clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Haley & Layana, thank you for reigniting the conversation about homophobia in women's basketball

Katie Barnes relates to Pepperdine basketball players Haley Videckis and Layana White and the homophobia they allegedly encountered at the school.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Layana White played at the Univ. of Arizona before transferring to Pepperdine.
Layana White played at the Univ. of Arizona before transferring to Pepperdine.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Editor's note: Out lesbian basketball players Haley Videckis and Layana White have sued Pepperdine University and their head coach alleging anti-LGBT bias. You can sign a petition by Br{ache The Silence calling for LGBT-inclusion training at Pepperdine.

Dear Haley & Layana,

You are brave.

Since you stepped forward, a conversation has reignited about homophobia in women's basketball. In the past few years, we have witnessed so much progress in the athletic community related to LGBTQ inclusion. Brittney Griner, Kate Fagan, Nevin Caple and Sherri Murrell are just a few women in the sports world who are visible and participating in bringing change and inclusion for LGBTQ people in athletics. With emerging voices like Sam Sendel, more and more women are finding and creating platforms within this movement.

Amidst this progress, however, we must not forget all that remains. Your story reminds us all of the work that still needs to be done.

I do not pretend to know the depths of your story, but I am intimately familiar with the stifling haze lingering in our sport. Sometimes, as with the narrative you have told, we can name it and hold onto it. Other times, the pressure festers, the insidious fear caging our talents, sneakers, and souls. Since I realized I was gay, basketball has been both a safe haven and a place of difficulty.

Growing up I lived for the court, and as I swapped my boys' And1 gear for more acceptable tight-fitting jeans, the basketball court became the place where I could still be my more-masculine self. That was fine, until one day I realized all of my teammates had started to wear makeup and I was heckled by opponents for my more masculine appearance. Over time, my sanctuary became a place I feared, even after I traded my high-tops for a whistle.

The thing about fear is that it corrodes. It worms within and eats away at us until we are so warped we don't know which way is up.

When I walked away from the game, I turned my back. My brief stint on my college team was one filled with quiet homophobia and communal showers. I didn't feel welcomed and I wasn't on scholarship, so I walked away. As I fell into activism, my love of basketball became a separate part of my identity, something I used to do. I worked for broader equality and broader social justice, all the while paying my roots no mind, even as I donned the whistle and coached younger girls. I didn't know how to coach and be gay. I have said before that I am an ally to the sports equality movement, that this isn't my fight.

I was wrong.

The story you share, the justice for which you are fighting evokes memories of Rene Portland from Penn Statethe struggles shared by Kate Fagan in her memoir, and reflect the challenges faced more recently by Miah Register and Leah Johnson while at the University of Richmond. These stories, however, are merely symptoms of the much harsher reality for women's basketball players and women's athletic participants more broadly.

We may live, play, and coach in the Era of Michael Sam, but women have already seen the Eras of Billi Jean King, Martina Navratilova, Robin Roberts, Seimone Augustus, Nevin Caple, Kate Fagan, Layshia Clarendon, Megan Rapinoe, Abby Wambach, Britney Griner, and so many more. We women have a lot of eras, but despite the fact that women have been coming out and will continue to come out, we have not eradicated the corrosive fear still living and breathing within our sport.

We are quiet - many of us silent - as we go about our business.

I was afraid of the consequences of being an out coach. I am not alone. Your courage, your will to stand up and demand to be counted, may feel isolating as you take the road less traveled. You, however, are also not alone. One of my favorite authors, Thomas King, wrote: "The truth about stories is that's all we are." I hear your story, your pain, your anguish. I pledge not to forget as we progress in the fight for inclusion in athletic communities. I see you and I am holding your story close.

We all are.

Katie Barnes is a contributor to Outsports - you can find more of her powerful contributions here.

Katie is a writer, thinker, and activist. Katie writes about personal experiences and provides cultural analysis,. They have been active in LGBTQ organizing since college, and continue that work through collaborating on special projects with various members and organizations of the LGBT Sports Coalition. Katie is currently finishing their M.S. in Student Affairs in Higher Education at Miami University (OH). Read more of Katie's thoughts on their blog: www.katiebarnes3.wordpress.com. You can follow Katie on Twitter at @katie_barnes3, or email them at Katherine.e.barnes@gmail.com