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. ”


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 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.