Lindsay Barenz’s first turn in the spotlight came when she led a protest against Yale Law School for allowing military recruiters on its campus, even though the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy violated the school’s non-discrimination policy.
From there, Barenz worked at prestigious law firms, media companies and the White House, where she served as a fellow in the Office of Management and Budget for the Obama Administration.
Now, the out sports executive is all about soccer. It’s not quite as startling of a transition as one may think.
“I think soccer is uniquely positioned to bring about social change and have a social impact,” Barenz told Outsports. “I love working in sports. It’s the perfect job for me.”
As president of the Oakland Roots, who play in the USL Championship, Barenz is responsible for overseeing all of the club’s responsibilities, which don’t stop on the field. In fact, fielding a competitive team is just one aspect of many. Founded in 2018, the Roots are dedicated to fostering an inclusive and equitable community in their home city.
There is a Chief Purpose Officer, who makes sure the team’s values are represented in every aspect of its operation, and a community advisement board comprised of people who represent Oakland’s diversity. Some of the Roots’ signature initiatives include signing onto Common Goal, an anti-racism organization, and reducing their carbon footprint.
“More and more, fans are demanding that their sports organizations operate consistently with their values,” Barenz said. “This notion that you separate the artist from their work or behavior, or the athlete from their work or behavior, we are rejecting that kind of fandom.”
An admitted workaholic, Barenz attributes her relentless ambition to her experience growing up as a queer child in conservative Utah. It taught her to stick to her guns, and dismiss those who are judgmental and unaccepting.
Being queer is as central to her identity as her professional success.
“When I get a cool fellowship in the White House, or get accepted into a fancy law school, or get a total rad job with the Oakland Roots, it’s very important that if people from my hometown are going to celebrate that someone from there is doing something interesting, that they must acknowledge the person they’re celebrating is queer,” she said. “I think that’s very hard for some of them to do, but they don’t get to share in my victory or celebrate me if they’re not going to accept the whole me.”
Barenz came to her queer identity later in life. She strongly identified as a lesbian in her youth — inviting the unfortunate, yet alliterative nickname “Lindsay the lesbian” — and made an effort to dress as stereotypically butch as possible.
“For a long time, my physical appearance was such that when I walked into a room, it was “a lesbian has entered the room,’” she said. “Then I got older, and it was no less an important part of my identity, but it became a smaller percentage of my identity.”
With the idea of gender fluidity gaining more visibility, Barenz says she’s divorced sexual orientation from her gender. Above all else, she is a person.
“I’ve adopted queer, because it’s more all-encompassing,” she said. “To me, it’s a rejection of the hetero-patriarchy, and that’s how I define myself now. I think it’s very Gen Z-friendly.”
Indeed it is. One of Barenz’s central missions in pro sports — she worked for Real Salt Lake, the NWSL and Washington Spirit before coming to the Roots in January — is opening up opportunities for more people than white men, who traditionally dominate front offices.
That starts with hiring different people, like her, to work at the top.
“The one thing we need to acknowledge in business, and sports in particular, is we are not a merit-based system. We are a relationship-based system,” Barenz said. “If we want to have diversity in our ranks, then we need to make sure we’re including within our relationship people of diverse backgrounds. That’s not going to happen without intentional effort.”
Reforming the clubby nature of pro sports is a daunting task. But Barenz has never been one to turn down a challenge.
It’s just not in her nature.
“While I wouldn’t wish a childhood in the 80s and 90s growing up in Utah on a gay kid ever, it definitely created the internal flame and ambition in me to look at obstacles external to myself, and figure out a way to overcome,” she said.