Seminar to explore why female athletes are MIA in the gay marriage debate

The Association for Women in Sports Media is hosting a free online seminar Monday called the "Rainbow Ceiling," exploring why female athletes have been largely silent on the issue of gay marriage and on homosexuality in sports in general (the group's news release is below).

It's a great topic and one that did not strike me until I was contacted by the group. Prominent NFL players have come out for gay marriage, as has the co-owner of the New York Giants and hockey's Sean Avery. But I can't think of a prominent female athlete who has taken a public stand. In addition, of the 27 people on our 2011 coming out list, only two are women. From the release:

The culture of homophobia that’s rampant in sports has made it hard for gay athletes to be out. In female sports specifically, women have always dealt with the stereotype that most athletic women are lesbians. Ironically, an unaccepting sports culture and the fear of repercussion, such as negative recruiting practices from other coaches, has made it hard for many gay women to be out. ...

Female athletes have remained largely silent throughout this whole discussion, perhaps another indication that the rainbow ceiling, and a culture of fear, is still very much in place in sports today.

I wonder if prominent women in sports are leery of being too vocal about gay rights lest they be labeled a lesbian. Self-identified straight male athletes generally don't face the same questioning of their orientation. There have been exceptions: Laura Ricketts, part owner of the Chicago Cubs, is an open lesbian and was a driving force behind the team doing an "It Gets Better" video. However, being an owner puts Ricketts in a different category.

I would encourage people to sign up for the seminar, which has a limit of 100 participants. And I would like to hear from people on why whether women in sports have been silent on gay issues or whether we just don't pay attention when they talk.

The release from the AWSM:

AWSMNow: The Rainbow Ceiling, a conversation about homosexuality in sports

In commemoration of Pride month, the Association for Women in Sports Media is proud to present “The Rainbow Ceiling, a conversation about homosexuality in sports” as part of the AWSMNow series of free monthly webinars.

The culture of homophobia that’s rampant in sports has made it hard for gay athletes to be out. In female sports specifically, women have always dealt with the stereotype that most athletic women are lesbians. Ironically, an unaccepting sports culture and the fear of repercussion, such as negative recruiting practices from other coaches, has made it hard for many gay women to be out.

In recent months, several male athletes and administrators in sports have taken steps toward creating a more accepting environment for homosexuality in sports. Phoenix Suns president Rick Welts came out in May in an effort to breach this ceiling, and New York Rangers hockey player Sean Avery, and former New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan have both endorsed same-sex marriage in New York.

Female athletes have remained largely silent throughout this whole discussion, perhaps another indication that the rainbow ceiling, and a culture of fear, is still very much in place in sports today.

In this hour-long webinar, we hope to examine the issue of why the field of athletics remains one in which coaches and athletes feel the need to stay closeted. Why is it still a stigma, why aren't there more "out" athletes? Why do coaches still feel the need to hide their sexuality, and is all this secrecy still necessary in today's society? What would it take to change this climate?

The panelists include:

--Pat Griffin, project director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network’s “Changing the Game – an initiative to make K-12 sports and PE a safer and more inclusive environment for kids regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.”

-- Former Belmont (Tenn.) University women’s soccer coach Lisa Howe, who was fired after coming out to Belmont’s administrators.

-- Olympic medalist and former Team USA softball player Lauren Lappin, an out athlete.

-- Portland (Ore.) State University’s Sherri Murrell, the only openly gay Division I women’s college basketball coach.

-- ESPN.com women’s basketball writer Mechelle Voepel.

We invite you to join us for this hour-long discussion online on Mon. June 27, 1 p.m. EST. Come ready with questions. The webinar is free, but pre-registration is required at https://www3.gotomeeting.com/register/317109862. Attendance in limited to 100 participants to register early to save your spot.

If you have advance questions that you’d like to ask during the session, you could also get in the queue early by emailing stef.loh@awsmonline.org or tweeting us at AWSM_sportmedia. Include #AWSMNow.

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