Van Gorp Out and Proud

(This story was published in 2004).

Michele Van Gorp, a player for the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx is that rarest of athletes: someone who is out and proud.

Van Gorp, who says "I've never been in the closet,’" nonetheless caused a minor stir when she spoke openly about being a lesbian to Lavender, a gay and lesbian magazine in the Twin Cities. Articles appeared in mainstream Minneapolis-area newspapers and was the topic of discussion on talk radio.

The former Duke star becomes the only current WNBA player who is public about being a lesbian. Former New York Liberty player Sue Wicks, who came out publicly in 2002, has retired. Ask any knowledgeable lesbian who is a WNBA fan, and she can rattle off the names of players she’s seen in clubs or bars, but getting these players to go public is another matter. Van Gorp can understand.

"It's a personal choice for everyone, and if you're not comfortable enough with yourself to be out, then you're not," she told Lavender. "And if that makes you happier not to be out, then don't be out. But don't be afraid if you are out. There are a lot of people who are straight, and there are a lot of people who are gay. That's just how life is."

Van Gorp has never hid her orientation and has taken her partner Kyleen to team events both with the Lynx and previously with the Liberty. The Lynx media guide mentions Kyleen as her spouse. But apparently the Lavender was the first publication to ask Van Gorp about being gay and she didn't hesitate to respond.

While Van Gorp, 27, says she has been accepted by the Lynx, the situation was different when she was with the Liberty in the 1999 season. "I had a lot of issues in New York in my first year. The [New York] organization wasn't very happy that Kyleen would come down to [meet] me at the team bus as we were leaving for practice," she told Lavender.

She said that a Liberty coach went so far as to schedule a lunch with her to discuss her sexual orientation. "It was actually a big issue, and a big part of why, the game of basketball aside, I didn't like being in New York," Van Gorp said. "Within the organization, it seemed very taboo, and that was hard for me, because it is not something I am afraid of. It is who I am. I don't try to push it on anyone, but I'm not going to live my life differently because someone else is scared of what society thinks."

The Lavender piece is a must-read as Van Gorp is honest about her non-existent relationship with her father, her love for Kyleen, her views on gay marriage and her on-court battle with injuries.

On the court, this has been a frustrating season for Van Gorp, who has played only five games because of a stress reaction in her left foot. She was placed on the injured list on June 7, and has missed the past 12 games. She is expected to return later this month. The 6-6 center has mostly come off the bench during her pro career, and has averaged 3.3 points a game and 2.1 rebounds. At Duke, she averaged 13.9 points and 4.8 rebounds per game, and led the Blue Devils to the 1999 NCAA title game, where they lost to Purdue.

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