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How support from gay softball teammates carried Gerald Bostock through historic Supreme Court win

Bostock was fired from his dream job for playing in a gay softball league, but says he wouldn't change anything for the world.

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Gerald Bostock says support from his gay softball league helped carry him through his landmark seven-year legal fight for equality.
Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

Gerald Bostock’s arduous legal fight that culminated in the Supreme Court issuing its landmark ruling on LGBTQ workplace-discrimination was seldom easy. The seven-year journey included setbacks, outrages, and most painfully, the loss of friendships. Throughout the painstaking process, Bostock relied on his support system to keep him going, and his peers from the Hotlanta Softball League were with him every step of the way.

Without their support, Bostock says he wouldn’t have made it.

The Supreme Court decided three LGBTQ workplace-discrimination suits Monday in favor of the plaintiffs, barring employment discrimination against LGBTQ people. It is now illegal in every state to be fired for your sexual orientation or gender identity. Previously, it was still possible to be fired for being LGBTQ in nearly 30 states.

Bostock experienced that first-hand in 2013, when he was dismissed from his dream job as a child welfare services coordinator in Clayton County, Ga., for “conduct unbecoming of a Clayton County employee.” In reality, the vague phrasing meant Bostock was fired for being gay.

That year, Bostock joined Atlanta’s LGBTQ softball league. Recovering from prostate cancer, he wanted to prove to himself he could still be physically active, and meet more people in our community. Previously, Bostock, who came out in 1994, played in a local Chamber of Commerce softball league. But he says the camaraderie between the two can’t be compared.

“For most people, having a social circle and a sense of belonging and participating with people whether it’s softball or whether it’s playing a game of checkers or chess or video games, or whatever it is, we are all social in nature,” Bostock told me on this week’s edition of “The Sports Kiki” podcast. “With my personality, I enjoy being around other people. I enjoy sports. So for me, it was just a natural connection.”

Bostock says he never thought twice about joining a gay softball league. He even encouraged teammates to volunteer for the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Program in Clayton County, which he led. But in short time, Bostock started being subjected to derogatory comments at work, and was suddenly accused of mismanaging program funds. The allegations were a complete shock, Bostock writes in an Out Magazine essay, because he never broke any rules as an employee.

On June 3, 2013, Bostock found out his access card had been revoked. Seven years later, the Supreme Court ruled in his favor, alongside his co-plaintiff, Donald Zarda, a former New York sky diving instructor. Zarda passed away in 2014 in a base jumping accident. A second lawsuit involving a Michigan transgender woman, Aimee Stephens, was also part of the Supreme Court ruling.

Stephens died on May 12 — roughly one month before the historic ruling.

“I truly don’t feel like I’m standing here by myself,” Bostock said. “I truly feel the spirit of Aimee Stephens, as well as the spirit of Don Zarda. All three of us share in this victory, and now we’re family. And we share in this victory as a community across this country.”

Over the last seven years, Bostock continually felt the spirit, and support, of his softball peers — and gay softball players from all over the country. Even though joining the Hotlanta Softball League resulted in his unjust firing, Bostock says he wouldn’t change a single thing about his story.

“That decision most definitely impacted my entire life, and my entire life changed the moment I did join. But that’s why I said I wouldn’t trade that for the world,” he explained. “Not only did it help me physically and mentally, but the relationships that I formed during my time with the — the friendships — and most of which I consider brothers and sisters. They’re like family to me.”

Being a good teammate is all about having each other’s backs. During this time, Bostock learned who his true friends are.

“I can’t lie. I have lost friends,” he said. “But that told me is, they probably weren’t my friends in the first place. If anyone doubted me, I have done nothing wrong. Obviously, they don’t know me as well as they thought they did, and I didn’t know them as well as I thought I did. Fortunately, the scales tipped more the other way.”

With the Supreme Court now on his side, Bostock says he’ll resume his case against Clayton County. But most of all, he wants to keep fighting for equality. Recent events have shown us the work is far from finished.

“I want to lend my voice to efforts to end all inequality, and really continue to push equality forward,” he said. “Here in Georgia, we don’t even have a hate crime law yet. We need those things. There’s a lot of work to be done, and this journey for me has not ended yet. We’ve just started a new chapter.”

Click here to check out this week’s edition of “The Sports Kiki Podcast”. You can also subscribe to the show on Apple’s Podcast page as well as on Google Podcasts, and wherever you’ll find Outsports podcasts.