Thursday, February 28, 2013

Top Ten Champions of the LGBT Sports Community, 2012

2012 was a significant year for LGBT sports community. Professional athletes, but gay and straight stood up for marriage equality and against homophobia, and some helped knock down stereotypes by proudly coming out of the closet while still participating in the sport they love. Advocacy by athletes took a front row seat at the game, making it easier for LGBTQ youth around the world to have a voice and a role model:

The San Francisco Giants baseball club proudly claimed their seventh World Series title this past October, but the team made history for a different reason. Last year, the Giants became the first professional sports team to participate in Dan Savage's It Gets Better campaign, giving LGBTQ youth a hopeful message against gay bullying and homophobia. The Giants' video message was very well-received by the press and their fans and it got the ball rolling for dozens of teams around North America to do the same.

Hudson Taylor, founder of Athlete Ally, an organization which advocates respect for all individuals involved in sports. Hudson's father taught him a very valuable lesson early on in his life: "Athletes become worthy of the greatest respect not when they win at their sport but when they stand up for the dignity of others and represent something bigger than themselves." Hudson applies that lesson to his work as he travels around the United States speaking with athletes of all ages.

Patrick Burke, co-founder of the You Can Play project has spent most of 2012 zipping around the United States and Canada to speak about homophobia in professional sports. His efforts not only work to eradicate homophobia within the locker room, but on the rink and on the field. In his own words, “Sportsmanship -- it’s treating your teammates, opponents and fans with respect.”

Brendon Ayanbadejo, a linebacker on the NFL's Baltimore Ravens voiced his support for marriage equality when the issue was being put to a ballot initiative in Maryland earlier this year. His response drew strong criticism from Emmett C. Burns, a Maryland State delegate who urged the team's owner (Steve Biscotti) to "inhibit such expressions from your employee." Burns also stated that no other player in the NFL who supported Ayanbadejo. But he was wrong.

Chris Kluwe, a punter with the NFL's Minnesota Vikings challenged Emmett Burns by sending him an open letter which stated, "Your vitriolic hatred and bigotry make me ashamed and disgusted to think that you are in any way responsible for shaping policy at any level." Kluwe's letter called the state delegate out for violating Ayanbadejo's right to free speech, and it also contained such entertaining phrases as "narcissistic fromunda stain" and "mindfuckingly, obscenely hypocritical."

On October 19, 2012, Orlando Cruz faced Jorge Pazos in the boxing ring on a warm October evening in Kissimmee, Florida. Cruz’s mother was in the crowd cheering him on, along with thousands of fans at the arena. Two weeks earlier, Cruz issued a press release announcing he was a “proud gay man”. During a post-fight interview, Cruz told ESPN," I was very happy that they respect me. That's what I want -- them to see me as a boxer, as an athlete and as a man in every sense of the word.” Oh, and he won the fight.

23 Openly Gay Olympians: In July, just five days before the Opening Ceremony at the London 2012 Olympic Games, 11,000 athletes arrived in the foggy city. Their arrival is attributed to a massive influx of new subscribers (and temporary crash) on the social networking smartphone app Grindr. We don’t know how many of the athletes scored, but 10 of the 23 won medals, four of them gold.

In November 2011, professional Rugby player Ben Cohen launched Stand Up Magazine, a national quarterly publication which hopes to showcase “the importance of positive role models, fairness, character and leadership across all levels of sports.” Ben is spreading his message not only through his new magazine, but also through The Ben Cohen Stand Up Foundation which works to fight homophobia and bullying against children.

NFL player Wade Davis was a defensive back for the Tennessee Titans several years ago. At the time, he struggled with his sexual orientation, but kept hidden the fact that he was a gay man playing in professional sports.  Now retired from football, Davis spends his days as a staff member at the Hetrick-Martin Institute, which serves LGBTQ youth in New York City.  He works as the Assistant Director of Job Readiness, preparing teens to go out into the work-force.

Corey Johnson made national news back in 1999 when the linebacker and captain of his high school football team came out of the closet. After moving to New York and co-founding the New York Gay Football League, Johnson became the Board Chair of Manhattan’s Community Board 4 working to better his community. He now has his eye set on politics throwing his in the ring and hoping replace term-limited Christine Quinn on the New York City Council in the 2013 election.