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What’s in a Name?

By Lavender October 9, 2008

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Of all the labels placed on the GLBT community, perhaps some of the most challenging are the ones we place on ourselves. This is particularly apparent in the gay sporting community. By “gay sporting community”—a label—I mean gay people who play sports.

For many gay men and women, the idea of playing sports is about more than the activity itself. It is about taking control of what historically has been perceived as a straight-dominated area of life. In playing sports under the name “gay,” we are showing society that our athleticism matters, too. We’re saying: Believe it! Gay people play sports!

Nothing proves this sentiment more than teams that refer to themselves as “gay” teams. The effect of having the group’s voice heard—and making a statement—has been considered by some as a great start toward sporting equality.

But where do we gay people who play sports go from here?

Nationwide and indeed worldwide, and right here in the Twin Cities, teams of all types operate under a gay banner. Many of you probably are on one of these them.

Have you thought about what that really means? Does that mean your team doesn’t let bisexuals join? What about transgender individuals? What about straight people?

Gay people have fought for so many years for equality, and to be included. Yet, in order to feel relevant in the realm of sports, we’ve declared our independence.

Is that really equality? Or is it just as exclusionary as being harassed or ignored as a gay person on a “straight” team, or even cut from it?

The answer is complicated. Yes, the strategy of forming all-gay sporting teams has earned gay athletes clout and relevance within mainstream society, and brought welcoming, competitive sporting options to gay communities. Gay men and women have gained confidence in their athleticism, and have found a way out of the boxes that stereotypically rob gay men of their masculinity, and lesbians of their femininity. Step one accomplished.

The question we gay athletes face now is: Can we evolve to the next step? Can we become the very inclusive athletes that we have been working so hard to make of straight ones?

We’ve started to include straight people on our teams. But, we keep calling our teams “gay.” That does nothing but belittle the contributions our straight teammates make, and keeps them at arms length.

Why invite straight men and women to play alongside us, but refuse to acknowledge them? Is that not exactly the mentality gay athletes worldwide are trying to eliminate?

A battle has begun already. Recently, the issue of being straight on an all-gay softball team has come up in regard to a team playing in the Gay World Series. It seems that one team had too many straight people on it, and was disqualified.

The problems of this gaycentric mentality now are bordering on discriminatory. The scene that has been painted in many news articles on the matter is an archaic one at best, frightening at worst. Imagine being asked to claim what sex you “predominantly” were attracted to in order to participate in a sporting event.

Likely, the gay team that filed the complaint against the other simply wanted a highly competitive opponent out of the running. But the route they’ve taken to achieve that goal is morally questionable, and puts in jeopardy all the progress we gay athletes have made so far.

The next step in the evolution of gay sports teams must be to ditch the gay banner, and start thinking of ourselves as athletes first, and as gay (or straight) second. Yeah, that sounds awfully familiar. The concept is at the core of every social battle gay men and women face today. Being considered for everything else, we are as human beings first, before our sexuality.

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