The Washington Mystics held their Pride celebrations on Friday, playing host to the visiting Phoenix Mercury, headlined by the team’s star player Brittney Griner, who made her first appearance back on the Mystics home court since her unjust detention in Russia.
While the hype around Griner’s arrival was palpable from the home crowd, another point of focus for the evening centered around the team’s community connection to its local LGBTQ+ supporters, and the responsibility that comes with playing for a city that is often relegated outside of D.C. to a metonym for the very political challenges that necessitate the annual affirmations and activism of Pride Month.
Ahead of the game, a Mystics fan event was held just steps from the arena to welcome BG and the Phoenix Mercury. There was also a tailgate party organized by Team DC., a local LGBT sports charity, with over a hundred members of the queer community and its allies in attendance.
While Griner was ruled out of the game with a hip injury, her arrival on court was met with a standing ovation from the home crowd and effusive hugs from the Mystics lineup.
Brittney Griner received a standing ovation in her first return to D.C. pic.twitter.com/7sphAnF3GM— espnW (@espnW) June 17, 2023
Before the game, Mystics guard Shatori Walker-Kimbrough reflected on the significance of the night’s Pride celebrations to the team, and the mutual support between the players and the queer community of supporters in the District.
“Pride Night is obviously something that represents our league,” she said. “And we represent Pride Night as a whole. We embrace that and what it stands for.
“And so just being able to celebrate that throughout a game – but not just for this game, but you know, through each game. Being able to be ourselves, and just having that support, and providing that support for others as well.”
At the halftime break, the Mystics returned the love to the community. A $10,000 check was written to the LGBTQ+ policy advocacy charity HRC Foundation, as well as a $10,000 joint donation to SMYAL, a local charity supporting LGBTQ+ youth, in addition to the $10,000 towards the DC Center for the LGBT Community made at the beginning of Pride Month, among many other initiatives.
It’s been an important balance, particularly in the nation’s capital, between providing support for local grassroots groups doing the necessary day-to-day work on the ground, and organizations working to advocate for material policy changes at a time when so much legislation is threatening their futures, especially the rights of trans people.
Reactionary and bad-faith discussions in recent years have successfully moved the needle on the support of trans people’s participation in society, turning the sporting world itself into a dubious battleground for the basic inclusion and acceptance of even trans children playing on a team of their same gender. One invaluable ally in this fight has been athletes themselves, many of whom have spoken out about the personal and political implications of these laws.
Just last month in the WNBA, Brittney Griner did not shy away from the fight for trans rights.
“Everyone deserves the right to come here, sit in these seats, and feel safe, and not feel like there’s the threat...Or they can’t be who they are, or like it’s just all eyes on them,” Griner said at a press conference in April. “So, I think it’s a crime, honestly, to separate someone for any reason. So I definitely will be speaking up against that legislation and those laws that are trying to be passed, for sure.”
Leading into the Mystics-Mercury matchup on Friday, Head Coach Eric Thibault also sported a shirt that minced no words on his feelings: “Protect Trans Kids.”
“Pride in DC, it’s a great month,” he said before the game. “We’re sad we weren’t here for the [Pride] parade, I think it was when we were out in Seattle, but it means a lot to have a full house. It’s a special night obviously with Phoenix here, BG here.”
After the game – a definitive 88-69 win for the home team – Elena Delle Donne reflected not only on what it meant to be back on the court with BG on Pride Night, but the enormous significance of her place in the league as an openly gay athlete and a role model.
“Pride Night means so much to me. It’s about acceptance and just loving the person next to you, and celebrating all of our differences,” she told Outsports. “I love this night.
“BG inspired me, when I came into this league, to be myself. She was a big part of the BETRUE campaign that started with Nike, and I remember looking and being like, gosh, I wish I could be that brave to be myself.
“So, to have Pride Night, to have BG back, it brings back a lot of feelings.”
The BETRUE line debuted in 2013, shortly after Griner became the first athlete to sign a new deal with Nike after publicly coming out as gay. Former WNBA star Sheryl Swoops was also signed with Nike when she came out publicly back in 2006, after which the company continued their relationship with her.
Just two years into Griner’s high-profile sponsorship, Delle Donne would join her in coming out publicly with her engagement to her wife Amanda Clifton. And decades on from breaking in her first pair of Sheryl Swoopes Nikes, Delle Donne also debuted her own ‘Be True’ pair of signature sneakers celebrating the LGBTQ+ community, which she wore on Friday.
Like those who came out before her, Delle Donne in turn has already had a massive influence in shaping the way other LGBTQ+ athletes have come up in basketball and beyond. Last year, Susie Poore wrote a letter in Outsports dedicated to EDD as a role model for herself as a young lesbian athlete.
It’s not only the visibility that matters, but the solidarity and strength in numbers that accompanies it. And with the spotlight briefly shining a little brighter on the Mystics at their Pride celebration, the team has stepped up as a collective in affirming that their community’s support is mutual.