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Thursday, January 14, 2016

Should Fans COME OUT at the Ballgame?

Earlier in the month, a kiss between two gay men was captured on the Staples Center’s giant scoreboard while a hockey game broke out.  It was the first time that two gay people smooching had been shown on Kiss Cam at a hockey game.
Kiss Cam in LA catching two gay men  Photo courtesy of Gay Star News
Kiss Cam is a popular feature at sport venues that occurs when there is a break in the action, such as in between innings, a commercial time out or some other lull.  A camera is trained on a couple, who after recognizing themselves on the Jumbotron or whatever large screen is used, start to kiss to the approving cheers of fans in the stadium or arena. 

In the vast majority of cases, the couples spotlighted are heterosexuals.  If two men or two women were sitting next to each other, the cameraperson or director would likely bypass them rather than cause undo embarrassment if the same-sex individuals are, say, straight or colleagues at work or neighbors or clients or relatives.  Of course, the individuals involved are not obligated to kiss but would likely be laughed at or cheered one way or the other.
Therefore, straight couples are the top priorities though there could be awkward relationships there as well (see above).    

The breakthrough in Los Angeles prompted my friend Mike Bernard, who is a rabid Baltimore Orioles fan, to offer up as a discussion on Facebook the possibility of arranging for same-sex couples to be recognized by Kiss Cam at Orioles home games.  He had been told by Orioles staff that the element of surprise is a key to making this an entertaining feature.  Mike, who is the moderator for the Gay and Lesbian or Whoever (GLoW) Orioles Fans-Games Group on Facebook, thought perhaps that an arrangement could be made in advance so that a different same-sex couple could be targeted at various points in the season.
I have mixed feelings about this.  On the one hand, it would be great that gay or lesbian displays of affection are so “mainstreamed” that other folks attending these games would think nothing of it. This would also send the message that there are gay fans in the stands supporting the home team who are equal targets for the visual prank.  Everybody regardless of sexual orientation would be vulnerable.  It would signal yet another step, albeit non-serious, towards progress.

On the other hand, I am concerned that despite gains in marriage rights and non-discrimination laws on the books locally, there are plenty of those who are not fond of LGBT people still out there. 
According to the U.S. Census, in 2012 there were roughly 200 million people living in the U.S. who are between ages 18 and 64.  Using that segment, let’s say 60 percent are OK with LGBT folks (and that may be generous).  That means, based on these assumptions, around 80 million are not on board the rainbow train in this demographic.  That’s a lot of people who are not on our side.

There are factors that may not be so cut and dry.  For example, people may support marriage equality and still not care much for LGBT people.  Conversely, there are those who do accept gays and lesbians but because of religious beliefs, do not favor same-sex marriage.
Kiss Cam at Orioles Park at Camden Yards (YouTube)

It is impossible to determine without scientific polling what percentage of a crowd at a sports venue on a given day are in the anti-gay category.  Teams market to families so there are numerous kids in attendance especially at baseball games.  I believe there would be strong opposition to same-sex individuals kissing even on Kiss Cam and would use the “family” atmosphere as justification, never mind their own personal prejudices.

Moreover, sports crowds tend to be tilted on the “macho” side—a point that probably weighs heavily in the minds of those gay athletes who would consider coming out publicly but are reluctant to do so because of the “machoism” in the stands and the locker rooms. 
Nonetheless, hockey is certainly one of those “macho” sports and the gay couple kissing during the LA Kings-Toronto Maple Leafs game received overwhelming approval that night.  It could have been the novelty of the act shown on the screen or that LA is a progressive city so people there would simply shrug their shoulders.  It’s hard to tell.  A better test of acceptance would show a gay couple kissing in venues in more conservative cities, such as Dallas or Calgary.

Then there is the alcohol factor.  Otherwise good people can turn ugly when fueled by heavy consumption of beer at these events.  In 2013, there was an incident when a young man was severely injured by two other young men at Orioles Park when he confronted them after he was taunted.  It’s an extreme case to be sure and such eruptions can involve anybody.  But they are on the upswing at sports venues around the country.
Gay men kissing could evoke similar alcohol-induced taunting or violence that could result in great harm.  It’s something nobody needs to go through. 

Perhaps a test case from a willing gay or lesbian couple at Orioles Park with the cooperation from the stadium’s officials may be the way to find out.  Hopefully, few may care, and if this becomes a routine part of the Kiss Cam feature throughout the season, even less will care.  But there’s always a risk.

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