loud curse words are audible over national TV microphones and debris is sometimes launched at the visiting benches.

Most taunting, however, is usually accomplished through chants directed towards the targeted player’s personal physical characteristics (as Duke fans derided the supposed homeliness of former Maryland Terp Steve Blake), or as has been the case of Maryland’s D.J Strawberry in other arenas, his controversial father, Darryl Strawberry. Even a player’s family’s political leanings are in bounds it seems. Duke fans hurled catcalls at Maryland Terp Nik Caner-Medley by shouting that his parents are "Liberal!" Gasp!

Among the iniquitous forms of ridicule that are flung at a young visiting player, however, is his perceived sexual orientation. Again, this isn’t new. It doesn’t matter if a player is gay or not, fans know this is how to get inside his head. This is what J.J. Redick has been experiencing throughout his career.

Undaunted, Redick, who was born in Tennessee in June 1984 as Jonathan Clay Redick (his older twin sisters nicknamed him J.J.), has proven to be arguably one of the very best collegiate basketball players of all time and is a leading candidate for the National Player of the Year. He has amassed myriad offensive records for Duke, the Atlantic Coast Conference and the NCAA.

The 6-foot 4-inch senior is a prolific scorer with a deadly three-point shot and is virtually automatic from the foul line. (Alas, his Duke career ended earlier than expected during The Dance’s Sweet Sixteen.)

Because of his accomplishments and the Blue Devils’ perennial success, he is hated by opponents’ fans. It’s hard to comprehend why though. He is not a trash talker nor does he show up his opponents. He just plays to win.

No matter where he performed away from the friendly, cramped confines of Cameron Indoor Stadium, J.J. Redick had to endure a wide array of catcalls from the home team’s spectators. Some mocked the fact he loves to write poetry while others harassed him for being gay, or so they thought.

Outsports.com columnist Jim Buzinski pointed out how anti-gay taunts are intended to demean opponents. He mentioned a well-documented slur from NC State guard Scooter Sherrill last year that was aimed at Redick. " [Redick] has a little bit of cockiness to him," Sherrill said. Referring to the fact that the Duke star holds his hand in the follow-through position after making a shot while dropping back on defense, he said, "You see him hit a 3, and he's running down the court hollering. He's got his hand up like he's gay or something." He later half-heartedly apologized for the comment and admitted he was trying to agitate Redick.

For his part, Redick let it slide. "It's just the nature of sports," Redick told the Durham (NC) Herald-Sun. "Not just with me but with anybody—they're going to try to find ways to get an edge." It seems to motivate Redick more. Following the remarks, Redick outscored Sherrill 28-11 head-to-head, albeit in a losing effort.

This wasn’t an isolated homophobic incident in the chronicle of male college sports. According to a published article in the Daily Illini, the University of Hawaii changed the name and logo of its football team from the Rainbow Warriors to just the Warriors in 2000 because of the association with the gay rainbow flag. And the University of Southern California marching band reportedly taunted UCLA by playing the notes F, A and G in successive order at football games also as recently as 2000.

For J.J. Redick, the advent of "Brokeback Mountain" added more fuel to the fire. Opposing fans have been chanting "Brokeback Redick" or pasted his likeness on Brokeback posters and hoisted them up. The "gay cowboy" film had also prompted Gonzaga fans to tease opponents by chanting "Brokeback, Brokeback." School and team officials asked fans to cease the verbal homophobia.

In Redick’s case, it’s just another day at the office. Outsports.com co-founder Cyd Zeigler, Jr. gave Redick his props for at least addressing the issue when he could have simply ducked it. While noting Redick is most likely not gay, Zeigler comments, "It warmed my heart to hear a college basketball player, one of the nation's best this year, talk so openly about his sexual orientation being a topic of discussion."

He continued showing his poise in the midst of the NCAA’s Big Dance during an interview on Fox Sports’ "Best Damn Sports Show." Just a couple of days prior to the number one ranked Blue Devils’ shocking elimination that ended his collegiate career, Redick again owned up to his being jeered without hesitation.

Redick matter-of-factly acknowledged to the former jocks who were interviewing him, specifically Rob Dibble, the anti-gay slurs he received during the season. He courageously mentioned the Brokeback-themed chants, and did so with his engaging smile. He didn’t use the platform to gay-bash, or yuck it up about gays, which could have been a convenient strategy to help mitigate the taunts. Instead, he shrugged it off—no big deal.

It would have been ideal if Redick had taken the opportunity then to pronounce his heterosexuality but at the same time speak out against the homophobia that is so rampant among those who jeer. But it would have been hardly plausible in the macho culture of big time sports and probably a major distraction during the tournament.

What is unclear is J.J. Redick’s attitudes are towards gays and lesbians. A devout young man, he recently got a tattoo with the number 19 inscribed to denote Joshua 1:9, his favorite verse. It says, in part, "Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord is with you wherever you go."

Clearly his faith helped him deal with the taunting so he was able to focus on his game performance. His inner character helped him discuss it with class and courage.

Monday, March 20, 2006

The Military's Double Standard

Letter Published in Washington Post

Monday, March 20, 2006; Page A14

I commend the March 7 editorial "Now Repeal the Ban," which assailed the Pentagon's policy of barring openly gay and lesbian citizens from military service. The editorial correctly attributed the ban to "bigotry and inertia."

The front-page article the same day about the Supreme Court decision upholding the right of the military to recruit on the campuses of law schools that accept federal funding quoted one of the staunchest supporters of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), as saying, "This decision will ensure that the military will continue to be comprised of our nation's finest -- men and women who know how to defend our country in a manner consistent with our values and principles."

The values and principles Mr. Cornyn heralds are being compromised more by the Pentagon's lowering of standards to allow convicted felons and drug addicts into the armed forces to meet enlistment quotas than by gays and lesbians who refuse to deny or hide their true selves.
For example, Pentagon records indicate that at least 88 gay and lesbian language specialists were discharged between 1998 and 2004, of whom 20 were proficient in Arabic. These linguists would have been useful in gathering intelligence in the war on terrorism.

The rationale for discharging gays and lesbians from the military is that their acknowledged sexual orientation would hurt the morale of the troops. Does the recruitment of criminals boost troop morale?


Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Speech to River Hill HS (Columbia, MD) National Honor Society--3/15/06

Character: Human rights and social conscience…

The Declaration of Independence proclaims: "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal."

Gaping holes in this essential principle have been patched up throughout our history by amending the Constitution. That process extended rights to African-Americans, women and other minorities whereas before they were non-existent.

However, the sad truth is that for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered individuals, there remains some unfinished business when it comes to equality and human rights.

The current controversy, as you are probably aware, surrounds marriage equality for same-sex couples.

What gays are seeking are the same rights, benefits and responsibilities that are conferred upon heterosexual couples. They would include the financial security and medical decision-making rights that heterosexual couples take for granted.

We’re not asking for religious blessings. We’re not attempting to force churches, synagogues or mosques to sanctify a union. The Constitution’s First Amendment protects these institutions from that. Civil marriages can take place in county clerk offices or city halls. In fact, 4 in 10 marriages in Maryland occur in such venues.

When Britney Spears went through that fake marriage a couple of years ago, in those short 48 hours she was entitled to some 1,100 rights and benefits. Yet my partner and I, who have been in a committed relationship for over 26 years, do not have a single one.

Our opponents say that if we were allowed to get married, it would threaten the institution of marriage.

Ask your parents…ask them if my partner and I were legally permitted to marry, would they storm off to a lawyer to seek a divorce as a result?

In Massachusetts where same-sex marriage has been in effect for nearly 2 years, the divorce rate is the lowest in the country. The sky did not fall.

Our opponents say homosexuality is a sin according to the Bible. Well, so is murder a sin according to the same Bible, but murderers can get married. So can thieves and other criminals. So can men who shave or women who wear blended fabrics or people who ever talked back to their parents, or eat bacon. These are all sins, but the individuals who commit them are not barred from marrying.

The religious extremists cherry-pick passages from Scripture and had used the same arguments to justify racism and to prevent interracial marriages. And they do it to justify their homophobia. Our social conscience cannot allow a repeat of that type of bigotry.

It is clear the opposition is not concerned about protecting marriage because if they were they would rail against divorce, adultery, out-of-wedlock births, poverty, and domestic violence—all of which threaten the stability of marriage. Divorce alone accounts for the destruction of half of all marriages.

It’s not about protecting marriage at all. It’s all about homophobia. These people are opposed to anything that provides gays with equal status. To them, we are second-class citizens, and they want us back into the closet or as was advocated recently by one candidate for Senate in Ohio—the death penalty.

Folks, sad to say, extremism is very much alive in this country.

The political and religious rhetoric and bigotry that is unleashed as a result of homophobia is a human rights threat, a threat to our character, and a threat to the fabric of our society. Homophobia is very much a threat…Equality isn’t.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

You Don't Have to be Coupled to Want Marriage

By Steve Charing

Senior Political Analyst

Many, if not most, in the lgbt community are not involved in long-term relationships at any given point. Some have foregone any notion of having a boyfriend or girlfriend, much less a committed partner. They either cannot find someone to their liking or they don’t want to bother. There are those who have had bad experiences and are apprehensive about entering into another relationship. Then there are folks who enjoy the freedom of being single. Regardless of the reasons, a large number of lgbt people are single, and some may even remain that way.

Setting aside the pros and cons arguments of such a status, one thing is very clear: supporting same-sex marriage, or at the very least, opposing the opposition, is in every lgbt individual’s best interest.

Those of you who find marriage to a partner to be the furthest thing from your mind, the push for marriage equality will benefit you as well. "Marriage and marriage equality is not directly applicable to my life right now," said 19 year-old college student Stephen McCarthy. "But I understand the importance of it in our community's struggle for equality and respect and the specific opportunity it may offer me someday in the future."

If lgbt couples were legally recognized as married, they would enjoy about 1,100 benefits and rights, including medical decision making rights, that are conferred upon their heterosexual counterparts. These would add to financial and emotional stability and security to themselves and their families—areas whose importance cannot be overstated. And most people, I believe, still aspire some day to be involved in a long-term relationship. In that situation, they would materially gain from these added rights.

But the quest for same-sex marriage isn’t only about securing benefits that heterosexuals take for granted. It is about equality.

The opposition folks in the General Assembly and in the Governor’s Mansion have reared their ugly heads in the wake of the Baltimore Circuit Court decision in January (the ruling was stayed pending appeal) that said the existing marriage law in Maryland is unconstitutional. They are mobilizing to amend the Constitution so that marriage would be limited to heterosexuals. After such a move failed in the House, the effort is still alive (albeit on life support) in the Senate with SB 690.

These vile people want the issue of our rights put up for a popular vote in November. If minority rights were routinely voted on by the majority, do you think the equal rights of African-Americans, women, the disabled and other minorities would exist today?

And with the GOP floundering right now and Republican officeholders scurrying like rats on a sinking ship to escape the Bush effect, don’t be surprised if "gay marriage" is again injected into the fall congressional (and Maryland) election campaigns as a distraction from their pitiful records and to re-energize their bigoted base.

As I have written numerous times in this space, the opposition isn’t about marriage; it is about homophobia. Why else would some state constitutional amendments (including the original one proposed here by homophobic Delegate Don H. Dwyer, Jr.) go beyond marriage in their scope and try to eliminate domestic partnerships and civil unions as well? Their intent is to prevent lgbt individuals from reaching any equal status with heterosexuals.

This opposition transcends both political parties as even most Democrats are loathe to address the issue, let alone stand up for marriage equality. Democrats fear the political consequences of such courage produced by the GOP smear machinery that attaches "anti-family" labels to their candidacy.

They further understand the issue has been framed as "gay marriage," which embraces all the religious associations and trappings as opposed to civil marriage equality for same-sex couples with no obligation on the part of religious institutions to sanctify the union. In fact, approximately four marriages in ten in Maryland take place at county clerk offices or city halls. The electorate is probably not be aware of that.

When they diss gays and lesbians as they are wont to do, they are slamming all lgbt people—not just those in relationships. Single people, and even those who have no intention of marrying if the opportunity existed, are also being told they are inferior to our straight counterparts.
Didn’t we hear that enough when we were growing up?

Don’t they defend the horrendous "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy in the military by saying we’re not worthy enough to defend our country? (Never mind that they have kicked out key gay and lesbian Arabic linguists who would have been significant in the war on terror.)

Don’t they tell us that we are immoral perverts and should not be teaching in schools? (Never mind we are paying taxes to educate other people’s kids.)

Don’t we hear all the jokes and homophobic subtext concerning "Brokeback"? (The poor, poor religious right saw their comfort zone shattered by non-stereotypical gay characters in a multiple award winning film that is experiencing a huge box office bonanza.)

The last thing the homophobes want is for lgbt people to achieve equal status. Same-sex marriage would do just that. Their arguments are increasingly less compelling. Even the use of the Bible is being discredited more and more as passages are conveniently selected to support their bigotry. Resentment is steadily building against those who are forcing their archaic religious beliefs on others while a broadening theocracy is taking hold in our government.

Columnist Leonard Pitts, Jr. also sees the transparency of some of these so-called people of faith. He wrote, "They're so panicked at the thought that somebody accidentally might treat gay people like people. They run around Chicken Little-like, screaming, 'Th' homosex'shals is comin'! Th' homosex'shals is comin'!’ Meantime, people are ignorant in Appalachia, strung out in Miami, starving in Niger, sex slaves in India, mass-murdered in Darfur. Where is the Christian outrage about that?"

The assault on same-sex marriage is an assault on all lgbt individuals. Even if one does not want to be married, it is difficult to imagine why one doesn’t want at least to have the option.
There is no shame in receiving the same rights and benefits as others; we should all strive for equal footing. We should NOT accept being looked upon as inferior as we’re NOT less than anybody else.

And that applies to single and coupled lgbt individuals alike.