Joey Bart #67 of the San Francisco Giants poses during the Giants Photo Day on February 21, 2019 in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images) | Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images

We are gay men, lesbians, trans, bisexuals, nonbinary people, people who identify as asexual and poly, along with straight allies, and we have one thing in common — we love baseball.

To that common goal, we have come together to form private LGBTQ Facebook groups, dedicated to 28 of the 30 Major League Baseball teams (the Dodgers and Nationals also have such groups on Facebook, but are independent of our effort).

What really makes these groups great is the combination of the love of baseball and being able to be our authentic selves. Not only do we get to enjoy the game and the on-field heroics, we are able to comment — without fear of trolls — on a player we find hot.

“Good heavens! Joey Bart fills out the road uniform nicely,” one member wrote recently in the “Gay San Francisco Giants” group (1,100 members) about the Giants catcher.

This kind of comment would not only be looked down upon in most other baseball-themed Facebook groups, but might also elicit hate. Heath Augustover, an original member of MetsPride (a gay Mets group I started in 2008), noted the difference.

“The other day when SNY (the Mets broadcasting partner) had a feature on highly regarded prospect Andres Gimenez,” Augustover said. “I posted on their site, ‘All that matters is Gimenez is a cutie.’ It got only one laugh. In our small group, similar people may have similar opinions, so it’s fun to share with similar passioned fans.”

We started small, myself with the Mets group (originally called G-Mets, now called MetsPride) and one dedicated to the San Francisco Giants, along with established groups for the Washington Nationals, Los Angeles Dodgers, Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays. We joined up with Orioles and Rays shortly after establishing the other groups.

I had become friends with Ray Novotny, one of the admins for the Giants groups, and we bonded over yearly get-togethers at ballparks and playing fantasy baseball. Ray I play in a fantasy league named after a friend of his, Dan, a huge Mets fan who died of cancer and in two other leagues, “Queen Beats a Straight” and “Pride League.” The amount of LGBTQ people wanting to play fantasy baseball helped us identify the need for something more.

This year I met Ray for spring training in Phoenix and as gay men we reflected on how great it would be to hang out with more LGBTQ baseball fans.

That night we decided to start an LGBTQ Facebook group for all of the Major League Baseball teams that didn’t already have one. We were anxious to get it started as the season was coming upon us, but then COVID-19 hit. In a strange way, the delay of the season gave us more time to solidify the content and to attract members.

Paul D. Sanders, left, and Ray Novotny at American Family Fields in Phoenix in March for spring training.

From our base of the four teams — all independently formed and moderated — we quickly grew, all set up by fans of each team. The NL West was the first division to have all teams represented and in only two days there was LGBTQ representation for all 30 teams.

Except for the groups already in existence, we purposefully used LGBT in the title of the new groups, because it would be a clear marker for who is welcome and what we are about.

“I felt honored,” said John Hildebrandt, a bisexual Rockies fan who moderates that team’s group. “I’m a huge Rockies fan and it was an honor to be part of a page that’s inclusive to the LGBTQ+ community.”

It was no surprise that some teams have more members than others.

The Dodgers have one of the most successful Pride Nights and the Giants have been supportive in so many ways to the LGBTQ community for decades starting with “Until There Is a Cure” nights for HIV/AIDS charities and filing a friend of the court brief (along with the Tampa Bay Rays) in support of Marriage Equality. Just about every other team has had some celebratory night for our community, some coming on board quicker than others, but all seeing the need for not just support, but also knowing the power of our market.

The response has been good. Some teams have taken off — the Twins, Cards, Brewers, A’s and Phillies all having shown strong growth. Teams such as the Royals, Mariners, Marlins, Rangers, Tigers, Angels and White Sox have been a little slower. Recently, due to some promotion, but also for the hot season they are having, the San Diego Padres quadrupled in attendance.

Ray would love to see more members in the Pirates group, because from the time of being a Dodgers fan in Southern California to moving to San Francisco in 1982, he developed a fondness for Willie Stargell and the “We are Family” Pirates of the late 1970’s. In fact, Ray’s first Giants game was in 1983 at Candlestick Park vs. Pittsburgh, where he rooted against the Giants. After Stargell retired, Ray switched over to the orange and black where he has firmly and loyally been since.

In our groups, a guiding rule is to celebrate our diversity and to be kind. “This means the world to me as I grew up as an Atlanta Braves fan, worked for the Atlanta Braves, and I’m an avid Freddie Freeman fanatic,” said Darius Gilchrist, the moderator for the Atlanta Braves group. “This group was needed, not wanted. You can be who you are while sharing your love for the Braves.”

Darius Gilchrist moderates the Atlanta Braves group.

Some of our moderators are straight allies.

“I’ve seen firsthand how LGBTQ people are treated, both in public and in Facebook groups,” said Jennifer Simpson-Koterbay, one of our two Oakland Athletics moderators, whose mother came out to her and her family when Jennifer was in her 20’s.

“I want a group where people are not called ‘fag’ or say ‘that’s gay.’ I feel that being a mod in this group can help me grow as an ally and be part of an amazing group and of likeminded people. It was my mom who loved baseball and I raised my kids loving baseball.” Other groups moderated by allies are those for the Angels, Indians, Pirates, Reds and Red Sox.

Unlike many other groups, we do allow political conversation and are tolerant of those with different views, if there is respectful dialogue. As LGBTQ people we know what it is like to be pushed aside and shunned, so we strive to not have that in our groups.

We have developed friendships and have grown into a family. Recently one of our members was sick with COVID-19 and the response from the group, especially the mods and admins was of care and concern.

“There are so many different levels of fans,” said Ray, part of a nationally ranked competitive swim team growing up and whose grandfather played in the NFL in the 1930s. “Some are there to be social, some to discuss baseball, some the uniforms.”

There is still work to be done. There is still no out MLB player, and while teams like the Mets promote their LGBTQ community work, they still have Chick-Fil-A on the “fowl poles” — as do many other teams.

MLB has been exemplary in support of Black Lives Matter this season. Let’s hope they continue to walk that walk to all minority groups. Our groups are a good start to that end.

Paul Sanders founded the LGBTQ Facebook group dedicated to the New York Mets. He can be reached via email at [email protected].

Listing of the LGBTQ Major League Baseball Facebook Groups

Arizona Diamondbacks:

Atlanta Braves:

Baltimore Orioles :

Boston Red Sox:

Chicago Cubs:

Chicago White Sox:

Cincinnati Reds:

Cleveland Indians:

Colorado Rockies:

Detroit Tigers:

Houston Astros:

Kansas City Royals:

Los Angeles Angels:

Los Angeles Dodgers:

Miami Marlins:

Milwaukee Brewers:

Minnesota Twins:

New York Mets:

New York Yankees:

Oakland Athletics:

Philadelphia Phillies:

Pittsburgh Pirates:

San Diego Padres:

San Francisco Giants:

Seattle Mariners:

St. Louis Cardinals:

Tampa Bay Rays:

Texas Rangers:

Toronto Blue Jays:

Washington Nationals: