There was a time, summer of 2021, where it looked like sports were turning a corner when it came to LGBTQ inclusion.
We had players stepping forward to affirm their support for their club’s LGBTQ fans, and a few souls even step into their truth themselves. It was the summer of Carl Nassib coming out and of the Tokyo Olympics being a celebration of LGBTQ sporting excellence. Inclusion was on a winning streak.
As we push through the second month of 2023, we’ve hit a slump.
From locker rooms in the NHL, to sports boardrooms, to state and national legislatures, inclusion seems conditional at best, and unwanted at worst. In the last week, the NHL’s commissioner Gary Bettman stated that it’s on me and mine to “respect individual choice and respect part of being diverse and welcoming is understanding those differences.”
In short, “Enjoy what we give you, or count on getting less” or, as Ivan Provorov of the Philadelphia Flyers and the New York Rangers have shown, count on getting none. This attitude seeps into the sudden u-turns by sports organizations and government being driven by hysteria that breeds the conviction that the movie “Minority Report” was a documentary.
All of these things are linked.
The idea of players opting out of a gesture, the rainbow patch or a swath on a jersey, as a sign that LGBTQ fans are welcome in the seats are connected to governing bodies saying “tic-toc game’s locked” to a transgender person based solely on a specter of one athlete who is seen as a threat without any proof that they would be.
Bettman’s statement held an undertone that a fan like me or an openly gay player like Luke Prokop, for example, can come in but how safe you are isn’t our concern.
It struck me as a way to say “we’ve gone as far as we want to go”.
Elsewhere, I’m seeing this undertone play up as more governing bodies give more credence to a voices selling unfounded fears of trans woman “dominating” sport. It’s been a rolling constant since swimming’s worldwide total ban on transgender women competing and the UCI, cycling’s world governing body, tightening regulations to a point that would make the entry trans women nearly prohibitive.
Last week, Ironman announced a policy that would mirror World Triathlon’s policy change they set last summer, which also followed much of what UCI did. They called for similar testosterone restrictions, but also added stipulations saying that a trans woman could not have been a competitor as a male in swimming, cycling, running/track and field or cross-country skiing at any time in the last four years, or they would be subject to a four-year moratorium where they must compete in a nearly formed “open” division prior to consideration to compete as a woman.
Multievent athlete Chris Mosier, who is trans, termed the action not as the compromise some lauded but as a ban by other means. “It’s not a forever ban, but it is a four-year ban,” Mosier siad via Twitter. “This policy creates a huge barrier for athletes looking to participate who are understanding themselves as they are participating in sport, just like I was when I started. In fact, triathlon was integral in my process of understanding myself as a transgender person.”
Think about what Mosier’s saying in light of the stampede of anti-LGBTQ legislation, mainly targeted at transgender youth, across the country. In the current state legislative sessions nationwide, 301 anti-LGBTQ bills have been filed and debated across 17 states. A third of those directly deal with keeping transgender students out of scholastic and intercollegiate athletics.
Earlier this week one of those states, Virginia, pushed a proposed ban through from it’s House of Delegates to the Virginia Senate, calling it a ‘protect women’s sports” measure. The state lone transgender elected official, Delegate Danica Roem, called out the bill’s true intent.
“If we want to support female athletes show up for their games. Fight for equal pay for them,” she stated on the floor of the House of Delegates. “But at the same time to beat up on trans kids because nine trans kids last year wanted to play sports we’re going to affect a policy for more than 1.2 million students?”
I share the delegate’s frustration on that issue. I’m frustrated with all of what we’ve seen in the last few weeks. I wrote about this not long after a few Tampa Bay Rays spouted their objection to a rainbow patch on the jersey last June.
The retrenchment has grown since then, and it makes me groan in disbelief.
What does a Pride Night or a Pride Game mean to me? It’s a simple acknowledgement that I’m welcome to be in that seat and root for that team and enjoy this sport. It is exactly as a certain Gary Bettman stated when Luke Prokop announced his coming out, “LGBTQ players coaches and staff can perform at their absolute best if they live their lives as their full and true selves.”
It’s the same acknowledgement that having a governing body that would talk to people like me and get our perspectives and use those to build inclusive sports policy is a sign that I am welcome to take the field fully and authentically. I see the continued push away from inclusive policy based on fear that some future Lia Thomas will rise out of the depth and “destroy women’s sports” as a sign that “trans need not apply”.
Two years ago, I saw a signs of change for the better at the highest levels of sports. It’s disappointing to see big league organizations acting and thinking small now.