Danielle Cortez quit before she could get rejected. After transitioning, the MLB photographer briefly left her dream job in her home city, because she didn’t think an openly transgender person could work at the ballpark.
She returned a couple of months later, coming out to her boss in the process. But Cortez was still unsure how she would be received at Chase Field, where the Arizona Diamondbacks play their home games. Then she had a conversation with a trusted colleague, and suddenly, could exhale.
One year later, Cortez threw out the first pitch at Diamondbacks Pride Night. It was a triumphant moment. Cortez wasn’t only being embraced at the place that’s served as her emotional refuge.
She was center stage.
“Friday was so surreal,” Cortez told Outsports in an email. “Two years ago, I remember working Pride Night and being so hurt that I wasn’t to a point, personally, that I could celebrate out loud. And now, to be recognized and celebrated by the team I grew up obsessing over was something truly special.”
Cortez told her coming out story to Zach Buchanan of The Athletic, detailing her struggles with gender dysphoria since she was nine years old. Her anxiety kept building for two decades, causing her to stop playing baseball as a teenager.
But she always felt at ease inside of Chase Field. As a college student, Cortez applied for a social media internship with her beloved Diamondbacks, at the behest of a professor, Josh Rawitch, who’s also the team’s vice president of communications.
For the last six years, Cortez has worked as a “live content creator” for MLB, shooting photos and video during every Diamondbacks home game. At first, she tried to live two separate lives, but couldn’t suppress her inner-anguish. The breaking point came while she was driving to a Spring Training game in 2017.
Cortez experienced a panic attack behind the wheel. At that moment, she decided she would come out in two years’ time. She began counseling, and in August 2019, started hormone replacement therapy.
When the 2019 season ended, Cortez thought she would never return to Chase Field. But she did, sitting inside Chase Field for the first time as herself to watch summer workouts one day last July. Media relations director Casey Wilcox was the first person who approached her, and quelled her nerves with four simple words: “We love you here.”
The Diamondbacks have matched Wilcox’s words with action. In a phone conversation with Rawitch, Cortez remarked she dehydrated herself at work, because she didn’t want to choose which bathroom to use.
By the end of the day, Chase Field had gender-neutral restrooms.
Post-transition, the ballpark remains a safe space for Cortez, just like it’s always been. She participates in the Diamondbacks’ employee group dedicated to LGBTQ issues, which is how she first met Billy Bean, MLB’s inclusion ambassador.
On Friday night, Bean was crouched behind home plate, awaiting Cortez’s pitch.
“At the end of the day, it’s not about me,” Cortez said. “It’s about showing anybody watching that they belong, not just in baseball, they belong anywhere and everywhere, no matter who they are or who they love. And that is so incredibly important to me.”
You can follow Danielle Cortez on Twitter here.