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Federal judge rules that gay softball association can limit number of straight players

A federal judge in Washington state ruled that NAGAAA, the national gay softball association that runs the annual Gay Softball World Series, can keep its rule that limits the number of straight players per team. However, he allowed a lawsuit against NAGAAA by three men to go to trial.

US District Judge John Coughenour wrote in his ruling, "Plaintiffs have failed to argue that there is a compelling state interest in allowing heterosexuals to play gay softball."

"NAGAAA might very well believe that given the history of gay exclusion for sports, the only way to promote competition for all persons, and ensure that gay athletes have the same opportunities as straight athletes, is to create an exclusively gay community with exceptions for a small number of straight players," the ruling states. "It is not the role of the courts to scrutinize the content of an organization's chosen expression."

Three men -- Steven Apilado, Jon Russ and LaRon Charles -- sued NAGAAA after their team's second-place finish in the 2008 Gay World Series in Seattle was disallowed for violating the limits on "non-gay" playes. The men say they are bisexual and that the questioning by NAGAAA to determine their sexual orientation was demeaning and violated their rights.

The judge's ruling said that NAGAAA's "treatment of bisexuals remains of central importance to this case," which is why a trial can still determine if the conduct violated the anti-discrimination laws in Washington State. He also said that the treatment of the men at NAGAAA's hearing to determine their sexuality is also an issue, and that the organization's First Amendment defense might not be valid.

But when it comes to whether heterosexuals can be limited in the gay event, the judge was clear:

“It would be difficult for NAGAAA to effectively emphasize a vision of the gay lifestyle rooted in athleticism, competition and sportsmanship if it were prohibited from maintaining a gay identity,” the judge wrote.

I think the judge got it right in this case. I never understood how any straight person can claim they have a legal right to play in a gay sports tourney or are discriminated against if they are denied; there are tons of mainstream sports tournaments each year, and the treatment gays have suffered in sports is the reason such gay-oriented tourneys started in the first place.

The issue of bisexuals is a different matter. The National Gay Flag Football League, of which I am one of the founders, has had a guideline limiting the number of straight players at the annual Gay Bowl to 20% per roster; the number of LGBT players is not restricted.