Monica Roberts

Bi African-American Ballplayers Sue Gay Softball Organization For Discrimination

Filed By Monica Roberts | April 22, 2010 5:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, The Movement
Tags: justice, legal, Monica Roberts, racism

If NCLR logo.jpgthe GLBT community wants their rights and humanity respected, protected and codified under the law, it is imperative for them to remember and realize that they must do the same thing for others inside and outside the GLBT community.

Thanks to reader Leigh for directing my attention to this developing story of racism and biphobia rearing its pointed head in of all things, a GL run softball tournament.

On Tuesday, the National Center for Lesbian Rights in conjunction with the law firm of K&L Gates LLP filed a lawsuit on behalf of players Steven Apilado, LaRon Charles, and Jon Russ in U.S. District Court for the western district of Washington.

The NCLR complaint alleges that the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Association (NAGAAA) broke Washington state public accommodations law by enforcing a discriminatory rule that states only two heterosexuals can play on each team.

The story starts at the 2008 Gay World Series softball tournament that was played in Seattle and sanctioned by the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Association (NAGAAA).

nagaaa_logo1.gifNAGAAA's stated mission is promoting "amateur sports competition, particularly softball, for all persons regardless of age, sexual orientation or preference, with special emphasis on the participation of members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community."

A mission they miserably failed to execute on for five members of the San Francisco based D2 softball team.

D2 and its members have played in San Francisco area gay softball leagues for several years. During this GWS tournament they got hot, won games and kicked butt all the way to the GWS championship game of their division.

D2 discovered during the title game that a (probably a losing) team filed a protest claiming they were in violation of the NAGAAA "two heteros only" rule. In the interim teams kept interrupting the championship game to the point that D2 lost.

D2 Team Photo.jpg

When the game was over, five D2 players, Apilado, Charles, Russ and two white teammates were immediately summoned to a conference room for a protest hearing,

Each player was forced to answer intrusive questions about his sexual orientation and his private life in front of a room of over 25 people, most of whom the players did not know. The players were forced to answer whether they were "predominantly attracted to men" or "predominantly attracted to women," without the option of answering that they were attracted to both.

After each player was interrogated, a panel voted on whether he was "gay" or "non-gay." NAGAAA's committee refused to entertain the possibility that the players could be bisexual. In response to a player's statement that he was attracted to both men and women, a NAGAAA member responded, "This is the Gay World Series, not the Bisexual World Series."

Ultimately, the predominantly-white committee voted that all the men of color, Charles, Russ, and Apilado, were not gay. The committee voted multiple times on at least one player. The committee also declared that the other two players, both white--one of whom had given precisely the same answers as Russ--were gay.

The NAGAAA committee recommended disciplinary measures against Apilado, Charles, and Russ, their team, and the San Francisco Gay Softball League, including retroactively stripping D2 by forfeit of their second-place World Series finish.

The men are seeking $75,000 each for emotional distress. They're also seeking to invalidate the alliance's findings on the men's sexual orientations and to reinstate D2's second-place finish in the 2008 GWS.

"This case shows that bisexual people are an integral part of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. The San Francisco team was truly diverse and welcomed bisexual, gay, and straight players, and they saw each other as not just teammates, but family," said NCLR Sports Project Director Helen Carroll.

"We all deserve to be treated with respect no matter what part of the 'LGBT' we are. It damages our community to conduct witch hunts and to exclude people from playing in a sports league for not being 'gay enough'. We wouldn't accept this kind of treatment from a non-LGBT sports organization and we shouldn't do it to ourselves."

NAGAAA is being represented by Beth Allen, a Portland, OR based attorney who specializes in LGBT-related legal issues. She said that NAGAAA "agrees that if they were a public accommodation, they could not limit players on the basis of sexual orientation. But they're a private organization, seeking to provide a forum for gay and lesbian athletes, or those who would like to become athletes, to play ball together in an environment where they don't face any type of discrimination. ... It is not an unusual situation to have a softball league that is organized by principle on a protected class."

Allen was quoted in as saying that she found the suit brought by NCLR to be "very disheartening."

"Certainly I've seen infighting in the community. Anyone who's worked for our rights has seen infighting, because we're all human," Allen said. "But as I've told [NCLR executive director] Kate Kendell, it baffles me why they've taken on this case. Why is the National Center for Lesbian Rights asserting this claim on behalf of three poor beleaguered straight men? I don't get it."

kate kendell  nclr.jpgKendell said the suit "makes very clear that the core issue in the case is that sexual orientation discrimination is harmful, demeaning, and stigmatizing. What these players were subjected to in terms of inquiry about their private sexual lives was a violation, not only of the softball association's own rules but also Washington state law."

"[Allen's] response is what's baffling," Kendell added.

NAGAAA, the organizer of the Gay Softball World Series, has refused to change the discriminatory rule that excludes players based on sexual orientation, to apologize to Apilado, Charles, and Russ for the traumatic and humiliating public interrogation they endured, or to disavow the practice of interrogating players about their sexual orientations in protest hearings.

NCLR Staff Attorney Melanie Rowen said, "Washington law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in public accommodations. But conducting an inquisition into someone's sexual orientation to exclude them from playing sports in their community is not just discriminatory--it is outrageous."

NAGAAA has not yet responded to the complaint in court, and this has the makings of an interesting court case that I would love to see.

But it goes back simply to the Golden Rule- Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

As an oppressed minority group, the GLBT community would not only do well to remember that Golden Rule, it's imperative that the TBLG community hold itself to higher ethical and moral standards than our oppressors.

They also need to cognizant of the fact that relations with African-American GLBT people are still testy after the flurry of anti-Black racism that popped up in the GLBT community post Prop 8. That being said, discrimination in the BTLG community should not be condoned or tolerated at any time.

Here's hoping that NCLR is successful in driving that point home to the NAGAAA.

Crossposted from TransGriot

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Yes, well with 38 teams playing spring training ball in AZ.... at 80 players per squad, with about 50% not white aryans...
That makes around ONE THOUSAND SIX HUNDRED Pro ballplayers that will be subject to Racial Profiling ARREST next year!
If I were MLB I would tell AZ to send all equipment to another state.

Also, anyone going to AZ for any CONVENTION, please get it MOVED!

I saw this on one of the sports news sites but nothing about the players also being Black just the fact they were Bi and not welcome at a Gay event.

Politics is a contact sport with no rules.

I'm *really* hoping there's more to this story than just this, because this is the kind of thing that will kill the organization altogether if it turns out that the "star chamber" stuff is true. I honestly cannot believe that this board would be that idiotic: they had to know this was gonna travel far and wide, so why would they even think about putting their foot in their collective mouth all the way to the kneecap?

It just doesnt make sense, sorry.

Demonstrates the racism and biphobia in the LGBT community.

That's the thing about racism and bigotry. It IS illogical and doesn't make sense.

But it continues to happen because one group of human beings with power wants to exercise dominance over another.

"...the GLBT community would not only do well to remember..."

Um, no, the Ls and Gs are the ones with the problem in this case. The Bs got fucked over and the Ts weren't visibly involved. Lesbians and gays have more authority and respect and using that anagram for a instance of gay men being anti-bi is problematic. Don't include us when talking about issues where we are clearly being excluded.

I've been doing a lttle reading about this online, and it seems we're not getting all the facts here.

More than a couple of players have commented on various blogsites that this team has a history of "stacking", with players who claim to be bi just so they can play and who, during the game, are disrespectful of gays and lesbians. They're not there as part of the community or even as a supportive part of the community. They're there so their team can win and nothing else.

Now, sure, one could read this as sour grapes, but is that any more a knee-jerk reaction as the winning players saying "we're victims!"? Yes, it's silly for the league to have its "only two" rule, but the few additional details that seem to be dribbling out from outside sources suggest that this was a team trying to work an edge, purely for the sake of winning. Are we to applaud that, guys?

So I'm starting to wonder if the league is acting as "racist and biphobic" as we're currently being told. Again, I think it might be prudent to let this one simmer a while before we start saying a bunch of things we might have to apologize for later on... if indeed anyone ever apologizes for anything these days.

If they were "stacking" their team with homophobic straight players, then the league's response is still wildly inappropriate.

If they were disrespectful of gays and lesbians during the game, or saying homophobic things, then kick them out for saying homophobic things. Don't convene an inquisition where you force them to say whether they are gay or "non-gay" and clump bisexual in with "non-gay," then kick them out for being "non-gay."

Really, the precident being set goes beyond this one case and brings up serious questions about it's application. Does the panel only vote on whether you are gay or "non-gay" if your team is winning? Should it be convened for every new player? Are there any guidelines for what counts as "non-gay" or do we leave panelists to implement their own biases (thus two different results for players who gave identical answers). Do you have to be a gold star gay? Does experimentation in high school or college count? What if you experimented more recently? Do they need details of all your hookups? They now have a policy of kicking out bi folks, surely those 3 weren't the only bi folks in the league, will they find and kick out the rest? How will they deal with trans people?

It certainly is a difficult dilemma when a team is being accused of stacking their team with straight (and disrespectful) players, yet those players say that they are not straight. If you're going based just on complaints, you're likely being fueled by other player's biphobia. In any case this is clearly the wrong response. How many of us on this blog, or how many of our leaders in the movement would fail a similar panel? How many of us would want to participate with an organization if going through such a process was required.

The problem with kicking them out for saying something is that you have to catch them doing so and then back it up with evidence; otherwise, it becomes a he said/he said situation... which is what it is right now.

"Wildly inappropriate"? Sorry, but IMHO, no. If the team's bringing them in as ringers, then it's the team, yes, that should suffer, not the league. But the league is now put in an impossible situation of determining who's telling the truth here, the players for D2 or the players making the accusation, and we're just making it worse by pre-judging it based on our own individual biases.

So, since no real decision that will satisfy everyone is poasible would you just let the entire matter go? Or would you try to pursue it, no matter where it leads?

I mean, look at these comments. We're all automatically assuming the league is at fault here, with no real information beyond what the few articles out there have told us. There's no context for the questions, which makes it impossible for us to assess one way or the other. And yet we are... because we can and because we want to believe a certain way.

So what happens if we're wrong? What if the league was acting in as good a faith as it knew how, under these ridiculous circumstances? What happens then. folks?

"Wildly inappropriate"? Sorry, but IMHO, no. If the team's bringing them in as ringers, then it's the team, yes, that should suffer, not the league.

Would it have been inappropriate to ban these specific players from the league? Was the team skirting the rules? Like you suggest, I'm going to reserve judgment on those claims until after more facts come out.

However, I stand by my statement what the league did is wildly inappropriate. Even giving the league the benefit of the doubt, if you have a problem with straight ringers sneaking into the league the solution is not to ban all bi people. Straight up, that is not an appropriate response. Why should the entire bisexual community suffer because some straight people are pretending to be bi?

I find it interesting that you're ignoring the blatant racism and biphobia here as well.

Why is it that the African American players were found to be 'not gay', and the white player who answered question in the same manner was found to be 'gay'?

Can you explain that one?

I find it interesting that we insist on finding it here.

Look at the team photo and tell me how many black players there are.

Now tell me, with a straight face, that you honestly believe those are the only six black players in the entire league.

Further, do you have a transcript of the trial? Does anyone? If I'm reading all this right, we're only hearing one side of the story.


Don't include us when talking about issues where we are clearly being excluded.

Cathy, even though this one is a case of bipobia and racism perpetrated by 'G' peeps, I still stand by the comment I made in the closing paragraph.

The 'B' and 'T' end of the GLBT community can and has been guilty of racist and bigoted behavior as well and what I said about needing to have higher standards of ethical and moral behavior applies to the ENTIRE rainbow.

Don't have to look hard Sean for something that is so glaringly obvious.

And since you brought it up, Sean, do you have proof of your accusations about D2?

The NCLR is filing a federal lawsuit on behalf of those players, so enough BS happened to make them think they had a case worthy of spending time on to file and pursue.

It's interesting that the only D2 players called into the hearing were the three African-Americans along with two white players.

Again, I'm going to ask the question that people keep dancing around.

explain to me why all three African American players were found to be 'not gay', and the two white ones weren't?

Are we now going to get into the whole "my proof is better than your proof" debate?

Sorry, but I wont play that game. As I said originally, I did some reading this morning on the various blogs. Next time I'll remember to take notes of where they were. I trust you'll do the same? Or is this one article all you have?

If you guys want to rush to judgment to suit your personal agendae, then do so. I'm thinking it might behoove us to wait until ALL the facts are out there, THEN go running for the lynching materials.

But hell, when have little things like FACTS ever stopped the community from doing what it wants. You've already decided the case; I'm surprised the court's even bothering, since you've done them the courtesy of already deciding who's guilty.

Funny, where have I heard this kind of systematic "judgment" before?

So... when's the necktie party, folks? Want to make sure I'm dressed appropriately.

Oh come on. They could have been more creative than that! Why didn't they just require all players must take a shower together at the end of the game? That would keep out the one's who hate us.

Paige Listerud | April 23, 2010 5:16 PM

Dear Monica,

Thank you so much for posting this story. Besides being the most comprehensive news report on the internet I have read so far, you are a real bi ally to bring up the real legal issues that go into excessive biphobia and their potential impact on lesbian, gay, and transgender people.

@Sean--speaking of proof: what is your proof that someone is "really" bisexual or really not. I would really like to know. I've heard fellow bisexuals describe themselves as "half gay and half heterosexual" and some describe their sexuality as more "pansexual" and others describe their sexuality as fluid. Who is the "real" bisexual, Sean, and what is your proof regarding who is the real bisexual?

Here's the truth of it. We are QUEER and some part of our lives will be spent fucking the opposite sex. We will fuck men and women and transgenders and genderqueers and maybe even intersex people throughout the course of our lives. If that does not look QUEER to you, then I don't know what to say anymore. I give up.

Do you even talk to bisexuals, Sean?

Do you know that this is standard behavior in the "lesbian and gay" community--that bisexuals get included when gays and lesbians want to include us and then we get thrown out when gays and lesbians want to throw us out? Do you think that we are just whining when we talkabout biphobia in the LG community? It's real, Sean, and this is what it looks like. Why do you and people like Beth Allen continue to not get it?

Why, Sean, why?!

As for straights impersonating bisexuals in order to play on the team--those must be some pretty desperate straight guys willing to play ball at the cost of someone presuming that they're queer for playing on a queer team. It's not as if there aren't straight teams these guys could play on. So they are either super desperate to play and they don't care if anyone thinks they're gay or bi. Or--wrap your brain around this one--they're BISEXUAL, PANSEXUAL, OR QUEER and they belong on the team.

>> "As for straights impersonating bisexuals in order to play on the team--those must be some pretty desperate straight guys willing to play ball at the cost of someone presuming that they're queer for playing on a queer team."

I suppose it depends on how much the team wants to win, dont you think? The possibly-pretenda players could do it as a joke or a lark, or maybe there were other factors invovled: people have been known to do odd things when money changes hands, which, right now, is just as much a possibility as anything else when you're dealing at the championship level... even for something as lame as gay baseball.

Okay, the responses I'm getting are now verging on the utterly silly, so I'm bowing out on this "discussion". When you start asking me ow I know someone is or is not *really* bisexual, you've now taken this into "tokenism" territory, and I will not follow you. Walk ahead on your own.

I hope all of you are correct in your assumptions and I'm utterly and completely wrong. But remember: you're making a crap load of assumptions here -- about the league, about the players, about everyone involved, even me -- and the more you assume, the more precarious your position.

Long after this disappears from Bilerico, I'm gonna follow this case, just to see (1) what the facts truly are - on both sides - and (2) what happens to everyone involved. I hope all of you do as well, so we're all equally informed when we return to this topic some months hence. If it turns out I've misjudged, rest assured that I *will* apologize to any who felt I offered offence.

And I'll be curious to see who returns the favour in kind.

For now, turning off the bots...

Paige Listerud | April 23, 2010 6:08 PM

And now you have to ask yourself whether African American "pretenda" players would go to the trouble to sue the NAGAAA or whether they are "really" black bisexual players who feel deeply scared from the experience. Well, at least we all know for sure that they are really black.

Oh, wait. Within the African American community, any black guy who brings up his gay/bi identity is accused of not being "really" black or not being "black enough." How do you like that little trip into tokenism?

Paige Listerud | April 23, 2010 5:26 PM

For anyone interested, this news story came up in my email.

Apparently, as a political tactic, a straight politician is accusing an openly bisexual candidate of being a STRAIGHT GUY IMPERSONATING A BISEXUAL in order to win the LGBT vote in the current election. True.

Looks like you've got another story to cover for Bilerico, Monica!

Did not know there was a racial aspect to this story before you posted. Thanks, Monica!

Yeah, their discrimination may be legal because they're a private organization. But that doesn't make it right. These cases always test the limits to identity politics.

Chitown Kev | April 26, 2010 9:15 AM

Monica, as a rule, I don't post when the article itself articulates the salient issues, and represents my viewpoint, and the comments present different and various ways of looking at things.

I simply wanted to say that this is a great post by you and the comments...not at all surprising.