An incident involving a lesbian couple at a Seattle Mariners game Friday night has the team both apologizing to and pointing fingers at the couple. The two women are left wondering why they were told that their basic displays of public affection were deemed inappropriate by the people who complained, including a Mariners staffer.
On Friday, Giuliana Garcia and Calista Nabors attended the Mariners' home game against the Anaheim Angels. Garcia, a San Francisco Giants fan, was there to watch the Angels' new pitcher, Tim Lincecum, a former Giant who lasted three innings that night against some hot Mariners bats.
Sometime around the seventh inning, the couple was on the concourse waiting for friends when they were approached by an usher and told that a complaint had been filed against them; They needed to stop "being affectionate" because this was a "family friendly environment" and their actions were against the park's code of conduct, the women said they were told. That code of conduct bans "displays of affection not appropriate in a public, family setting."
They visited guest services, where the couple said they received an immediate, unequivocal apology. Garcia filed a complaint then posted it on Instagram:
They were told they would receive a phone call from a manager over the weekend. On Monday they received a voicemail from Amy Swisher, senior manager of guest experience, who issued an apology:
"I just want to apologize to you," Swisher said in her voicemail message. "We do have a code of conduct as far as what people are doing in the ballpark, but hugging and embracing is totally fine. And I'm kind of upset with my staff that they made an issue of it. I want you to know that we spoke with [the staff member who reprimanded you], and we've coached her on what violates our code of conduct and what doesn't. She feels bad and I'm just kind of appalled by the whole situation. I'm so sorry for what you guys went through. This is not how we treat people. It goes against our beliefs and the Mariners way, and I am, like I said, very very sorry about it."
Swisher also invited the couple back to a later Mariners game "to make up for it."
After receiving the voicemail, Garcia was pleased with the Mariners' response, even if she was still shaken that someone would complain about two lesbians showing affection. She felt the team was handling the incident well, and that it was an isolated incident. Still, she wanted to speak out about the incident publicly so other teams could get ahead of these kinds of issues and make sure "this doesn't happen to anybody else."
"It should not have happened," she said, "but the way they handled it, I'm very impressed and appreciative with that."
Despite the overt apology by Swisher, and her absolving the couple of any wrongdoing in the voicemail, on Tuesday Mariners spokesperson Rebecca Hale spun a completely different story about what triggered the incident on Friday, telling Outsports that, according to reports, the couple acted inappropriately.
Hale said the usher received two complaints — one of them from a fellow Safeco Field staff member — that the two lesbians were "making out" with one another and should be stopped. Plus, despite Swisher telling the couple that the usher regretted the encounter, Hale told Outsports that the usher's own written statement maintained that the couple was "making out" and that the usher "felt it was not appropriate for the public setting."
When asked about Swisher contacting the lesbian couple and apologizing, Hale dismissed the outreach as protocol.
"We always try to reach out to people who filed a complaint," she told Outsports. Garcia had filed a complaint about the complaint against her.
Garcia was appalled by the new accusations.
"That's not true at all," Garcia said. "They never said that to us. The entire line they've given me is that they recognized we were just embracing and we shouldn't have been approached in the first place. So that's interesting that they have never shared that complaint to me in any correspondence. We would never make out in public. We would never do that in public. It was just a quick kiss."
If this all sounds strangely familiar, it is. In 2008 another lesbian couple accused the Mariners of treating them badly after they kissed one another. Just like with Garcia and her girlfriend, that couple was accused by the team of "making out" despite the women maintaining that they did nothing more than "exchanging pecks" on the lips.
Hale said the team's objection to "displays of affection" comes down to a "reasonable standard" by the observing individual. If the usher receives a complaint, they can reject the complaint, act on it, or if they are unsure ask for the guidance of a more senior official with the team.
"In this case it doesn't appear the seating host went up the food chain based on her believe that this was behavior that was in conflict with code of conduct," Hale said. Again, that is in direct conflict with Garcia's report of what the usher said to her, and Swisher's voicemail.
Helen Carroll, head of the Homophobia in Sports Project of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, isn't remotely surprised that, given the Mariners' vague written policy and Hale's vague guidelines for interpretation, a problem like this would arise.
"It sounds like the Mariners need to do some training so everybody is on the same page," Carroll said. "It shows the team is not on the same page at all, with one person apologizing and the other person accusing. And they have different standards of what is appropriate. It sounds like they have some issues within their own organization.
"They need to really spell out what is appropriate and what is inappropriate. The perception of anyone who isn't used to seeing same-sex couples be affectionate, it's going to take them a minute to take that in."
For example, Carroll said her interpretation could be vastly different from someone else. To Carroll, "unless you're rounding third base," kissing by same-sex couples should be accepted in a ballpark because she's "watched straight people kiss in stadiums so many times."
Garcia and Nabors are now confused as to where they stand with the team. While they thought they had been invited back to Safeco Field for a game, given Hale's comments they now fear they are the targets of accusations of wrongdoing. Either way, they continue to hope that every MLB team, including the Mariners, builds an understanding of public displays of affection between same-sex couples.
Billy Bean, vice-president of social responsibility and inclusion for Major League Baseball, said each team is responsible for its own code of conduct in the league.
"Each and every MLB club is governed and managed individually when it comes to their own stadium protocol," Bean said. "Common sense prevails, as the goal of every venue is to ensure an enjoyable game experience for everyone....so they return."
Hopefully the Mariners can get this cleared up quickly, as the team's LGBT Night is Aug. 19.