The most interesting thing about Brittney Griner coming out as a lesbian after the WNBA draft was how much of a non-issue it was to Griner herself. When celebrities come out these days, it is almost always a carefully choreographed PR song and dance intended to garner maximum attention while controlling the message from every angle. Magazine covers, talk show appearances, pre-written personal tweets and blog posts. It’s brave, yes. But most celebrities massage the situation to be as lucrative as possible. But Brittney Griner didn’t play into that money-making, news-shaking model at all. She simply acknowledged, quite casually, that yes, she is a lesbian.
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Over the weekend, ESPN added even more interesting tidbits to the story. It turns out Brittney Griner actually came out to her friends and family when she was a freshman in high school. And in fact, when Baylor’s Kim Mulkey went to Griner’s home for her official recruiting visit, Griner came out to her. From an upcoming interview with ESPN The Magazine:
So why was it such big news when Griner came out after the draft? Well, mostly because the Baylor PR machine did its best to keep Griner’s sexuality quiet. Griner told ESPN that not talking about being a lesbian was “more of a unwritten law.” In her early days at Baylor she re-tweeted something gay-oriented and also tweeted about her girlfriend, and someone at Baylor — “in the front office,” Griner said — asked her to take down the tweets.
But here’s where things get fascinating. Griner is out now. She’s one of the highest profile lesbians in the United States, one of the highest profile lesbians in professional sports, and most definitely the highest profile gay graduate of Baylor University. You know, Baylor University, the enormous Baptist college that places “homosexual acts” on its misconduct list and refuses to add sexual orientation to its nondiscrimination policy. The same college that, according to the New York Times, retained a law firm to file a “cease-and-desist order against a group of gay and lesbian alumni using the logo ‘Baylor Bear Pride.'” The same college whose president was one of the lawyers who defended Prop. 8 to the California Supreme Court.
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But Baylor’s in a real pickle now. They need to market Brittney Griner’s connection to the school. She is one of their most successful alumni and they need to play up her Baylor Bear-ness for athletic recruiting and academic recruiting and fundraising and a whole host of other money-making reasons. The message they need to promote is: Baylor University is Brittney Griner. And so an old school Christian college that has tried its hardest to squash any progressiveness off its campus is, in fact, the highest profile lesbian athlete in the world right now.
Emerson Collins, another gay Baylor grad, told the NYT: “Someone always has to be first. And when there’s a great shining beacon who can be respected for who they are in addition to being in the L.G.B.T. community, that can make a big difference. Baylor is going to continue to tout her success in her skill set. There’s so much commercial benefit to Baylor and its national profile. And you can’t separate that from who she is.”
She’s queer, she’s here, and she’s now the face of one of the country’s oldest Baptist universities.