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.”