Lesbian basketball players sue Pepperdine University for discrimination

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Haley Videckis and Layana White are students at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, where they met playing on the women’s basketball team. Their relationship has been fraught with challenges, though, as they are now suing the school and their coach, Ryan Weisenberg, for violating their rights to privacy and their rights under Title IX, which prohibits discrimination in federally funded education programs and activities.

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According to Courthouse News Service, Haley and Layana were harassed by Ryan and an academic coordinator named Adi “became obsessed with finding out if [they] were in a lesbian relationship.” From the story:

The couple says that the harassment began when Adi repeatedly pulled each girl into her office and badgered them with questions about their sexual orientation and the sexuality of the other players, if they traveled together and what their sleeping arrangements were. The questions became so persistent that White had to ask Adi several times to stop asking her those types of invasive questions, according to the complaint.

Then this past spring, Coach Weisenberg spoke about lesbianism during a leadership meeting with the team and stated “Lesbianism is not tolerated on this team. Lesbianism is a big concern in women’s basketball.”

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Other players were also asked consistently about Haley and Layana’s relationship, and the harassment continued through the season.

 “Coach Ryan’s comments about lesbians were becoming obsessive and very strange,” the women say in the complaint. “When Haley and Layana heard Coach Ryan’s statement that he was against the lesbian lifestyle within his team, it made them think Coach Ryan would pull their scholarships if he confirmed their relationship. At this point, Layana began to suffer from severe depression.”

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Layana attempted suicide this past September, and after learning of the incident Coach Weisenberg would not allow her to play until she provided him “with the doctor’s notes he wanted from her gynecological exam”an exam with results  that would have nothing to do with her ability to play basketball.

After going to the Athletic Director, team physician and school President, the women’s complaints were reportedly ignored, and both of the women were not allowed to play.

“Coach Ryan refused to help because he believed that the plaintiffs were in a lesbian relationship and, unlike friendship, would by in its inherit nature cause damage to the team,” the complaint says. 

Layana and Haley are seeking “compensatory damages for emotional distress and punitive damages for defendants’ severe and pervasive conduct.”

This morning a Pepperdine rep issued a statement saying:

“We take allegations of this kind very seriously. We conducted an immediate and thorough investigation and found no evidence to support these claims. The University remains committed to a diverse and inclusive environment.”

While Pepperdine is a Christian-based university, Courthourse News Service notes its website claims “to represent many religious backgrounds and students of all races and faiths.” Under Title IX, it would be illegal for them to discriminate based on sex and sexual orientation.

This kind of homophobia against lesbians, or even perceived lesbians, on women’s college basketball teams has been a sad part of the game’s history, with coaches like Rene Portland at Penn State University saying homosexuality was not allowed in her program. She threatened her players’ scholarships and careers, and was ultimately sued by player Jen Harris, who settled out of court with the university. A 2009 documentary, Training Rules, told the story of Rene’s discrimination and the larger problem of homophobia in women’s sports. Rene stepped down in 2007.

Other instances of anti-lesbianism have been well-documented in the past few years. Brittney Griner‘s memoir In My Skin detailed her time spent forced into the closet while playing for Baylor University. Coach Kim Mulkey instructed her to keep quiet about her being gay, despite Brittney’s coming out to her before she graduated high school. Kate Fagan‘s The Reappearing Act discussed her time spent on a team not with homophobic coaches, but peers who were part of the university’s Christian athlete organization.

The Br{ache the Silence campaign is hoping to help create visibility for LGBT women in college and professional sports, and several out coaches and athletes have become part of their videos asking for allies in the movement to rid of homophobia in the game. Players of all sexualities deserve the same safe space, especially in a university environment. The perpetual hate that they have faced (coaches and players alike) is a trend that seemed to be getting better with the likes of Griner speaking out and being one of the WNBA’s biggest stars, as well as an out and proud lesbian. But with cases like Layana and Haley’s, it’s clear that this problem is not lessening in places where the team is led by an administration that looks down on women who do not fit into their idea of what a a lady basketball player should be. 

If it’s true that Coach Weisenberg was seeking a reason to kick the couple off of his team because he couldn’t use their lesbianism as an outright reason, he knew what he was doing was not only wrong, but illegal. That kind of coaching should not be acceptable in any program, from pee-wee sports in youth leagues up through professional ones like the WNBA. The damage done to playersto young womenshould be considered. Their mental health and well being and comfort should be a priority over the wins of a basketball team. A good coach would know that to be key for any successful team; not the percentage of straight women on the roster.

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