Editor's Note: This high school football official in Louisiana contacted Outsports several weeks ago after Cyd Zeigler created a Facebook post about LGBT inclusion in his Los Angeles football officials unit. Outsports encouraged the official to share his unique perspective and has agreed to allow it anonymously, given the likelihood of retaliation from other officials and possibly his assignor. Outsports has privately confirmed the official's identity.
The language included in this story is graphic.
By an Anonymous Gay High School Football Official in Louisiana
For as long as I can remember I had always wanted to be a referee. I have no idea why, I just did. When I turned 13, I started refereeing league basketball games. At 15 I started umpiring baseball. I loved it, making money and having fun. When I graduated high school I was finally able to start officiating high school games, and have been doing so for the last 12 years.
I started officiating football just as I was starting college. Being able to officiate a game then head over to Hooters with my fellow officials afterward is just a fun time to get away from regular life. When we get to Hooters the guys tease me because I am usually the youngest, so I am expected to try to get the waitress' number. I always laugh it off, not because I have a girlfriend, but because I am gay. It's a secret I've been careful to keep from everyone at that table.
Being gay in the Bible Belt has been rough for me, even more so since I'm as deep in the South as you can get. Rural southern Louisiana is somewhere you don't want to be known as being gay. You will be treated like a third-class citizen because people think there is something wrong with being gay. So it came as no shock to me when I started officiating that I would hear gay slurs from fans and other officials, even though no one knew my secret.
One of my first years as an official I was on a football playoff crew headed to northwest Louisiana for a game, a four-hour drive away. Somehow the conversation in the van turned to gay rights. I had to listen to the guys rant and rave about how it is an abomination.
"Fags are what's wrong with this country."
"I don't see what's so desirable about a man's ass."
"How can a real man not want to be with a beautiful babe?"
"There is something wrong with them, probably was abused growing up."
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I bit my tongue sooooo hard that I could put a tongue ring in it just from listening to these guys. They are supposed to be the people I trust on the field, yet here they were unknowingly degrading me just because they weren't born gay. It just pushed me even further in the closet.
It's hit me over the years that just the perception of being gay can be career-ending for a football official in my area. It seems no one wants to associate with a gay guy or be anywhere around one. Because there aren't any laws in place barring employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, there is nothing stopping it, especially for independent contractors like high school football officials.
During the fall I work a Saturday youth football league. There was a Saturday a few years back that I will never forget. I was talking with a friend of mine at halftime about an official whom parents had complained about. One parent supposedly saw the guy kissing another guy as he got out of his car, so she got all the parents in the stands in a fit because there was a "pedophile" on the field that was going to "touch the little boys so he could get off to them at night." The commissioner asked the assignor not to bring him back.
Not long after that someone showed up at one of the youth games handing out bumper stickers that said, "Fags = sex offenders." When he offered one to me I declined. He mumbled something about political correctness and I went on my way.
Usually you can go to the association's board of directors or to the assignment secretary when there's a problem. In my cases it would be utterly futile because even the board and assignment secretary use gay slurs openly. That's just how some people down here have been raised. They think of gays as weak individuals who are perverted and messed up in the head.
A few years back, there was an official in our association who had a very high-pitched voice, so naturally (according to most of the guys) he had to be gay. One night at halftime during a game my partners were discussing him and how no one wanted to work with him.
"I sure as hell don't want to work with that fag," one of them said. "Hell I don't even want to be around him. All that gay shit, I don't want any of that rubbing off on me, and I sure as hell don't want to be seen around him. Be all I need, people thinking I like the Hershey road too just because I was working a game with him."
It was not just that one guy's opinion. He spoke for the rest of the crew.
One night we met up with the crew the high-pitched guy had been working with, and his head referee was extremely livid.
"That cocksucker will never work with me again," the white hat said. "His fucking gay ass did nothing but give us problems. That little cocksucker even had the audacity to tell me that I missed a call! I told him that he could go fuck himself, because I'm sure he has his own dildo to do it with."
Men are not the only officials who are the subject of these slurs. Female officials are as well, because of the stereotype that all women who aren't with a guy, or who look more masculine, are lesbians. Even though I have not worked with a female official in football, I have in other sports and have heard other officials speculating about their sexuality.
With female officials in basketball, I have seen them both get games and lose games because of their perceived sexuality. If it is expected to be a rough game, they may send someone they think is a lesbian or looks butch to work it because of their perceived "manliness." I have actually seen a female official who was perceived to be a lesbian swapped out from a game in a tournament. The coach claimed she cost them a game earlier in the season, but I learned later in the hospitality room that they didn't want her officiating their game because some of the parents perceived her to be a lesbian.
"Being a Christian school, we don't agree with that lifestyle," the coach told me.
I wish I could say I haven't had any "close calls," because I have. A few years back I was working a game, and as my crew was leaving someone called out my name. I looked over and saw a guy I had met at a gay club waving at me from the stands. I was frozen with horror. I waved back and rushed my crew partners to the car. I lied and said I had graduated high school with him.
After that happened I didn't go out to clubs or meet guys for a few months because I was afraid someone else would see me.
If I didn't have such a strong passion for officiating I would have quit years ago. It has become a passion, something I always look forward to every fall. I learned a long time ago, a very important part of officiating is having the ability to block out negative comments. So I did, until I realized other gay officials might not be able to block these comments out like I have. So I decided to come forward here with the hope that my story may help to bring attention to this problem that no one wants to talk about.
My hope is that the Louisiana High School Athletic Association would add training on the impact of homophobia in sports to the mandatory rules clinic that officials and coaches have to attend every year. Being a native Louisianan, I know how hard it is going to be for some to accept, but it is a good way to start.
I have thought about leaving Louisiana many times, but various things have kept me here, from family to work. It always seems as if I'm just not meant to leave. Now that we have marriage equality, I know things will continue to change. I know people will become more accepting. I've even started coming out to close friends and family members.
I know when I do come out completely I won't have to spend my time trying to hide my sexuality. I can instead use that energy to help make myself a better official. But until this homophobia is dealt with out in the open, Louisiana high school officiating will never get better.