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What the results of Election Day could mean for LGBTQ sports

In his first speech as president-elect, Joe Biden talked about gay and transgender Americans.

President-Elect Joe Biden And Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris Address The Nation After Election Win
President-elect Joe Biden addresses the nation from the Chase Center November 07, 2020 in Wilmington, Del.
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

“I’m proud of the coalition we put together,” President-elect Joe Biden told supporters at a victory rally Saturday night in Wilmington, Del., nine hours after receiving 270 electoral votes and being declared by national news outlets the winner of the 2020 Election.

In his very first address as president-elect, Biden talked about his hopes to heal a divided America, and name-tagged a variety of groups that he called “the broadest and most diverse coalition in history,” from Democrats to conservatives. And then he said three words never before spoken by the next president of these United States on the night of his election:

“Gay. Straight. Transgender.”

Hearing the president-elect include at least two LGBTQ identities in a speech of this consequence was a powerful moment for me, and for many of those in my queer social media circle, as well as for my many straight allies. And, yes, of course, it’s disappointing that he didn’t mention lesbians, bisexuals, and other identities as well.

But Biden wasn’t done. I believe this next statement bodes well for what the Biden administration will do to support not only the LGBTQ community, but specifically out athletes, coaches and sports personnel:

“Too many dreams have been deferred for too long,” Biden went on to say. “We must make the promise of this country real for everybody, no matter their race, their ethnicity, their faith, their identity, or their disability.”

Does “identity” include “orientation”? I believe it does. We shall see; what matters is that this is another signal that the 2020 Election could be a gamechanger.

Expanding upon ideas first suggested by football reporter Tom Schad of USA Today, here are 5 ways that I think Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, the president’s cabinet to come and newly elected members of Congress could impact the lives of openly gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning people in the sports community.

1. Fighting Covid-19, Protecting Athletes

The United States is on the verge of a terrible toll: almost 10-million Americans are infected with the coronavirus and nearly 239-million are dead. And as we’ve seen, even the healthiest athletes are not immune. And canceling sports programs on account of the pandemic has had devastating effects on LGBTQ athletes.

President-elect Biden has promised to announce on Monday the formation of a task force to address the pandemic. How the Biden administration responds to this national crisis, in coordination with the U.S. Senate, will be pivotal for both college and high school athletic programs as well as pro sports leagues such as the NBA, WNBA, NHL, MLB as well as soccer and other pro sports leagues, all of which hope to welcome back fans to stadiums and arenas in 2021.

What will Biden do? For starters, Biden vowed on the campaign trail to push for more Americans to wear masks. “First, I’ll go to every governor and urge them to mandate mask wearing in their states, and, if they refuse, I’ll go to the mayors and county executives and get local mask requirements in place nationwide,” Biden said.

He’s also planning to push for more access to free and fast coronavirus tests, which should include colleges, universities and the nation’s schools. “We should be investigating a great deal more money in testing and tracing,” he told CBS News last month. “It’s not enough to know in seven days or five days or three days whether or not you have Covid.”

Biden has also said he’ll rely on scientists to verify that vaccines under development are safe before they are made publicly available. And while much has been made during the campaign of Biden’s remarks about another lockdown, what he said was that he’d only do so if scientists told him it was necessary.

2. Interpreting Title IX

The loss by President Donald Trump means that both Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Attorney General Bill Barr will be out of a job come Jan. 20, if they don’t resign or are fired before then. Both DeVos and Barr have actively worked to discriminate against transgender student-athletes, using an interpretation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972:

“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

And until Jan. 20, the Departments of Education and Justice will continue to argue that allowing transgender girls to compete with cisgender girls in school sports violates the rights of the cis student-athletes. The DOE forced Franklin Pierce University — which produced the first trans track and field NCAA champion, CeCé Telferto rescind its trans participation policy by threatening its federal funding. The DOE has also threatened Connecticut schools, but Gov. Ned Lamont told DeVos to “butt out.”

Barr, through federal court filings by the DOJ supporting the Alliance Defending Freedom, a religious extremist hate group, interpreted Title IX as saying trans girls are not girls; they are “biological males” who “publicly identify as female.”

However, several federal court rulings say Title IX protects trans students. A potentially related Supreme Court decision guaranteeing the civil rights of transgender Americans this summer may also factor in future decisions.

Not only did Biden promise in his campaign platform, on his first day in office, to “restore transgender students’ access to sports... in accordance with their gender identity,” he told the mother of a trans child at a televised town hall last month: “I will flat out change the law,” as the Washington Blade reported. The president-elect has also vowed to sign the Equality Act, which expand anti-LGBTQ non-discrimination protections under federal law, within the first 100 days of his administration. That bill has only passed the House and sat idle in the Republican-controlled Senate, with no sign it will ever reach the president’s desk. However, should the Democrats regain control of the Senate following two run-off elections in Georgia on Jan. 5, 2021, that could of course change.

As far as other LGBTQ issues, Biden has pledged to reverse President Trump’s ban on military service by trans troops, as Politico reported, and on his campaign site vows to work with Congress to fight for adoption rights, equal access to healthcare and to take action to end the epidemic of violence that has especially targeted trans women of color.

Biden has also pledged to reverse a decision by the Department of Education on how sexual assault allegations on college campuses are handled. The Trump administration loosened rules that once required colleges and universities to report all allegations to the Title IX office. Right now, school officials have more leeway in deciding whether to report certain employees, such as coaches, or just look the other way.

We can expect the new secretaries of education and the next attorney general to take immediate action to reverse these policies and interpret Title IX in support of trans student-athletes and the victims of sexual abuse, which have included gays, lesbians, bisexual, trans, gender non-conforming and other queer-identified students.

3. Will We See A College Athletes’ Bill of Rights?

Will college athletes be given the opportunity to profit from their name, their image and likeness, as pro athletes do? As Schad points out, this is more likely something the House and Senate will decide rather than the president-elect. But Democrats who by and large favor NCAA reform have an ally in now former Sen. Kamala Harris, the VP-elect. She has been an outspoken supporter of a “bill of rights” for college athletes, which would provide other benefits for student-athletes beyond their name and image. In addition, voters elected new queer members of Congress and state legislatures this cycle. But it’s important to note, for the most part. GOP senators are not onboard.

As Outsports has reported throughout its 21-year history, the college years provide a crucial experience in the lives of countless closeted athletes. Any move that would allow them to further benefit and see that living authentically won’t hamper their future success — a common but generally unfounded fear — would be a plus. Imagine the ramifications of an endorsement for an out gay college athlete, and the impact it would have on both younger players and closeted pros!

4. A Better Chance Megan Rapinoe Will Visit the White House

In June 2019, Megan Rapinoe, the out lesbian co-captain of the U.S Women’s soccer team, angered President Trump by telling 8by8mag.com: “I’m not going to the fucking White House” if her team wins the Women’s World Cup. Which they did.

“No fuckin’ way will we be invited to the White House,” she added. “[Trump] tries to avoid inviting a team that might decline. Or, like he did when the Warriors turned him down, he’ll claim they hadn’t been invited in the first place.”

Now, this is hardly as crucial as battling the coronavirus, but hear me out: The next Women’s World Cup is in 2023. My thinking is, if Rapinoe, now 35, plays again, the USWNT will hopefully win again, Biden will invite the team to the White House following another ticker tape parade... provided, of course, we can have parades again by 2023.

Those athletes who have paid 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue a visit since 2017 are profiled in No Losers Allowed, an excellent report in Sports Illustrated. Prior to the pandemic, Trump did not host a single championship team from the NBA or WNBA at the White House. That’s because the last three years have been a tit-for-tat series of rescinded and declined invitations. The most notable exception was in 2019, when Trump did host a college women’s basketball team, the Baylor University Lady Bears, a school infamous for its anti-LGBTQ policies.

Just as a matter of record, as The New York Times reported, the NCAA champions at the University of Virginia turned down President Trump’s invitation last year; in 2018, Trump canceled an invitation to host the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles, after players commented on the president’s criticism of athletes who knelt during the national anthem. And so on and so on. Hopefully, this will all just be a memory in the coming years.

5. A Sports Tradition Will Likely Resume, But Will Biden Attend Pride Night?

On Saturday, the Washington Nationals invited President-elect Biden to throw out the ceremonial first pitch on Opening Day 2021. As Yahoo reported, President Trump was the first president since Jimmy Carter and only the second president in a century to never take part in this tradition, begun by President Howard Taft in 1910.

Joe Biden has experience with this tradition, having thrown out the first pitch at Camden Yards in 2009, when he was vice president. This past season, Dr. Anthony Fauci was honored by the Nationals; His effort, shall we say, was more than a little off target. Fauci’s errant throw far from home plate prompted criticism by Trump, who invented an invitation by the New York Yankees that never materialized. The last time the president threw out a pitch was at a 2004 minor league baseball game, 16-years before winning the White House.

Opening Day is cool. But one thing no president has ever done is attend a Pride Night. Imagine the message that would send to MLB and beyond! Could Joe Biden, who has been an advocate for same-sex marriage and transgender rights for almost a decade, be that leader?

One thing is certain: the president-elect is unlikely to take an adversarial position as has his predecessor when it comes to the NFL and other sports leagues.

“It will be nice as a sports fan — and also as somebody that follows the business of sports — to have less acrimony between government and sports,” Patrick Rishe, a sports business professor at Washington University in St. Louis, told Schad.

Maybe, just maybe, the sports world can be another divided area where healing is possible.