Casinos, Baseball and Guy Bars Do They Really Mix?

Two gay baseball players made history when they opened up about their sexual preferences in 2013. Instead of the fans turning their back on these professional players, they became the brave heroes, both touched by the reaction of both their families, friends, fans and teammates. It was a few years before that the case about slot machines and baseball became news headlines, and this time it was all about Bob Nutting and Steve Swindell.

At the time Bob Nutting wanted to purchase a resort in western Pennsylvania, which he could use to build a casino on with 500 slot machines. Unfortunately for him, baseball does not permit club owners to operate or own a casino and he had to abandon this plan. He went to great lengths at first, tried to separate ownership of the slot-machine casino and the resort, but the Pennsylvania Gaming Commission rules forbid separate ownership.

Rainbow Flag Fly High at Casino

The casino industry has never been ignorant of the gay community, especially since statistics show that lesbian and gay travellers spend over $64.5 billion yearly in Las Vegas hotels. For many years Vegas hotels host weekly-gay oriented club nights and pool parties and all advertising focussed towards gay and lesbian travellers. It’s when you look at the long history casinos and the gay community has that it becomes clear why the gay baseball players to come out had no acceptance difficulties. According to records, the first gay-tolerant bar was in Atlantic City in 1920.

Baseball, Casinos and Sportsbetting More Connected Than Ever Before

Due to modern technology, baseball, sports betting and casinos are even more connected, and sports fans no longer must travel to place bets on their favourite team since it is all possible via desktop and mobile devices. The biggest hick-up is finding the best online and most trustworthy casino sports betting site. Unless you have already discovered online-casino-canada.ca/cas, an online site that offers a List of Popular Online Casinos and Sportsbooks. The operators feature on the List of Popular Online Casinos and Sportsbooks, offer exceptional bonuses, the best baseball sports betting odds, and have an excellent reputation for fast payouts and fair gaming. Baseball is one of the major sports offered at online casinos and sports betting operators and only a few months ago one bookie reported a wager of over $1million on the Eagles.

Professional Gay Basketball Players

A decade ago it was unthinkable that any athlete participating in professional sports would come out to its fans or fellow players. The very first openly gay basketball player was Jason Collins who came out publicly in 2013. After veteran Collins made his status public in spin, Michael Sam, a player for the University of Missouri, told his team he was gay in August 2013. Sam became the first gay player in the history of the Canadian Football League.

In Major League, NFL and NHL there still is no openly gay players, although two publicly gay players are part of the minor leagues since 2015. The first was Sean Conroy who came out publicly in June 2015. The right-handed Sonoma Stompers pitcher did what no other active baseball player did before. Due to his bravery, it took only seven weeks for Brewers, David Denson to become the second player to announce his sexuality publicly on the 15th of August. Denson was the first player affiliated with a major league, which basically invited unavoidable scrutiny. On the contrary, both Denson and Conroy enjoyed full-throated support from the media, their employers and teammates.

Gay Baseball Players Receive Unexpected Support from Teammates

Denson remains touched by the reaction of this teammates especially since none of his fellow players had any negative response. It was the reaction of both his teammates and family that concerned him at first; he shared in an interview. But thankfully when he came out, he only had support. Conroy enjoyed the same positivity even though he expected serious negativity. In the same year around September, a signed lineup card from the game Conroy played was added to the Hall of Fame from the first game he played as an openly gay player.

Positivity & Acceptance Motivates More Players to Come Out

For some players, it is scarier than for other and even with the positive feedback others enjoy it is both complex and difficult to go public. In over 150 years no professional baseball players announced their homosexuality in public. In just two months two players took the brave step and enjoyed universally positivity, which could encourage others to do the same.

Many expected that a whole lot of other players would follow in the footsteps of Conroy and Denson. No players did, which is surprising since over 8,000 men play in minor leagues every year. More than 2,000 in independent leagues. In the end, what players do in their own time is their private business, fans car about their spor teams performances and teammates depend on every members sporting ability, whether they are straight or gay.

PrideFest 2004

Are you ready for PrideFest 2004?

June is just around the corner, June is Pride Month in Pittsburgh! This year’s Pride theme is Stand Up, Stand Proud, Stand Together! and this year’s Pride Committee has worked hard to offer a wide range of activities throughout the entire month. Of course the focal point of Pride activities is PrideFest, which will be held on June 19 (see below), but there are many other opportunities for you Stand Up and show your pride this year:

On May 30, the Pittsburgh Hilton & Towers will be all decked out for the GLSEN Youth Prom. This year’s theme is “But I’m a Queerleader”, and the event is open to participants of all ages. Adult reception begins at 4 p.m., with the Prom starting at 6 p.m. Advance reservations are a must, so click to www.glsenpgh.org for ticket information.

Stand Up and Yell Bingo! Sat., June 5. Yes, a special bingo event to support Pride, held under cover in the parking lot off of Ellsworth Ave. Rain or shine, come out and enjoy this opportunity for one more Bingo before the summer break! Come early and enjoy some light refreshments from area food vendors, too! Tickets are available at the door, or in advance from the usual bingo ticket outlets. For more information, contact the GLCC at 412.422.0114.

June 8 brings the GLCC a special performance of Varla Jean Merman, Under a Big Top, at the City Theatre on the South Side. After a successful five-month Off-Broadway run and numerous appearances at Joe’s Pub, chanteuse Varla Jean Merman makes her Pittsburgh debut. The proceeds from this show will benefit the GLCC, and a special reception will be held for patrons. Tickets for this event are $25-$100, and may be purchased by contacting the GLCC at 412.422.0114. For more information on Varla Jean, you may click to www.varlaonline.com.

“Standing Together With Pride”, a pageant of diversity benefiting The Seven Project, will be held Sunday, June 13, 2004 at the Hill House’s Kaufmann Auditorium. This event will bring together Kings and Queens from the drag community to celebrate diversity. There will be a dance to follow and refreshments are included in the ticket price. Tickets are $10 in advance or $15 at the door. For more information, contact Brotha Ash Productions at 412.377.3485 or the Youth Empowerment Project at 412.383.2940.

As in past years, the week of June 14 brings several educational seminars to the GLCC, at 5808 Forward Ave. in Squirrel Hill. On Monday, June 14, Kathleen Schneider will present a seminar on Tax and Financial Matters for the GLBT Community from 5:30 to 7 p.m. This will be followed by Homebuying Simplified with Maryanne Kirby from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Come for one or both seminars, as light refreshments will be served!

On Tuesday, June 15, Lambda Foundation will hold its annual meeting, which is open to the public. This is a great opportunity to meet the dedicated volunteers who provide financial support to many events and organizations in the local GLBT community! On Wednesday at 5 p.m. the City Theatre will host the Annual Meeting of Pittsburgh’s Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN), with Education Leader Jim Testerman speaking on Challenges Facing GLBT Teachers.

PrideFest 2004 is set for Saturday, June 19, on the North Shore. This new location will return the festival to a prominent visible location, in direct response to much of the feedback we received after last year’s event. The parade will wind through downtown, past Gateway Center and the crowds present for the Three Rivers Arts Festival. From the downtown endpoint, marchers will walk to the North Shore site, between the Fort Duquesne Bridge and Heinz Field, to enjoy the typical street fair activities, including a children’s area and food and vendor booths.

PrideFest will run from 12 noon until 6 p.m., but Pride Day will not end there. This great day of activities will be capped off by Pride Day at PNC Park! Come out to watch the Pittsburgh Pirates play the Seattle Mariners. Be sure to wear your Pride t-shirt or any red t-shirt to show your pride. A block of 500 tickets has been reserved, so bring your friends and family members out to wind up a great day of Pride festivities. To ensure recognition of this event, tickets must be purchased in advance, by contact the Pittsburgh Pirates using the flyer enclosed with this edition of GLCC News.

On Sunday, June 20 a special Friends and Family Pancake Brunch will be hosted by the Unitarian Universalist Church in Allegheny Center, on the North Side, from 11:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Donations will be accepted at the door, and Proceeds from this event benefit PrideFest. Indoor seating is available, and if the weather is nice (o course it will be!), bring a blanket or lawn chair and enjoy your brunch outdoors in the adjacent park! For more information, contact the GLCC at 412.422.0114, or pridefest@glccpgh.org.

To wrap up this full month of Pride festivities, the Rainbow Ride for Equal Marriage Rights will come to Pittsburgh. An event is planned for Thursday, July 1 to rally support around this great cause. For more information on the Rainbow Ride click to www.rainbowlaw.com. Further updates on the rally will be available via the GLCC email update list, which you may sign up for at www.glccpgh.org.

These are just the highlights of events that are on tap for Pride month. Be sure to look for the 2004 Pride Guide which will be available in late May, as well as the GLCC website for details on other events.

Vendor booths for PrideFest and spots in the parade are still available. For more information, write to pridefest@glccpgh.org, or call 412.422.0114. Get your reservations in soon!

Out at the Old Ballgame: “Gay Days” and Baseball Fans

While LGBT fans of major-league baseball have been going to games for decades, only in the past few years have special event organizers for teams begun to acknowledge these fans. Is the trend a statement of acceptance, or simply a form of target marketing?

According to an August 2004 New York Daily News article, nearly half of baseball’s 30 franchises have hosted gay-related events at home games since 2001, including the Chicago White Sox, Philadelphia Phillies, the Texas Rangers, and the Pittsburgh Pirates, who each held events at their home games.

A recently aired episode of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy included a makeover of the World Series-winning Red Sox. While not an official “Gay Day,” it brought celebrities into the sport. In between the campy jokes and the openly gay consultants throwing out the first ball, player Johnny Damon had some encouraging words.

“If there’s a gay guy in baseball, we have to help him out,” Damon said in a San Francisco Chronicle interview. “I’d smack him on the butt, just like I do everybody else.”

Additionally, when Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher Joe Valentine revealed that he has lesbian parents, the responses were either overwhelmingly positive or just indifferent.

However, official Gay Day events are more often the brainchild of gay male fans, and not created from the team’s promotions staff or by TV networks.

Mark Kari is one of an increasing number of gay baseball fans taking the steps to make such events happen. Kari was inspired by a 2002 Toronto Blue Jays event honoring fellow Japanese-Canadians. The veteran baseball players on the Asahi team had been sent to Canadian internment camps during World War II, but persevered and kept playing in the camps and also after their release.

“Just as I felt proud as the Blue Jays presented these honorable Canadians,” he says, “I thought that I would feel proud, too, if the Jays presented gay and lesbian heroes.”

So, in 2003, Kari contacted the Toronto team about having a Gay Day. In early 2004, he created a website (www.gaybaseballdays.com) as a way to promote the Blue Jays’ Pride Night, and to provide information about other events. This year’s second annual Pride Night, held June 23, included openly gay comic actor Scott Thompson as part of the festivities.

“The more public awareness of these events, the better,” says Kari. “If people realize that almost half the major-league baseball teams have had such events, they will be encouraged to approach their team about something similar. And teams themselves may feel less wary about having an event if they know many others have done them with positive results.”

When San Franciscan Carl Stein noticed a (straight) Singles Night listed among the Giants’ special events in 2004, he contacted the staff about doing a similar event for the local LGBT community.

“They responded very positively, enthusiastically, and quickly,” said Stein. The first event in 2004 had more than 100 gay and lesbian singles (and couples) in attendance. The second event, held in late May 2005, saw more than 250 tickets sold.

Yet unlike other targeted groups who bought group tickets that day, the LGBT group did not receive a perfunctory mention on the stadium’s scoreboard – something that irked Stein, who is a passionate baseball fan.

Like the Giants, the Oakland A’s and the Florida Marlins have held AIDS fundraiser nights for many years, making for default gay-friendly games. The Giants’ “Until There’s a Cure Day” has so far raised over $1 million, with a percentage of ticket sales going to local charities.

But producing a LGBT-specific promotion is not necessarily an endorsement of a particular community. Only two days after the first Gay Day, the Giants advertised a Christian Fellowship Night.

Some gay events – like a 2003 Rangers game in Dallas – endured protests. Three hundred Christian fundamentalists – a third of whom drove 180 miles just to protest gay people attending the baseball game – declared a “victory” when they outnumbered the gay ticket buyers.

Toronto’s Kari says he thinks Gay Days are simply about filling seats with fans. “Initially, it’s about money and being politically correct,” says Kari. “If a group approaches a team and says ‘We want to buy 500 tickets,’ how can they say no? If they did say no, they would be seen as discriminating against the LGBT community.”

Kari sees changes from last year, when the Red Sox didn’t publicly acknowledge their first gay event, to this year’s highly publicized Queer Eye game.

And although the openly gay presence in baseball remains limited to a few celebrities and many fans, Kari sees it as a form of progress. “It’s not a big deal anymore – gay moms, gay dads, gay brothers, gay friends,” he says. “As these stories come out, there will be less fear for the general public, and [it will] make things easier for a player to come out, too.”

Gays and Jays to celebrate Pride Night

When the Blue Jays play host to the Baltimore Orioles tonight, the Toronto team will hold Pride Night, a themed game designed to attract gays and lesbians during the city’s Pride Week.

“We have a responsibility to be representative of our community and to reach out to segments of our community and overall just be an inclusive organization,” said Rob Godfrey, the Blue Jays senior vice-president of communications.

Is it time to end hostility toward gays in the pros?

A few weeks ago, Johnny Damon stood in the visitors’ dugout at the Oakland Coliseum and said something that I never expected to hear from a major- league baseball player. “If there’s a gay guy in baseball, we have to help him out,” Damon said, and he had already figured out an easy way to make an out- of-the-closet teammate comfortable. “I’d smack him on the butt, just like I do everybody else.”

All around, I could hear the familiar buzz of a stadium before game time, the early-bird fans pleading for autographs, the wooden percussion of batting practice, the chatter of reporters and coaches. But for a few seconds, I might as well have been on another planet, or in another century.

Maybe Damon’s remark shouldn’t have come as a surprise. After all, he and four Red Sox teammates had already taped an appearance on Bravo’s “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” The episode, produced in spring training, will air Tuesday night. A rough-cut DVD of the show, mailed out by the cable and satellite channel last week, overflowed with hilariously surreal moments.

At one point, Damon says: “I’m looking for a spotter to spot me on my naked pull-ups.” One of the Queer Eye stars immediately raises his hand to volunteer.

In another scene, Kevin Millar, Boston’s scruffy first baseman and probably the funniest pro athlete since Charles Barkley, wears a day-spa robe and soaks his feet in water filled with rose petals while telling his gay makeover artist: “You talk manly to me. I like that.”

Pitcher Tim Wakefield and catchers Jason Varitek and Doug Mirabelli also appear in the show. A helicopter flies Varitek in from an exhibition game so that he won’t miss an all-important back-waxing. “That’s really gay,” someone tells him.

When the Sox came to Oakland in May, Millar and Mirabelli stressed that they did the show to raise money that would refurbish a Little League field ruined by Hurricane Charley. In a few scenes, a couple of the Red Sox seem uncomfortable, and they’re all incredulous that gay celebrities have visited their clubhouse. But the entertainment value of the show hinges on the culture clash between grungy jocks and style gurus. In the end, everybody is pretty much laughing together — at each other, at themselves, at the whole situation.

As a result, the notion that this episode is a small landmark for both baseball and enlightened Americans should waft pleasantly under a viewer’s nose rather than bonking anyone on the head. Still, Esera Tuaolo can’t help drawing some pretty strong conclusions.

Three years ago, he became the third former NFL player to come out of the closet. Since then, he has set up a Web site where gay youth from around the world can contact him. Tuaolo said he has received hundreds of grateful e- mails, as well as terribly sad ones from teenagers who were kicked out of their homes after telling their families the truth about their sexuality. Tuaolo knows that some of the kids who write to him are suicidal, but he sees hope for them in the Red Sox’ appearance on a gay-themed show.

“Whether they realized it or not,” he said, “they probably saved a life by doing that show.”

Over the last year or so, I’ve wondered whether a male professional athlete could come out of the closet now more easily than most people think. I’ve suggested this to others — coaches, agents, players, fellow sportswriters — and they think I’m either naive or nuts. No active baseball, basketball or football player in the professional ranks has ever revealed that he is gay.

“The whole world has changed a lot in the last 10 years, in the last five years,” Damon said, agreeing with me in a rare, hopeful dissent.

But how far has the sports world come, and how quickly will most of it catch up to Damon? One of the problems could be the media, which is substantially older than the typical athlete. (This paper’s sports department has only one full-time writer younger than 35.) We may cling to old truths, sometimes even reinforce them. If Damon hadn’t appeared on “Queer Eye,” I would never have thought to ask him how he would feel about having a gay teammate.

This spring, Joe Valentine, a young pitcher in the Reds’ organization, talked to his hometown newspaper, Newsday, about being raised by a lesbian couple. How many of today’s teenagers, future big-leaguers, have openly gay family members, compared with previous generations?

Mike Haynes, the former Raiders defensive back, became the head of the NFL’s player development programs a few years ago and said he would consider adding diversity training about homosexuality. Haynes had a gay relative who had come out years earlier, forcing him to reconsider his own biases.

NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has a gay son and has attended meetings of PFLAG, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.

Tuaolo was invited to speak to NFL executives about a year and a half ago, and said he felt very welcome.

“Gene Upshaw (head of the players’ association) came up to me afterward and shook my hand,” Tuaolo said.

Still, he thinks that coming out of the closet would be dangerous for an NFL player. Every play would represent a health risk, because a gay player would almost certainly be targeted in a pile-up. Great plays could be the most hazardous of all.

“Can you imagine how a guy would react if an openly gay man dominated him on a play?” Tuaolo said.

Tuaolo hopes that some athlete will be able to do what he couldn’t, acknowledge his homosexuality and play without fear. He also hopes that reporters will keep asking questions about the issue, tackling it from all angles.

Right now, headlines will follow a crude homophobic comment by an athlete, but the media rarely write about the more accepting players. They’re usually quoted only as a counterpoint to the bigoted bigmouth. Because we assume that the pro locker room has always been overwhelmingly hostile to gays, isn’t the exception at least as newsworthy as the person who backs up an old stereotype?

After Tuaolo came out of the closet, a few former teammates called to say they were sorry if they had made anti-gay jokes in front of him.

LeRoy Butler, a teammate from the Packers, publicly said that he was proud of Tuaolo for coming out of the closet. Chris Sauer, a close friend and former teammate, had already confronted Tuaolo with rumors about his sexuality and, after learning the truth, said that although he believed God would disapprove of his friend’s lifestyle, he still loved him like a brother.

When Lindsy McLean, the former 49ers trainer, publicly came out after his retirement two years ago, he was distressed that his negative experiences in the NFL received far more attention than his positive ones.

Within the franchise, McLean did not try to hide who he was; most players knew that he was gay. Many, many of them simply ignored the issue. When McLean’s partner was sick, some politely inquired about his health.

Years ago, the trainer found one particularly surprising pocket of tolerance on the team. Charles Haley, a notoriously irascible personality, always treated McLean kindly, with the kind of gratitude that smart NFL players typically extend to the people who keep their bodies intact.

Even when Haley went to the Dallas Cowboys, McLean said, he would send a holiday card, usually with a cash gift. When he returned to the 49ers for a final season, he gave the trainer an entertainment unit, with a stereo and DVD player.

“I never told him (about being gay), but Charles is a very smart guy. I can’t imagine that he didn’t know,” McLean said.

The “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” episode ends with the five Red Sox, the five TV hosts and the Florida Little Leaguers playing a baseball game together.

Every now and then, some Andy Warhol crept into the Norman Rockwell scenes. Wearing a pink Boston jersey, the show’s lead personality, Carson Kressley, gave vaudevillian pep talks to the kids while their red-state parents cheered in the background.

The players’ wives accompanied them throughout the show, overseeing their makeovers and affirming their husband’s straight-guy status.

A couple of months after the taping, Mirabelli wondered whether his appearance would send a political message he didn’t intend. In Boston recently, there has been a slight, all-too-predictable backlash, as anti-gay activists object to the fact that “Queer Eye” cast members are scheduled to throw out the first pitch at today’s game.

“Don’t get me wrong,” Mirabelli said during last month’s visit to Oakland. “We had a lot of fun. But if I had thought about it some more, I’m not sure I would have done it.”

But his initial response was a yes, and his final thoughts during the interview in Oakland were about the clothes the show picked out for the players. He didn’t like them very much.

E-mail Gwen Knapp at gknapp@sfchronicle.com.

Is It Safe To Be OUT?

A decade ago, the notion of a professional athlete coming out of the closet and declaring himself gay was unthinkable — especially if he played in the hyper-macho worlds of baseball, football, basketball or hockey. The stakes were too high, the likelihood of shame and dismissal too great.

Today, attitudes have changed so much, says author Eric Anderson, that we’re likely to see a major pro athlete coming out soon.

Out at the Mets

A sundry of gay organizations and individuals are lining up to take part in the first gay-outreach event at a New York Mets game. The trail-blazing event will take place Monday, Sept. 13, at Shea Stadium in Flushing, Queens.

The event, “Out at the Mets,” will be the first official gay-themed event at a professional sporting contest in New York City. While there was a lesbian kiss-in at a WNBA’s New York Liberty game in 2002, that was to protest that the Liberty would not recognize a gay-pride event.

Far from being sanctioned, the event had Liberty’s management denying any responsibility or even knowledge of a large lesbian contingent of fans. The Liberty still have yet to hold any event that involves acknowledgement of their large lesbian fan base.

“It’s a double standard,” Ady Ben-Israel, a lesbian fan of the Liberty, told the Advocate in 2002. “They want our money and support, so why can’t they acknowledge the lesbian fans filling the stands?”

The event at Shea was originally the brainchild of Queens resident Gary Maffei, a lifelong Mets fan who is gay. Maffei first approached the Mets at the end of the 2003 season about organizing a gay event at one of their games.

The Mets group-sales office had worked with Maffei on another theme day, Autism Awareness Day. Now in its second year, this event attracted 5,000 families, friends, and autistic people to band together to raise the public’s knowledge of this expanding epidemic.

Maffei says he wanted to organize the event to bring positive gay exposure to baseball. He complains that gay couples are now able to get married in Massachusetts. But meanwhile, gay players in pro sports, like former pro baseball player Billy Bean, who played for various teams, feel the need to stay in the closet until they retire. Even then, only a handful of professional athletes from any sport have come out.

Mets express ‘cautious’ enthusiasm
Maffei says the Mets have been “cautiously enthusiastic” about the event. While they welcomed Maffei’s idea and have worked with him on creating a title and flyers for the event, they view this as a group-sales event and won’t comment further to the press about it.

The team has the same policy for other community events, including Jewish Heritage Day, Pakistani-American Night and Black History Night.

Organizations that are lining up to participate include Big Apple Softball League, Gay Men’s Health Crisis, Out of Bounds, the Center, Team New York, PFLAG, Queens Lesbian and Gay Pride Committee, New York City Gay Hockey Association and Generation Q. Any group of 25 or more will get their group’s name displayed on the Mets scoreboard during the game.

Requests to play stadium favorites “YMCA” and any of Queen’s rock anthems should be made to the Mets directly.

The Mets will play the division-leading Atlanta Braves that evening. The game was supposed to start at 7:10 p.m. However, because of a rained-out game several weeks ago, the two teams will play a double-header starting at 5:10 p.m.

Tickets are good for both games. Attendees are encouraged to arrive between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m..

The Mets were in contention for a division title in July. But since the All-Star break, they have reverted back to old habit and have slipped drastically to remain over a dozen games behind the Braves.

“Gay days” at baseball games got its start in 2001 when a small group of people created the first such event at a Chicago Cubs game. Now in its fourth year, that event drew 2,000 people this season.

Almost a dozen other teams have followed suit, including a couple of the Mets’ rivals: The Atlanta Braves held a similar event in 2001 and the Philadelphia Phillies have had a Gay Community Night for the last two years, this year drawing 1,500 people.

The trend has even spawned a Web site dedicated only to gay baseball days, www.gaybaseballdays.com. That site was created by Mark Kari, who helped create the gay day at the Toronto Blue Jays this year.

Some of the events have spawned negative responses from conservative and religious groups. Larry Felzer, the founder and organizer of the Gay Community Day at the Philadelphia Phillies, said the Phillies were inundated with angry phone calls and e-mails leading up to their first event in 2003.

The event, while drawing 750 gay spectators, also drew a handful of protestors claiming that the Phillies were “supporting” homosexuality. The Phillies responded by ignoring the anti-gay protesters and hosting a second event in 2004, which drew double the gay crowd from the year before.

That event was so successful that the Philadelphia 76ers, the city’s professional basketball team, have approached Felzer about organizing the first-ever gay day at an NBA game.

A very different scene brewed at the Texas Rangers’ gay day in 2002. That event drew more protestors than gay spectators, and the club has not pursued a similar event since.

Sports’ ambivalence on gay issues
The Mets have a bit of gay-related history of their own. In the spring of 2002, a blind item in the New York Post’s Page Six hinted at a gay professional athlete playing for a New York baseball team. All eyes looked to Mets catcher Mike Piazza, who has been the subject of gay rumors since he played for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Piazza did not disappoint, calling a press conference and announcing that he is straight, although he deflected the rumors with a good-humored stance that if he were, it wouldn’t bother him. Even so, the rumors ignited a firestorm of media coverage.

Maffei hopes this event will help break down the wall that has long existed between sports and gay people. “As time goes by, more and more people in general will meet and come to know gay people or couples,” he said. “This is how stigmas become desensitized. Sports will follow along this paradigm.”

Jeff Kagan, founder of the gay-sports umbrella organization Out of Bounds and head of the New York City Gay Hockey Association, emphasizes the importance of this event.

“It will give us visibility outside our own community, which is necessary to break the stereotype that gays and sports don’t mix,” Kagan says. “Stereotypes just perpetuate ignorance and prejudice.”

Kagan, as have many other gay-sports groups across the country, has organized small gay outings at sports events outside of official sanctions. Last year, for example, his gay hockey group bought a block of 30 tickets to a New York Rangers hockey game.

“We had a great time,” he said. “However, unlike this event, we didn’t have much visibility outside of our own membership.”

Gay Men’s Health Crisis will have a contingent of about 40 people at the game. Lynn Schulman, spokesperson for Gay Men’s Health Crisis, says it is important for the group, the largest private AIDS service organization in the world, to participate in the event.

“By having GMHC staff, volunteers and clients at a highly visible sports event that honors the lives of lesbians, gay and bisexual men and transgender individuals, we are making a powerful statement about all of our diverse communities,” Schulman says.

GMHC has had internal discussions in the past about organizing a fundraiser around a sporting event. Joan Tisch, the wife of New York Giants owner Robert Tisch, is on GMHC’s board of directors. The organization has bandied around the idea of an event at a Giants game or other sporting event.

“GMHC has had discussions in the past about getting sports players to become involved in the fight against HIV and AIDS, and spreading HIV prevention messages to all communities,” Schulman says.

“If the opportunity presented itself, we certainly would consider participating in a similar event in the future. In exchange, we’re hoping some of the players will have a ‘gay day’ in Chelsea sometime next year.”

2,000 ATTEND 3RD ‘OUT AT THE BALLGAME’

The gay-friendly confines of Wrigley Field took on a rainbow tinge July 12 as 2,000 GLBT fans watched the Chicago Cubs beat the Atlanta Braves in the third annual Out at the Ballgame, sponsored by the Chicago Free Press.

“2,000 people here at the ballpark!” exclaimed Bill Greaves, Mayor Richard M. Daley’s liaison to the GLBT community and director of the Chicago Commission on Human Relations’ Advisory Council on LGBT Issues. “It’s great to see us be able to come out together and have a good time in our hometown.”

The nationally televised game showcased what makes Wrigley Field famous-sunny afternoon skies, ivy-covered walls and Sammy Sosa launching a blast into the bleachers to trigger a big inning for the Cubbies.

It also showcased the welcome extended by the Cubs to the GLBT community. Chicago-based lesbian performer Jen Porter kicked off the afternoon with a rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” that thrilled the capacity crowd of 39,980.

Larry Nichols, of nearby North Halsted Street’s Circuit nightclub, followed by tossing a strike down the middle of home plate for the game’s first pitch.

“I thought I was going to be very nervous but when I got out there I wasn’t,” Nichols said. “The catcher came up and said I was the only one who got it across the plate.”

It was the first trip to a big league ballpark for many GLBTs. Remarks such as, “Isn’t that cute? They put the players’ names up there on the board,” were overheard, along with some suggestions the Cubs may not have considered, including, “They should put a bar right here, maybe with a deck.”

But while some OATB attendees may not have come with a full knowledge of America’s pastime they quickly got into the game when Sosa crushed a pitch from Braves’ hurler Horacio Ramirez to lead off the bottom of the fourth inning.

The homer, Sosa’s seventh in his last nine games, put the home team ahead 2-1 and sparked the Cubs’ biggest inning in more than a month. Cubs leftfielder Moises Alou followed Sosa’s blast with a single and moved to second when first baseman Eric Karros walked.

That set the stage for shortstop Alex Gonzalez, who brought the crowd to its feet with a stinging double, scoring Alou. Centerfielder Jose Hernandez kept up the Cubs’ onslaught, doubling in Karros and Gonzalez. After ground outs by catcher Damian Miller and pitcher Matt Clement, Cubs second baseman Mark Grudzielanek chased Ramirez from the game with another run-scoring double. The Cubs got one more run in the inning when third baseman Ramon Martinez ripped a triple off Braves reliever Kevin Gryboski.

That staked the Cubs to a 7-1 lead. The Braves, who came into the game with a league-leading 60-31 record, scored two more runs in the eighth but the Cubs held on, winning 7-3 as Clement improved his record to 7-7 for the season.

“It’s a beautiful day,” CFP publisher David Costanzo said as the Cubs coasted to victory. “Everybody’s having fun. What more could you want?”

The OATB day surprised some fans who came for Wrigley’s sunny afternoon charms and discovered it also sported a familiar family presence.

“It was by accident we just stumbled upon this today,” said lesbian partners Ann and Katy, on a weekend visit to Chicago from Kalamazoo, Mich. The couple said they decided to take in a game, then noticed all the rainbow flags and GLBT folks down in the grandstand along the right field line.

“It’s wonderful they do this here,” Ann said.

Even White Sox fans in the OATB contingent had a good time in the North Side ballpark.

“This is the first Cubs game I’ve ever been to in my entire life, but we’re here for a good cause,” said Bridget O’Shea, proudly wearing a Paul Konerko White Sox jersey and enjoying the game with her partner.

O’Shea and other Sox fans get a chance to show their GLBT pride Sept. 6 on the South Side when CFP sponsors the second annual OATB at U.S. Cellular Field, with the White Sox taking on the Cleveland Indians.

“I will definitely be there,” O’Shea said. “I can support my team.”
[7/22/03]

Out and out at ballgame

They’re here, they’re queer – they’ll take two beers.

Sports remain a bastion of homophobia – just the other day activists blasted Philadelphia Eagles receiver Terrell Owens for comparing gays to rodents – but many major league teams, including the Mets, are now rolling out the welcome mat for gay and lesbian fans.

Half of baseball’s 30 franchises have hosted gay-related events at home games since 2001.

“Our job is to make everyone feel welcome,” says Kathy Killian, the Phillies’ director of group sales. “We open our doors to anybody who wants to buy baseball tickets.”

But as the Phillies learned last week, clubs that cater to gay fans will draw protests from fundamentalist crusaders and alienate fans who are squeamish about homosexuality. Killian says she received a few dozen complaints, mostly from people associated with Repent America, an anti-homosexual group; a minor scuffle broke out at Citizens Bank Park between Repent America protesters and gay fans.

“We are Christian people and we saw this as an opportunity to evangelize,” says Michael Marcavage, director of Repent America.

Cyd Zeigler, one of the organizers of “Out @ the Ballgame,” a night for gay and lesbian fans at Shea Stadium on Sept. 13, says the Mets seem happy to sell them tickets but are nervous about potential controversy; Mets spokesman Jay Horwitz said the club welcomed all fans but declined to answer questions about the event.

“They want our money,” says Zeigler, an editor at the New York Blade and Outsports.com, “but they don’t want the publicity.”

Other teams, however, haven’t been so torn about embracing gay fans and their cash.

“I was surprised by how open the Phillies have been,” says Larry Felzer, organizer of Gay Community Day at the Phillies’ Citizens Bank Park on Monday. “I expected some hesitation.”

Maybe that’s because, despite protests and scuffles, the vast majority of baseball fans don’t seem to care. The total attendance for Monday’s Gay Community Day was 42,031, Killian says, so the complaints represent just a fraction of the fans at the game.

“This is the way of the world,” Killian says. “You might see two guys kissing, and although fans don’t have to feel comfortable with that, they do understand we can’t control everybody’s behavior.”

Four teams will host “gay days” at home games this month alone. The Phillies drew almost 1,500 gay fans to Monday’s game against Colorado. The Oakland A’s welcomed gay groups yesterday, and the Chicago Cubs, who have drawn 2,000 to gay days in 2002 and 2003, will play host to gay fans today. Boston’s gay community has its day at Fenway Park tomorrow.

The Toronto Blue Jays held Pride Community Day on June 24. The San Francisco Giants, meanwhile, will play matchmaker on Sept. 1 with “LGBT Singles Night OUT.” The Atlanta Braves, Los Angeles Dodgers, Minnesota Twins, Pittsburgh Pirates and Texas Rangers have also held gay-themed events in recent years. The Florida Marlins, Baltimore Orioles, and Chicago White Sox have sponsored AIDS awareness days with extensive input from the gay community.

With the exception of the Blue Jays, whose Pride Community Day was organized by the club’s front office, gay-themed events at ballparks are organized by gay fans who, like Little League teams, church groups and unions, want to root for the home team with their friends and families.

“Left to their own devices, teams wouldn’t do this,” says Zeigler. “But if we sell enough tickets, they’ll give us a discount on ticket prices, put our participating groups’ names on the scoreboard, things like that.”

In other words, baseball is treating gay fans like everyone else.