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Sports built a bridge between this out quarterback and her family

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Sami Grisafe is a pioneer for women and LGBTQ athletes.

Sami Grisafe was the first girl to play quarterback in a game for a Division I high school in California. She played for Team USA for years.
SamiGrisafe.com

“Honey, we kind of figured.”

That was my mom’s response to my intoxicated purge of information that had been classified, or at least I thought it was, for 21 years. It was late on May 26, 2006, during karaoke in a dive bar in my hometown, when I told my parents I was a lesbian.

They weren’t surprised.

I have been an athlete my entire life. Before diving into sports, however, I gave one year of my adolescence to Daisies, the pre-curser to Girl Scouts. After I was ostracized for not bringing a “cool” snack (my personal favorite was homemade yogurt and graham-cracker-dipped frozen bananas), and failing to shine in tea parties and fingernail painting, I decided it was time to get out.

I begged my mom to let me try T-ball. She complied and I was hooked, beginning my long athletic career: baseball, football, volleyball, softball, basketball, even a short stint at water polo (short, because I was better at eating snacks and writing raps on the bus ride to the game than I was at treading water).

I didn’t come out in high school. Though, having talked to some of my classmates since, they weren’t shocked I was gay either.

I was the first girl in California to play quarterback in a varsity division 1 high school football game. This was a time before YouTube and mass visibility for the LGBTQA community. I endured several tongue-in-cheek questions from my peers about crushes, and while I thought I was fooling them, my love for football somehow hinted for them at my love for women.

This is not to say that all female athletes are gay, but there are a lot of us. That became more apparent when I began my professional football career for the Chicago Force Women’s Tackle Football Team.

There is a double standard for lesbian athletes and gay-male athletes. Most people are not surprised when they find out a female athlete is also a lesbian, whereas a male athlete who is gay is headline-worthy news. One might equate it to nobody blinking a fake eyelash when discovering a male musical-theatre actor has a boyfriend. Since I am a graduate of a four-year theatre conservatory, I can confirm there is certainly a lot of that.

So when I went to my first football practice with the Chicago Force, there really was no need to come out. The culture was kind of “lesbian until proven otherwise.”

The only publication that frequently wrote about us was the Windy City Times, a weekly LGBTQA newspaper. The Chicago Force had a float in the Chicago Pride parade for several years.

The majority of our team was lesbian or bi, and we were embraced by the gay community. Hell, we were a major chunk of the gay community.

Sami Grisafe once sang the National Anthem before she played in (and won) the gold medal game of the women’s football World Championships.
SamiGrisafe.com

As a result of this inclusive environment, I can say that I have no “big reveal” coming out story. I’m grateful for that. Billie Jean King not only made big strides for all women in athletics, but for lesbian athletes as well. Not to mention the generations of LGBTQA men and women who fought tirelessly for our community to be seen, heard, and treated equally. I wish I could say a personal “thank you” to each and every one of them.

That being said, I also know the darkness on the other side of the closet door. I’ve been kicked out of cabs in major cities for having my arm around my girlfriend in the backseat (before Uber and Lyft). I’ve had extended family members temporarily disown me. I’ve had slurs shouted at me from car windows while I held my girlfriend’s hand on street corners. It hasn’t all been peaches and cream (insert smirky face here).

Yet overall, I’d say I’ve had more positive experiences as a lesbian than negative.

My favorite story though is less about me as an individual and more about how the loss of a big game triggered the collision of my fairly conservative parents and the Chicago LGBTQA community.

My parents came out to Chicago to support me in the Independent Women’s Football League’s 2008 National Championship. We lost the championship in overtime, which meant my need for a “Sunday Funday” the next afternoon was bigger than usual.

I took my parents to one of my favorite gay bars in the country, Sidetrack. I threw my parents into the deep end of my gay life with no floaties. I could feel my father’s uneasiness slowly disintegrate as we made our way up the stairs to the rooftop.

“It’s so clean in here,” he said. “Like a nice hotel in Vegas.”

I couldn’t contain my laugh.

“What were you expecting?” I asked. “A sex dungeon?” Then... Wait, don’t answer that.”

We spent the afternoon hanging with my friends, the majority of whom were gay men. After an hour and a couple cocktails, you would’ve thought my parents were card-carrying members of PFLAG. A few hours later and my folks were hugging my gay buddies and offering solace in response to their not-so-wonderful coming out stories. I had to literally grab my parents by the arms to drag them from the bar so we could make our dinner reservation on time.

When we got home my mom and dad told me how comforting it was to know that their daughter was part of such a loving community, a community that is so kind and supportive.

“If only everyone treated each other the way the people in the LGBTQA community treat each other,” one of them said, “the world would be a better place.”

Ever since then my parents have been allies of our community. They speak up when anyone says unsavory things about a person because of their sexual orientation. They gave me a celebratory call when marriage equality passed. They love being an “A” in our community’s very long (ever growing) acronym.

I’m retired from football now, but I continue my career as an entertainer. Every night on stage I see how art also builds a bridge. Sports and art celebrate our differences and remind us that diversity is a gift. They both tug at our heart strings, inspire us, and bring us together.

Athletics were the invisible bridge for my coming out and ultimately the bridge for my parents to not only understand me better, but to comfort others who didn’t get the “honey, we kind of figured” response from their families.

Now if the world could just see we’re only a heart-to-heart on a rooftop away from better understanding and embracing our differences.

Sami Grisafe is now a musician living in Los Angeles. You can find her on Instagram and at her Web site, SamiGrisafe.com.

She has a free show in Los Angeles Thursday, April 19, at 8pm at Lucky Strike Live. Check it out!