Baseball and Gay Fans Come Together

Professional athletes from John Rocker in 2000 to John Smoltz in 2004 have made it clear that openly gay players in Major League Baseball would receive a harsh reception from some prospective teammates. The resistance of the WNBA’s New York Liberty, which many assume has a large lesbian fan base, to formally recognize their gay fans received plenty of attention and a kiss-in at one of the games.

Despite all of this, a number of baseball teams have been welcoming efforts by their gay fans in the last couple years to create gay-themed events at their ballparks. Just as it did with Jackie Robinson over 50 years ago, Major League Baseball, it seems, is leading the way in reaching out to a minority group – this time, baseball fans who happen to be gay.

In the last three years, no less than a dozen baseball teams have hosted or participated in “gay days” at one of their home games. This year will mark the most gay-themed outings at baseball stadiums in any given season. The Toronto Blue Jays hosted Pride Community Day on June 24. The Philadelphia Phillies (Aug. 9), Oakland A’s (Aug. 14), Chicago Cubs (Aug. 15) and Boston Red Sox (Aug. 16) will all have their “gay day” within a week of one another. There will also be an event for gay fans during a Mets game at Shea Stadium Sept. 13.

Toronto Blue Jays Join List of Teams Hosting Gay & Lesbian Community Days

On Friday June 25, 2004, the Toronto Blue Jays became a bit more colourful when they hosted their first Pride Community Day. Rainbow flags were waving at the SkyDome as over 600 fans from the gay and lesbian community watched the Blue Jays defeat the Montreal Expos 3-1.

To kick off the game, an official Pride Week event, “Welcome Pride Toronto” was displayed on the Jumbotron in center field followed by a special Gay Pride video. Openly gay Canadian Olympic gold medalist Mark Tewksbury helped present a $1500.00 check to the Toronto Pride Committee on behalf of the Blue Jays, and Queer As Folk’s Sharon Gless threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Simone Denny, who sings the theme song for Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, sang “O Canada.”

According to Will Hill, the Blue Jays director of Public Relations, a special Pride weekend discount was offered for the entire 3-game series versus the Expos, with a portion of the ticket price donated back to the Toronto Pride Committee.

The community sections were located on field level along the third base line, so the community was clearly visible to the 16,484 fans in attendance at the game. Members of PFLAG (Parents & Friends of Lesbians And Gays) held up a large rainbow flag, and six clever men wore color-coordinated shirts—one for each of the rainbow colors. Gay men and women fancifully dressed as fruit (this year’s Pride theme was “Bursting with Fruit Flavour”) led the crowd in YMCA and Take Me Out to the Ballgame during the seventh inning stretch. But mostly the gay and lesbian fans looked like any other Blue Jays fans, and they cheered for the home team just the same.

The day was a “symbolic gesture,” said Paul Godfrey, president and CEO of the Toronto Blue Jays baseball club. “We want the community to know that we are open and welcoming to all.” He added, “We don’t expect to hit a home run the first time, but we hope this will be a good start and that we can develop a base of support.” Mr. Godfrey said the team only received a handful of negative calls and letters prior to the event, and that he answered these personally.

The Jays join a growing list of Major League Baseball teams welcoming the gay and lesbian community. The Philadelphia Phillies are hoping to host over a thousand people at their new ballpark for their second “Gay Community Night” on August 9, 2004. The Chicago Cubs will host over 800 fans at Wrigley Field for the fourth annual “Out At the Ballgame” on August 15, 2004. And the Boston Red Sox have sold 500 tickets to a gay sports organization for the first “Out At Fenway Park” day on August 16, 2004.

The San Francisco Giants will host their 11th annual “Until There’s A Cure” Day, an event which raises money for AIDS organizations in the Bay area. Not only have gay and lesbian organizations participated in this event, but many Giants players such as Marquis Grissom, Benito Santiago, Rich Aurillia and Reggie Sanders have also participated in pre-game ceremonies.

The gay-positive attitude of some MLB teams and players may help expand the baseball fan base. For the Toronto Blue Jays, suffering from poor ticket sales over the past few years, reaching out to the community has both economic and social benefits. And it may be working. As read on a sign held up by two young women at Friday night’s game, “We’re proud to say we are gay! Root, root, root for the Jays!”

Giants raise AIDS awareness

SAN FRANCISCO — In what has become a midseason tradition for the San Francisco Giants, the team through its Giants Community Fund in partnership with SBC/Nortel Networks hosted the 11th annual Until There’s a Cure Day.
The event is an effort to raise both awareness of HIV/AIDS and funds for research and treatment for the disease.

Until There’s a Cure Day has generated more than $1 million to combat HIV/AIDS. Last year, the fund-raiser brought in more than $80,000 through a raffle and sales of AIDS ribbons and T-shirts.

This year, the Giants marked Until There’s a Cure Day with pregame appearances by local community activists, team executive vice president Larry Baer and center fielder Marquis Grissom, who has been a dedicated fund-raiser for the fight against AIDS since losing his sister to the disease.

“I fervently hope that over the next 10 years this day will no longer be needed,” Baer said. “But if it is, we will be here.”

After the speeches were over, the Giants players — all with red ribbons on their uniforms — along with the visiting Arizona Diamondbacks, joined the 600 community volunteers forming a human red ribbon in center field for the national anthem. Each volunteer carried a red balloon which was released into the sky as the group singing the anthem, the cast of “Beach Blanket Babylon,” hit the final notes of “and the home of the braaaaaave.”

As part of the pregame ceremonies for Sunday’s event, the Giants Community Fund presented grant checks for $10,000 each to five Bay Area organizations devoted to helping those affected by HIV/AIDS: Project Open Hand; Diablo Valley AIDS Center; Marin AIDS Project; Sunburst Projects; and New Leaf: Services for Our Community. Those five organizations provide such services as delivering healthy meals to HIV/AIDS patients, caring for children whose families are touched by the disease and providing mental health care and counseling to AIDS patients.

Tony Kuttner is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Gay Day with the Blue Jays

The Toronto Blue Jays baseball team recently hosted its first-ever Gay Day and asked Mark Tewksbury, Canadian Olympic gold-medal recipient (100-meter backstroke in Barcelona ’92) to join the festivities. The handsome, out athlete (who graced the cover of Time Magazine after his victory) made tracks to Toronto, met up with “Queer as Folk” pal Sharon Gless and reports on the Blue Jays innings and outings on this memorable day. – Ed Salvato, editor, OUT&ABOUT;

Gay Jays

My phone rings. It’s Cindy Hewitt, community director of the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team. The Jays are having their first ever “Gay Day,” she says. Would I like to be there? Hmm, let’s see. Balls, bats and Big League boys. Hardly something any self-respecting gay man could refuse. So I didn’t!
Click here for our just-updated guide to gay Canada.

Since winning the Olympics 12 years ago, I have found myself in the rarest of categories: gay sports celebrity. It’s ironic, because I throw like a girl, can’t skate and usually trip when I go to kick a ball. Thankfully I wouldn’t have to worry about any of this. Sharon Gless, the over-the-top PFLAG mom from Queer as Folk, would be throwing the first ceremonial pitch. I was offered the Vanna White supporting role of check presenter. Look out Toronto, here I come!

The Toronto Blue Jays PRIDE Promotion Billed A Big Success

Imagine traveling to every big league city in the United States and
Canada and attending a home game of every team. All 30 Major
League baseball parks. Every National Football League Stadium. All
the big arenas that house NBA and NHL teams. Think about
tailgating at the venues, checking out the local sports museums and
shrines, hanging out at cool sports pubs and eateries, and
sightseeing all around town.

Picture meeting officials, athletes and VIPs from the sports teams.
And getting the celebrity treatment, including invites in the media.
Think about making friends all across the country.

For two best friends from Buffalo, New York, this has been the sports
lovers’ adventure of a lifetime. We started hitting the road in 1998,
and hit the finish line in December, 2002 at Ford Field in Detroit. At
the time 121 teams playing in 102 different venues in 49 different
cities.

But the Ultimate Sports Road Trip is a journey that has no
conclusion. As new venues in the four major sports are replaced, we
head back to check them out. Minor league baseball and hockey,
college football and college basketball games are also in the plans.

Check out all the cool features on this site… profiles of all the teams,
lots of pictures and OUR rankings on the best and worst places to
attend a game. Link onto our blog and check for news and updates
and join in on the discussion. Enjoy!

PrideFest ’04 includes Pirates game, parade through arts festival

Rainbow flags will add color to Saturday’s Three Rivers Arts Festival and Bucs game scenes when local gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Pittsburghers celebrate PrideFest 2004.

PrideFest 2004 is set for noon to 6 p.m. on the North Shore. The event is expected to draw as many as 2,000 revelers to the scheduled parade, festival and Pirates baseball game.

The Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Pittsburgh, based in Squirrel Hill, is sponsoring the activities.

This year’s location gives the event more visibility than it has enjoyed in past years in other city neighborhoods, event co-chairman Rob Sette said.

Thirty units are expected to form the parade that will wind through Downtown, past Gateway Center and the arts festival in Point State Park.

From the Downtown endpoint, marchers will walk to the PrideFest 2004 festival on the North Shore Great Lawn between the Fort Duquesne Bridge and Heinz Field.

The day will be capped off by Pride Day at PNC Park where representatives from the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community will hurl the ceremonial first pitch, kicking off play between the Pirates and the Seattle Mariners, Sette said.

This year’s PrideFest marks the 31st year for the event.

Gwen Arbuckle can be reached at garbuckle@tribweb.com or (412) 320-7844.

Gay Night with the 76ers

What is believed to be the first formal LGBT-recognized event with an NBA team will be happening in Philadelphia on Friday, November 5. A block of seats have been reserved for the LGBT community and friends for “OUT at the Sixers” for the Philadelphia 76ers’ season opener against the Phoenix Suns. It is expected that the names of a number of LGBT groups will have their names displayed on the scoreboard during the game, including Outsports.com.

This event is happening just a few months after the unqualified success of the 2nd Gay Community Night at the Philadelphia Phillies, attracting 1500 gay individuals and their friends to Citizens Bank Park in August 2004. As one of the organizers of the Phillies event, I am working with Comcast-Spectacor, owner of the Philadelphia 76ers, on “OUT at the Sixers”. Unlike the Phillies game, where the LGBT community approached the Phillies to mount a “Gay Community Night”, Comcast-Spectacor approached me about doing a group event with one of their teams. Comcast-Spectactor, who also owns the Philadelphia Flyers, is a division of the Comcast Corporation. It is hoped that “OUT at the Sixers”, like “Gay Community Night” at the Phillies, will become an annual event. When the Flyers resume play, I hope to also work with Comcast-Spectacor in organizing an LGBT evening at the Flyers. Philadelphia, known for loud obnoxious passionate sports fans, and teams that are playoff caliber who never seem to get the gold (maybe this year’s Eagles will be the exception), should now also be known as the home of the most progressive pro sports teams owners. By welcoming events such as “Gay Community Night” at the Phillies” and “OUT at the Sixers”, despite protests, Philadelphia’s major professional team owners have declared that all fans, including LGBT sports fans, are welcome.

It is hoped this event will be a fun evening for all attending. But events like this are also important to dispel stereotypes that LGBT individuals are not interested in sports. The success of Outsports.com has shown all of us this stereotype is not accurate. The local and national medial attention the first “Gay Community Night” at the Phillies received dispels this stereotype even further. Our presence and the names of LGBT community groups on the scoreboard will further dispel this stereotype to all the fans in attendance at the 76ers season opener on Friday November 5th.

Tickets are only $24, which reflects a $4 discount off the individual ticket price. Tickets may be purchased by calling Stu Cohen at the Philadelphia 76ers ticket office at (215) 952-5441. Any general questions should be sent to phillygayday04@yahoo.com

BRAVES SPONSOR A GAY DAY

Add the Atlanta Braves to a small, but growing list of pro sports teams reaching out to their gay fans.

The Braves have agreed to set aside up to 2,000 tickets for the Aug. 8 game at Turner Field against the Houston Astros. The event is being held in conjunction with a site visit by officials with the Federation of Gay Games. The group will be in town as part of a review of Atlanta’s bid to host the 2006 Gay Games.

“We endorse the Atlanta Games Inc.’s efforts to bring the Games here,” Braves spokesman Jim Schultz told Jay Croft of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s online addition. “It’s another opportunity to advance Atlanta’s reputation as a culturally diverse city and an international city.”

The team has offered use of Turner Field for the Games’ closing ceremonies if there is no conflict with the Braves’ schedule, Schultz told the Journal-Constitution.

“We’re treating them (Atlanta Games) as we do any community group or corporate group that would want to come to a Braves game,” said Karen Lumpkin, a group sales coordinator for the Braves. There will be some sort of ceremony before the game to acknowledge’s the committee’s presence.

The Braves’ event, while not unique, is still somewhat rare. “Out at the Ball Game,” a similar gay-friendly event, was a smash in Chicago June 23 at a Cubs game. The Los Angeles Dodgers last year honored GLAAD, the gay media watchdog group, while the San Francisco Giants for years have hosted an AUDS awareness day at a game. The Minnesota Twins, in conjunction with OutFront Minnesota and the Human Rights Campaign, have a gay pride event set for a game Sept. 14.

The WNBA has been the most active sports league in the targeting the lesbian community (see following story). These events are a recognition that in the competition for entertainment dollars some teams nedd to look everywhere for paying customers. The Cubs, for example, coming off a last-place finish in 2000 and the departure of popular players like Mark Grace, bought 10 ads in the Chicago Free Press.

We could find no instances of similar courting by teams in the NBA, NHL or NFL. The jury is still out as to whether actively marketing to the gay community will provoke a backlash. In Sacramento, the Capitol Resource Institute, “a non-profit group that advocates for conservative, family-oriented legislation,” convinced the WNBA’s Monarchs to hold a “Traditional Marriage Night,” the Sacramento Bee reported. It will be interesting to see if these homophobes can draw more than the 9,300 the Monarchs got for their July 21 Gay Pride Night. ”

LESBIANS GET ROYAL TREATMENT BY MONARCHS

The Sacramento Monarchs of the WNBA drew near a season-high 9,300 fans July 21 for their game against the Detroit Shock. The fact that it was designated Gay Pride Night was no coincidence.

“I’m loving it,” Kat Fox of the David Dykes told the Sacramento Bee. “There’s more people here than any game I’ve seen this season, and Detroit is not a draw. There’s even a lot of gay guys. That’s great!”

There were no incidents before, during or after the game. Among the other groups who had their “day” were 300 high school girls basketball players.

“No matter what brought them to Arco, the groups joined together to root for the Monarchs as well as enjoy the evening’s special highlights, including the halftime show by the all-woman Taiko Drummers,” wrote the Bee’s Debbie Arrington. “The dozen-member Rainbow Chorus sang one of the most traditional versions of the national anthem all season.”

“And on the phrase “home of the free,” the crowd broke out in loud, extended applause.”

Monarchs owner Joe Maloof said he didn’t care if his support for Gay Pride Night turned anyone off.

“Our team is there for the enjoyment of everybody,” he told the paper. “I’m not going to worry because somebody gets upset about it. That’s not what our family is all about.”

The WNBA has been aggressive this year in encouraging its teams to market to lesbians. Other teams making overtures include the Los Angeles Sparks, the Minnesota Lynx, the Phoenix Mercury, the Seattle Storm and Miami Sol.

The moves, while applauded from an acceptance level, are based on simple economics: The WNBA estimates its audience is 75 percent female, with a large but undetermined amount of that being lesbians. In a crowded marketplace the league is being smart in targeting a niche.

Swinging their bats

I’m never more happy than when I’m proudly openly gay and rooting for my home team alongside my father and friends at a baseball game. It’s like my worlds are converging. I just wish closeted Major League Baseball players – and there are many out there – felt the same way.

Until the day our gay Jackie Robinson is prepared to brave jeering homophobes in ballpark bleachers across North America, though, I say it’s up to the rest of us to do so.

That’s why for years I have called upon Canada’s four most popular professional baseball teams – the Montreal Expos, Edmonton Trappers, Toronto Blue Jays and Vancouver Canadians – to host gay days at their ballparks.

I always thought the first ball club to do so would be Nos Amours, since the Expos – supposedly playing their last season in Montreal (yet again) – have so little to lose. After all, this is the team that two seasons ago happily welcomed me and a camera crew from the world’s first all-gay sports TV show, The Locker Room, to spend a day with the team at Olympic Stadium – the first time that’s ever happened with any sports franchise.

So I was awfully jealous that the Blue Jays beat Montreal to the punch when it announced last month they will host their first-ever Gay & Lesbian Community Day at Skydome on June 25, smack in the middle of Toronto’s Gay Pride week, when the Jays will play – go figure – the Montreal Expos.

“I think it’s long overdue that we invite the gay community to partake and be involved with the Blue Jays, to encourage

them to come to the ballpark,” Blue Jays CEO Paul Godfrey told stunned Toronto sportswriters. “It’s not only reaching out to the community, it’s recognizing that this is a way of life in the year 2004.”

It certainly is.

The Chicago Cubs – who pioneered Gay Day at historic Wrigley Field, which, by the way, is located in the heart of Boystown, the Windy City’s gay district – will host another Gay Day this season, on August 15, as will their cross-town rivals the Chicago White Sox and the Philadelphia Phillies. Last year’s World Series winner the Florida Marlins will host their second annual AIDS Awareness Day this season and the San Francisco Giants will host their 11th annual Until There’s a Cure Day.

So what about Nos Amours?

The day I heard about the Blue Jays I immediately called Divers/Cité marketing director Paul Girard – who used to handle marketing for the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League – and introduced him to the Montreal Expos, and I am hopeful both parties can set a date for this summer.

Of course, in Major League Baseball little goes according to plan. If it did, the Montreal Expos would have moved to another city years ago. Ironically, after MLB overall attendance plummeted in 2002, Montreal Expos attendance actually rose roughly 25 per cent from 642,748 in 2001 to 812,545 the following season. Then when MLB chopped Montreal’s Big O home games from 81 to 59 last year (the remaining “home” games were played in Puerto Rico), Big O attendance climbed even further, to 1,025,639.

And they say baseball is dead in this city?

Imagine all the new fans the Expos could, um, recruit with a Gay Day or two. And if enough gay fans come out to support their favourite teams across North America, then maybe, just maybe, a gay ballplayer will make that leap of faith and do for gay America what Jackie Robinson did for black America.

It’s important to remember Jackie broke pro baseball’s colour barrier with the Montreal Royals in 1946, where he became a local hero and led the team to a Little World Series title before moving on to the big-league Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.

“Montreal was such a turning point in our young lives,” Jackie’s wife Rachel Robinson, now 80, told me recently. “We were in our 20s and had come from the Deep South where we had some upsetting [racist] experiences. We were greeted [in Montreal] with such warmth and dignity. The acceptance was so complete. We were well prepared to return to the States to do what we did.”

Montreal baseball fans jeered and booed visiting teams whose racist players gave Jackie a hard time on the road. “When they came back to Montreal, the fans gave it back to them,” Mrs. Robinson pointed out. “Baseball fans in Montreal were rabid fans and very supportive of Jackie and the team.”

It happened before. It can happen again. And I want to be there the day it happens.

Play ball!

A Gay Old Time in Philly

As I sit down to write this, it’s 4:30 am. I can’t sleep. My mind refuses to shut down. I’m just overwhelmed.

On a muggy but thankfully rain-free evening over 750 members of the LGBT community and its supporters-including an Outsports contingent-gathered in the 500 level at Veterans Stadium to watch the Philadelphia Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers in action. The first Gay Community Day with the Phillies was, simply put, a magnificent success.

Alas, the game itself was less than stellar. Brandon Duckworth’s first-inning struggles led to four Milwaukee runs and the Brewers went on to a 6-3 win, but the evening still included a number of highlights.

My evening started on an interesting note. As I headed along the walkway on the 500 level towards right field and the sections set aside for us, I passed a Phillies usher talking to a couple of people and heard him say, “I just wanna know where the gays are so I can stay away from them.”

So naturally I had to cause him some discomfort. I stopped, turned and asked, “Why would you need to stay away from us?” He immediately began verbally backpedaling, saying things like “I don’t have a problem with it, I don’t condone it but I don’t have a problem with it, that’s all.” When I asked him why, if he had no problem, he would need to stay away from us, he talked about how he didn’t want anyone to come on to him. (As if anyone would be interested in this scrawny, not-overly-handsome, not-intelligent-sounding guy.) I said that if anyone did come on to him, he should respectfully say “no thanks” and they’d walk away. He replied, “I know–they’re the nicest people in the world!” He then went on to say it’s just that he didn’t want any trouble and he was worried that someone would use “that bad word, the ‘f’ word” and then he’d have to get involved. I told him he had nothing to worry about.

A short while later, there it was on the smaller auxiliary message boards that are along the first- and third-base sides: Gay Community Night. Those three magic words then appeared on the main board in the upper deck in right-center field. It was an awesome sight.

As game time neared, the Phillie Phanatic took to the field and I knew it was time to head downstairs with my digital camera. It was the Phanatic who had the distinct honor of catching the ceremonial first pitch from Outsports ‘ own Larry “Scottie” Felzer, chair of the Gay and Lesbian Lawyers of Philadelphia and one of the main organizers of the event. Except for one slight problem: the ball somehow went over the Phanatic’s head. It was unofficially scored-by me-as a passed ball on the Phanatic. He clearly should have made the play!

By the time I made it back upstairs to our sections, the crowd had pretty much filled in and there was a cheer as “Gay Community Night” was once again displayed on the message board. This was followed by a visit from the Phanatic. Despite being harassed by someone who apparently wanted to drape him with a rainbow flag, he did his usual fantastic job of keeping everyone entertained.

Later, the list of individual groups (both as part of Gay Community Night and otherwise) were displayed on the board, including Outsports.com. Unfortunately, I was unable to get a picture of Outsports on the board as my camera was not cooperative-though it might not have been legible at any ratebecause the lights were so bright.

All in all, it was a night to remember. It was an easy night for security, as everyone in the crowd was well-behaved. The Phillies deserve a tremendous amount of credit for being supportive of the idea and making it plain that when it comes to their fans, they don’t discriminate. But the real thanks have to go to the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association (Philadelphia chapter), Gay and Lesbian Lawyers of Philadelphia and the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, co-sponsors of the event.

Above all, for his tireless efforts in organizing and promoting this wonderful night, very special thanks go to Larry Felzer. In fact, I’ve decided upon a very special tribute: on Friday, Larry and I are going to the Phillies-Cardinals game at the Vet, featuring the second return of Scott Rolen since his controversial stay in Philadelphia ended. To honor his number one fan, I will wear my old Scott Rolen T-shirt on Friday night and I will NOT boo him.