If you’ve ever been to a WNBA game, you know that lesbians are a clear part of the league’s fan base. It doesn’t matter what city you’re in, as I’ve been to games in Detroit, Chicago and L.A. — it’s clearly a sporting event that has the support of gay women.
This past month marked the first time ever the WNBA celebrated Pride, publicly acknowledging LGBT fans with Twitter Q&As and video interviews with out players like Brittney Griner and Seimone Augustus as well as offering up a WNBA Pride T-shirt.
Last night the L.A. Sparks hosted the Chicago Sky at the Staples Center and Melissa Etheridge sang the national anthem. It was truly exciting to be at a game for the first time where, as a lesbian fan, I felt not only accepted but acknowledged. Surely I’m not alone.
Despite Elena Delle Donne being too sick to play and Candace Parker being unable to lead the Sparks to victory, it was a good game and made more enjoyable by the fact that the Sky is home to out coach Pokey Chatman and Athlete Ally ambassador and point guard Kristi Toliver.
“I am (a lesbian). I don’t ever talk about my personal life, but I don’t ever try to hide it either,” Chatman said in a recent interview. “Someone thanked me and at first I didn’t understand what they meant. But with this organization, it’s just another day at the office. We have people who want to get married at our games. It’s never, ‘Oh, my God!’ or a big deal. We’ve (always) had our Pride night, the floats, parade and promotions. So, I didn’t even know it was a league platform this year. (That game) in this community felt good and looked good, it was a big deal and people were so appreciative. To hear you say it didn’t look like that on TV makes me sad. From the inside looking out, people were really proud.”
On the Athlete Ally site, Kristi explains why she’s an ally.
“Being an athlete, and having the opportunity to teach a younger generation of people to treat everyone with respect and dignity, that’s pretty important.The LGBT community deserves the support of the athletic community, and I believe in the message Athlete Ally is putting out there.”
There are currently only seven Athlete Allies from the WNBA, but that doesn’t include out players like Griner or Augustus. But in 2012, Sky players Allie Quigley and Sylvia Fowles both acknowledged they were happy to support gay players in both the WNBA and the NBA.
“I don’t see what the huge deal is,” Quigley told the Windy City Times. “I guess people don’t care too much when a women [in sports] comes out … because it is a woman, and I guess it’s just accepted more.”
“My thing is, you are who you are—and people just have to deal with it,” Fowles said. “I don’t feel people should have to hide who they are, and we should love them for who they are, and then make them feel comfortable. I think it was a good thing that [Jason Collins] came out…. because we don’t care. At the end of the day, if that’s who you are and you don’t cross any boundaries or disrespect me, then I don’t care what you do [in your personal life.]”
Of course several other teams have allies and gay players, too, both past and present, but this year is really a turning point for the league in their star player, Brittney Griner, being out and proud and bringing all kinds of new people into the arenas.
Last night the crowd included gay fans among families, couples, Jamie Foxx and his daughters, Lisa Leslie and the Clippers’ Chris Paul. Where else would you find such a diverse crowd but a WNBA game? What the WNBA can use is even more support, though, and maybe now, like me, you’ll start to feel more welcome. Keep showing up for the women pro ballers because they seem to be more and more interested in showing up for you.